2017 Volume 5 Issue 3 Pages 5-24
Governments are increasingly recognizing the contribution that cultural heritage makes to the social wellbeing of diverse groups living within progressively multicultural towns and cities. This could not be more evident than in the case of Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE—a city which has undergone a significant transformation in the last five decades and has been known for its cultural diversity. Several government initiatives and community programs are being launched to promote more sustainable alternatives to urban development. Recognizing the urgent need to safeguard the surviving stock of modern buildings dating back to the late 1960s, the Abu Dhabi government launched the Modern Heritage Preservation Initiative five years ago. This paper explores the role that built cultural heritage can play to improve the public realm within sustainable urbanism. It considers the changing definitions of urbanistic heritage before outlining the broad contribution this cultural resource can make. Insight gained from participating in public workshops and interacting with government agencies and community organizations is presented. This is followed by case studies that highlight some of the trends and challenges to the preservation of urban heritage and the creation of quality public spaces. The paper concludes with a discussion of the shortcomings of existing approaches to urban development and suggests a holistic approach to achieve a greater understanding of how to integrate physical public realm heritage conservation into sustainable urbanism.