by Tathagata Neogi
South Asia is home to some of the world’s most vibrant, historically-rich and culturally-diverse cities. However, twenty-first century economic development, rapid urbanization, and communal tensions now threaten the unique and complex built and social heritages of many of these cities. Walking Heritage into Future Cities addresses these challenges through a new model for sustainable urban tourism that combines the passion and dynamism of young scholars with the global reach of social media and the immediacy of walking in the city. The project is a collaboration between Heritage Walk Calcutta (HWC), who have pioneered this model, and the University of Exeter (Humanities and Business School).
HWC is an academic-run, research-oriented company that runs affordable walking tours to enable a Kolkatan audience to experience their city in a new way and connect with diverse local communities. HWC offers career pathways for young researchers to work with communities and supports local economies through affordable pricing and using local suppliers. Heritage Walks connect people—academics, visitors and locals—and provide safe spaces for expressions of identities. HWC creates researched social media content on the cultural, natural, and built heritages of Kolkata and has grown influential in forming public opinion.
The aim of Walking Heritage into Future Cities is to empower people to protect and nurture their past through awareness, knowledge-sharing, income-generation, and community engagement. The project will develop the HWC model by working with business specialists at Exeter’s Business School and by knowledge-sharing with Heritage Walk Karachi (HWK), a similar non-profit organisation in Pakistan. The project will then explore the potential to incubate similar projects in two other South Asian cities, Hyderabad and Jaffna. The four cities in the project manifest rich material histories, post-colonial conflicts arising from heritage and identity, and now, exponential growth of urbanization. The longer-term aspiration is to build a network of projects in different cities linked by experience and best practices, based on for-profit and social enterprise models.
Walking Heritage into Future Cities will open dialogues, electronically and in person, with heritage advocates and practitioners in Hyderabad, India and Jaffna, Sri Lanka. The project will also host a workshop in Exeter with academics, heritage and business professionals, and representatives from South Asian cities, to explore the challenges to sustainable tourism and urban heritage and support HWC and HWK in their development. The project will then culminate in a 6-week incubation programme in Kolkata for participants from each city to learn with HWC and develop strategies for their own projects and locations. The programme will lay the foundations for a dynamic and supportive online platform for walking heritage city projects.
Walking Heritage into Future Cities is funded through Exeter’s GCRF Facilitation Fund which springboards initiatives that address Global Challenges and work with ODA listed countries. GCRF (Global Challenges Research Fund) is a UK Government funding scheme which connects excellence in academic research with UN and UK-defined global development goals.