Engaging Cultural Heritage with Environmental Action

A ROCK Road Trip to Lisbon

The vision for ROCK is Cultural Heritage leading urban futures – and there is no urban future without environmental sustainability at its heart. We know human activity and our related dependence on fossil fuels is changing our climate. We also know that there is an urgent need for cities to engage their cultural assets with the sustainability agenda. One driver is that climate change and environmental degradation are resulting in incalculable losses to our natural and cultural heritage, however, there are also many opportunities to be realised. Many custodians of cultural heritage are already reframing environmental action as an opportunity to: demonstrate civic responsibility, increase public engagement, access new funding and investment; and improve citizen health and wellbeing.

With this in mind, I was keen to get cracking on my first ROCK assignment to visit the beautiful Lisbon. Working with Maria and Antonio from Lisbon’s culture department, we designed a project kick-off workshop to convene the key ROCK city stakeholders. The aim of the workshop was to develop some common ideas between stakeholders and discuss opportunities within the ROCK project area – Marvila - for integrating action on environmental sustainability. The workshop included some training on the environmental dimension of arts, culture and heritage management, demonstrating the opportunities for civic leadership, urban planning, place-making and civic engagement. The workshop was interactive and exploratory, with participants pitching in to share and troubleshoot their own experiences, ideas and challenges; as well as ideas for scaling successful initiatives and developing new approaches and partnerships.

We began the discussion by reviewing the environmental initiatives that participants considered most successful. This included the increasing investment in photovoltaics in the city, the shared bicycle network and the growing urban gardens and. We also discussed the various cultural offerings within the Marvila area – from the new library building, to the programme of cultural events and festivals. Finally, we began to discuss new ideas for engaging with environmental sustainability in line with the ROCK mission and objectives. Several key themes emerged from the discussion:

1. Mobility – the need for infrastructure and platforms to connect Marvila locals between Lisbon city centre and the Marvila area; as well as between citizens and tourists.

2. Adaptive reuse of open space – creating new spaces for integrating nature, culture, citizen engagement, and plenty of gardening.

3. Cultural buildings as sites for environmental education and training, showcasing good green practice, experimenting with new technologies, business opportunities and principles of circular economy.

4. Platforms and programmes to facilitate local discussion and engagement – recovering personal, local histories, and co-designing urban futures.

The conversation between workshop participants was rich, personal, deliberative and always compelling. There was a clear desire to start creating opportunities for local residents to tell their own stories of the area; to create programmes which convene the different communities in the north and south, as well as inside and outside Marvila; and to focus on mapping and highlighting local cultural heritage – the industrial history, the mix of communities that inhabit the area, the relationship to the Tagus River etc. However, what is palpable is the need for legacy: enduring solutions and infrastructure that are permanent and maintained. The job now for Julie’s Bicycle, working alongside other ROCK partners, is to support Lisbon’s vision and goals, ensuring environmental sustainability is embedded at each stage, within both thinking and practice.

Author: Latham Lucy - JB