Culture on the Agenda: Heritage in the Sustainable Development Goals

One of the key reasons why Sustainable Development Goal 11 is so important for libraries is its recognition of the importance of safeguarding cultural heritage.

Its inclusion alongside questions such as mobility, waste and housing may seem strange at first glance. However, it is a recognition that culture is vital to the sustainability and ‘livability’ of the cities, towns and villages where people live.

Given the range of issues covered by this goal, it was perhaps unsurprising that the thematic session on SDG11 at the 2018 High Level Political Forum “Review of SDGs implementation: SDG 11 – Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” was very broad-reaching. Fortunately, Jyoti Hosagrahar, Director of the Division for Creativity at UNESCO, was there to make a strong case for placing culture and heritage at the start of the SDGs.

Jyoti Hosagrahar, Director UNESCO Division of Creativity

Jyoti Hosagrahar, Director UNESCO Division of Creativity

She underlined not only the direct impacts of heritage in terms of identity and wellbeing, but also its impact on other indicators, such as sustainable urban development, education, and diversity.

Crucially, UNESCO is undertaking work to ensure that there is evidence for this impact. Given both the focus in the SDGs on measurement as a means of ensuring accountability, and the fact that governments themselves need such figures in order to decide how best to spend public money, this work has strong potential. The resulting Culture for Development Indicators therefore represent a rich resource.

At a side-event “Implementing SDG 11.4: Local voices and Global Agendas for Cultural and Natural Heritage” organised by the International Council on Monuments and Sites the same day, speakers had the opportunity to look further at how the heritage sector is making a difference. The impacts of heritage on the environment, on urban planning, on gender, on cohesion and tolerance were clear.

While the focus was, inevitably, on buildings and monuments, the parallels with the work of libraries were clear. In the UN context, there is a shared interest in ensuring that culture is not only part of the SDGs, but also of the measurement framework.

But more broadly, with digital technologies breaking down barriers between different types of heritage work, there is strong potential for collaboration more broadly. Further, welcome, proof of the value of the SDGs as a framework for rethinking how, and with whom, we work!