How can social innovation and participatory governance contribute to resilient cultural heritage? Read about the case of Zagreb, Croatia which, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, was hit by the biggest earthquake in 140 years.
HOW DID ISSUES OF DISASTER-RESILIENT CULTURAL HERITAGE COME TO LIFE DURING THE COVID-19 AND EARTHQUAKE CRISES?
What are resilience and disaster-resilient cultural heritage? ‘Resilience is the capability of systems and individuals to cope with significant adversity or risk’. A resilient cultural heritage, on the other hand, is ‘defined as a cultural heritage that is not only in itself sustainable in economic, social and ecological terms, but that also enables and supports society’s capacity to deal and live with contemporary societal challenges’. As demonstrated by UNESCO in several cases, ‘a well maintained historic environment, including built heritage and cultural landscapes, is likely to be very resilient to natural phenomena such as earthquakes or extreme weather events, because it incorporates traditional knowledge accumulated over centuries of adaptation to the environment’. The case of Haiti, for example, shows that ‘vibrant local culture plays an important part in rebuilding a sense of community after disasters and is a key asset during the difficult process of rebuilding.’ But what does that really mean in the case of the city of Zagreb?
A few months ago, this (for me) still fairly theoretical concept came to life during the recent COVID-19 pandemic and the greatest crisis since World War II. To top that, during our #stayhome time, on March 22, the biggest earthquake in 140 years hit the city of Zagreb, Croatia. We live and work in Zagreb, more precisely in the epicentre. Just as the earthquake 140 years ago changed the face of the city, we once again saw beautiful examples of cultural heritage sites destroyed, especially buildings from the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, almost all museums and galleries, as well as churches, including the main Zagreb Cathedral. Even though Croatia was responding extremely well to the pandemic, with strict measures and the lowest number of victims, it was soon clear that the city of Zagreb was not prepared for any kind of natural disaster challenge, nor was it willing to act on it.
Despite many recommendations from international organisations such as UNESCO, ICCROM, the World Bank Group, and the European Commission, the city had not prepared a Disaster Risk Management Plan, especially in relation to cultural heritage sites (or any plans at all for that matter) and was not able to respond to the challenges in a timely manner. The lack of a response by the city only strengthened the public in the idea of uniting in joint actions to help the city and its citizens who did not know what to do and who to turn to for help. Experts, urban planners, architects, engineers, and conservationists, as well as the rock-climbing community (alpine and free climbers) and firefighters that volunteered in bringing down numerous chimneys, came together in efforts to provide their knowledge and expertise. In these actions, they also looked at the experiences from the Great Zagreb earthquake of 1880, when the city had to be completely rebuilt.
They started the initiative “Obnovimo Zagreb” or “Rebuild Zagreb” with the goal of providing useful and concrete tools and solutions to public bodies (Ministry of Construction and Physical Planning, City administration, and other agencies) to tackle the complex task of rebuilding the city and cultural heritage sites. The idea behind this transparent tool was also to send a message to city officials not to take on the task of rebuilding the city lightly but rather to approach it holistically, looking at a long-term renewal and not just short-term patch-works. Unlike in 1880, when many countries came in with financial aid and expertise to help the citizens of Zagreb, apart from an initial surge of aid and media attention, no additional funds were secured this time around. Although Croatia is presiding over the European Commission, no immediate funding was secured for the renewal of Zagreb. It could take 24 to 36 months for any such funds to be implemented.
Unlike various other countries, including Albania, which has developed a comprehensive Disaster Management Plan for cultural heritage in joint participation with the local community, the city of Zagreb has failed to provide the clear direction necessary for building a resilient cultural heritage. They also did not take into consideration the recommendations from experts provided on the online platform and other forms of communication (social media groups). As a result, this had a direct effect on the level of citizen involvement and motivation and has diminished their faith in public administration and European aid.
Why is it important to make disaster resilience an intrinsic part of cultural heritage management?
On the example of the city of Zagreb, we can see that cultural heritage is increasingly vulnerable to external challenges, but at the same time, presents invaluable but underutilised opportunities for dealing with them, changing relations between humans and manmade environments, as well as developing identity and a sense of belonging. As the case of Zagreb demonstrates, however, the integration of participatory and social innovation/co-creation approaches in cultural heritage is more important than ever, not only for increasing ‘collective ownership’ within communities but also enhancing the ability to contribute to stakeholders’ needs and support the sustainability of the organisations. Participatory governance can help to foster democratic participation and social cohesion, enhance accountability and the transparency of public resource investments, and help build public trust in policy decisions. Correspondingly, this may help address the new opportunities brought by globalisation, digitisation and new technologies, which are changing the interpretation of and access to cultural heritage, especially at this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. A video by @vitjafilms clearly illustrates that drones are now proving useful in efforts to respond to disasters. Based on this case, we can also draw some conclusions and recommendations. We saw that in addition to having a Disaster Risk Management Plan, it is important to build the capacity of government and other stakeholders for the identification and monitoring of risks, risk reduction, and response to disasters, as well as recovery and restoration efforts. However, it is also increasingly important to build community management capacity and encourage consultations with local communities, especially because their perceptions of risks and mitigation measures may not be the same as those of technical experts. Ultimately, it is also more important than ever to turn to local identities, cultural heritage, and cultural activities that can play an important role in reducing disaster risks both as a reflection of cultural, historical, and social values but also as a contribution to economic and sustainable development. Why? Because they are the final ingredient in building resilient cultural heritage. These recommendations could help other cities in preparing for and mitigating disasters. However, it could also serve as a message to the citizens of Zagreb, along with other cities and countries, not to wait but rather to act and see cultural heritage and creative industries as a catalyst for positive change.
President, Social Innovation Lab
Director, Karzen & Karzen
Mirna has accrued over twenty-five years of experience in international, regional and local development, from her Master’s degree at Columbia University to her work in the United States, Croatia and the broader South-east Europe region. She established Social Innovation Lab in 2011 with a goal to promote, map and support the development of social innovation in the region. SIL has grown into an important organisation providing support to social innovators but also working in the areas of SI research, education and policy integration. Since its inception, Mirna and SIL have helped develop and implement multiple projects supporting SI growth in Croatia and the EU. She is also an experienced moderator, trainer and facilitator that connects various sectors and builds partnerships. Mirna now #stayshome and with her family is trying to rebuild their house located below the Nature Park Medvednica, the epicentre of the March 22 earthquake.
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 Walker, B., Holling, C. S. Carpenter, S. R. & Kinzig, A. (2004) Resilience, adaptability and transformability in social–ecological systems. Ecology and Society,
 Resilient cultural heritage and tourism, Summary Report, UNESCO (2017), produced by the World Bank Disaster Risk Management Hub, Tokyo; the Tokyo Development Learning Center (TDLC); and the Culture, Heritage, and Sustainable Tourism (CHST) Knowledge Silo Breaker (KSB), pg. 31.
 Auwera, S. van der, & Schramme, A. (2011) Civil society action in the field of cultural heritage. Heritage & Society, 4(1), 59-82.
 European Expert Network on Culture (2015b). New Business Models in Cultural and Creative Sectors. Ad hoc question, June 2015.
 Promoting Disaster Resilient Cultural Heritage, the World Bank Group, GFDR, October 2017.
 Research EU results pack on cultural heritage (2018), Heritage at Risk: EU research and innovation for a more resilient cultural heritage, Research and Innovation, pg. 2 https://erc.europa.eu/projects-figures/stories/eu-research-and-innovation-for-more-resilient-cultural-heritage