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From pioneering city to world city

Revitalising Chengdu’s cultural heritage

When cities grow into world cities, how do they harness their cultural heritage to shape their identity under global influence?

Located on the fertile Chengdu Plain, Chengdu is the birthplace of Taoism and has cultivated a unique ‘Tianfu Culture’, which can be translated as ‘country of heaven’ and indicates its abundance in both gastronomy and culture. Over the past decade, Chengdu has witnessed rapid growth in its economy, especially through tourism.This demands a sustainable approach to maintaining the momentum of modernisation and commercialisation while preserving the city’s traditions and heritage.​

Chengdu, a city recognised as a ‘pioneering world city’ in our 2018 Pioneer Cities report, welcomed delegates from across the world to share their insights at the 2nd Tianfu Symposium in July 2019.

The panel sessions included international speakers and representatives from other international cultural networks including UNESCO Creative City Network, World Centre of Excellence for Destinations, and International Place Branding Association.

Paul Owens, Director of our World Cities Culture Forum (WCCF), shared three key findings from WCCF:

  1. City networking deepens a city’s understanding of its own unique assets. By sharing experiences and challenges, city leaders become more aware of the commonalities and uniqueness of their city’s heritage. They learn about what works (and what doesn’t) and build on other cities’ experiences to create successes of their own
  2. Think ambitiously about how culture could maximise your city’s potential – economically, socially and environmentally. The results are extensive and profound. From cultural tourism in Amsterdam, urban renewal through street art in Bogotá, citizen-led arts activities in Seoul, to Ice Watch installation by Olafur Eliasson and geologist Minik Rosing in London, all around the world, culture is having an extraordinary and far reaching impact on cities and their people, representing their past and supporting their future
  3. It takes both leadership and collaboration for a city to thrive on the world stage. WCCF member cities are constantly leading in their innovative cultural policies to address local challenges. Collaboration is key to lending insights and inspiration. London took inspiration from San Francisco’s Community Art Stabilisation Trust in setting up its Creative Land Trust to preserve cultural spaces. City of Sydney and City of Toronto collaborated in a city-to-city exchange to share new ideas for celebrating Aboriginal communities and promoting their visibility.

During the Chengdu event, WCCF facilitated ‘Conversation across Five Continents’ at Shuijingfang Museum, a venue embodying the region’s time-honoured wine culture built at the site of a 600-year-old distillery. As highlighted at the Symposium and a separate study trip to the nearby museum town Anren, museums are being seen as a multi-functional platform to preserve memories, to engage the public, and to attract visitors.

We look forward to continuing our partnership with the Chengdu city government in identifying and leveraging its cultural heritage.

- Yvonne Lo, Consultant; Summer Fu, Researcher

Image credit: Chengdu Media Group