The Role of Heritage in Sustainable Development and Urban Resilience

Calendar 30 October 2019
Time 4.00 pm – 5.30 pm. Registration from 3.30pm, seated by 4.00pm 
Location MND Auditorium, MND Annex A, 5 Maxwell Road Singapore 069110
cpd2 BOA-SIA CPD Pts, 2 SIP CPD Pts, 1 SILA CPD Pts, 1 PEB PDU PtO
Further CPD Accreditation will be confirmed at a later date

Seats are available on a first come, first served basis. Please be seated 10 minutes before lecture begins, after which we will open the venue to walk-in guests.


Lecture Poster (PDF: 331 KB)
Lecture Slides from Dr Rypkema (PDF: 7.5MB)

Lecture Video and Photos

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When the concept of Sustainable Development first entered the international vocabulary, the focus was almost exclusively on the environment. As the understanding of the complexity of sustainable development grew, however, it was recognized that economic and social responsibility were equal pillars to environmental responsibility. More recently, the contributions of heritage to all three of the components began to be acknowledged, culminating in the formal inclusion of heritage as part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 and in UN Habitat’s New Urban Agenda in 2016.
In the last decade cities around the world have begun to realize that “sustainability” is not achievable without a corresponding strategy of “resilience”. As strategies began to be formulated, many cities have recognized that heritage is a key component of a comprehensive program of resiliency as well. This presentation will look at the ways that heritage contributes to both sustainable development and resiliency, identify how heritage is being incorporated into international frameworks, and describe current efforts to broaden the understanding of the sustainability/heritage/resiliency links.


Lecture Report

“(Heritage districts outperform economically because) the marketplace shows a preference for it. (There is a) preservation premium that comes from the character and quality and nature of the neighbourhood. It’s a premium paid because I love the character of the neighbourhood, and I don’t want it all screwed up.”


Demolishing old buildings to develop green ones is not the only way of sustainable development. Instead, cities should conserve their heritage buildings because it is environmentally responsible, and also brings about social and economic benefits, said Donovan Rypkema from Heritage Strategies International.


At his CLC lecture in October, the president of this American consultancy, which looks at historic resources from the lens of economic development, made a case for heritage’s role in helping cities regenerate such that they can meet current needs without disadvantaging future generations.


“Green buildings, while they’re necessary, are not sufficient for sustainable development. How we’ve narrowed our vision that somehow sustainable development is about green gizmos in a building misses the entire point,” said Rypkema.


In fact, tearing down buildings for redevelopment is costly. For instance, one third of landfills in North America is filled with construction debris. The National Trust for Historic Preservation in the US has also found that it takes decades of energy savings to pay off what is required to construct efficient infrastructure and technologies in new developments. In contrast, when a warehouse in Maryland, US, was retrofitted instead of redeveloped, it produced up to 40% savings in embodied energy needs, transportation energy costs and carbon-dioxide emissions. There were also hundreds of thousands of dollars in terms of infrastructure savings.


“(Demolitions) make a huge difference in terms of landfill, in dollars and environmental quality. Every time we reuse a building, we don’t throw it away and keep its life, (conserving building) heritage advances the cause of the environment,” said Rypkema.


Besides saving the earth, heritage buildings and districts are vital for the development of “healthy neighbourhoods”. They give its inhabitants a sense of identity and bring together different groups in society and even cuts across generations.


“You can read about what your grandmother or grandfather did, but it’s only with heritage buildings that you can touch (the past). Often, these heritage buildings provide context for other things,” said Rypkema, who also lectures on historic preservation at the University of Pennsylvania.


The integral role of heritage in sustainable development has been recognised internationally. In 2015, it was formally incorporated into the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and followed by the UN-Habitat’s New Urban Agenda in 2016. Both acknowledge the role of heritage in not just sustainability but also developing urban resilience.


For instance, countries such as France, Norway, Slovakia, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Canada, Australia and Hong Kong all had a heritage component in their response to the 2008 global economic crisis. The European Heritage Heads Forum has also concluded that investment in heritage is an inherently sustainable, long-term and measurably successful solution to an economic recession. During his presentation, Rypkema showed how historic areas in the US recovered from property market downturns more quickly, and they supported economic value and job creation as startups and creative business often preferred to move into such districts. In Singapore, the rents and capital appreciation for conserved shophouses also significantly outperform those of new buildings.


On the question of whether conservation impinges on other pressing development and economic needs, Rypkema rejected the notion and instead offered methods of incentivising conservation for private owners, as well as sharing the cost of maintaining built heritage.


“You certainly have to address (needs), but often it’s put in the context of either we have heritage conservation or we have economic development, or growth. That is absolutely a false choice,” he said.


“We (can) have economic development through conservation, not instead of.”


This lecture report first appeared in Better Cities December 2019.


About the Speakers

lecture-report-2019-10-The Role of Heritage-Donovan Rypkema

Donovan Rypkema

President, Heritage Strategies International
Lecturer, University of Pennsylvania

Donovan Rypkema is president of Heritage Strategies International. HSI was established in 2004 as a companion firm to PlaceEconomics, a consulting firm of which Rypkema is the principal. The activities of HSI focus on the intersection between the built heritage and economic development. He has undertaken assignments in 9 Canadian provinces and nearly 50 countries in North and South America, Europe, East Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Australia and the Pacific. He teaches a graduate course in heritage economics at the University of Pennsylvania where he received the 2008 G. Holmes Perkins Award for Distinguished Teaching. In recent years he has also taught an intensive planning praxis course taking Penn students to Shanghai, Belgrade, and Yangon.

lecture-report-2019-10-The Role of Heritage-Ho Weng Hin

Ho Weng Hin
Partner & Director, Studio Lapis
Adjunct Senior Lecturer, NUS

HO Weng Hin graduated from NUS Department of Architecture, and obtained his postgraduate degree in conservation from the University of Genoa, Italy with top honours. He is a partner of Studio Lapis, an architectural conservation consultancy involved in major local and regional projects such as the Capitol and South Beach developments, and The Peninsula Yangon. Its work has garnered accolades such as the the URA Architectural Heritage Awards, and the UNESCO Asia Pacific Heritage Awards for the restoration of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd.


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