Breathing new life into the legacy of past civilisations calls for a creativity, imagination, tolerance, understanding, and wisdom well beyond the ordinary. The Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme (AKHCP), established in 1992, implements conservation, urban revitalization and area development projects in historically significant sites of the Islamic world undertaking the restoration and rehabilitation of historic structures and public spaces in ways that spur social, economic and cultural development. Its projects seek to mobilize local potential and resources in order to ensure their eventual self-sustainability through operational income, human resource development and institutional management capabilities. Through this integrated approach, the Programme seeks to demonstrate that strengthening cultural identity can go hand in hand with socio-economic progress.
Going beyond mere restoration of monuments, the Programme engages in activities related to adaptive re-use, contextual urban planning and the improvement of housing, infrastructure and public spaces. It carries out related socio-economic development initiatives directed at upgrading local living conditions and improving quality of life.
Investments in single project locations or regions are coordinated with other Aga Khan Development Network programmes so that they reinforce each other as they grow together into a critical mass for positive change. In all project locations, community participation and training of local professionals are essential components.
The Stone Town of Zanzibar became a World Heritage Site in December 2000, joining a select list of sites around the world of 'outstanding universal value'. But Zanzibar is a living city where daily life is a struggle for many of its inhabitants. Poverty, degradation, inequity live side by side with built heritage of great beauty. The Community-based Rehabilitation Programme addresses these two realities.
The objective of the Community Based Rehabilitation Programme is to tackle physical degradation of the built environment by improving the basic quality of life of those who live and work in it. The Programme focuses on the needs of the community that inhabits and breathes life into the town, very many of whom are the urban poor. Eradicating poverty is a more intractable problem, but many of the causes of degradation are found in the way the town is occupied and administered. Community-based rehabilitation tackles these systemic problems, which perpetuate inequities, create a sense of powerlessness in both tenants and administrators, stymie investment in repairs or maintenance, accelerate the downward spiral of decay and fail to provide the resources, skill or incentive to reverse the situation.
Investment in social and economic development produces a clear dividend for the quality of the built environment. By focusing on the causes of degradation, the Community-based Rehabilitation Programme is helping to preserve the cultural heritage of the Stone Town. This is an end in itself, and a means to an end: visitors come to see the Stone Town, and growth in the tourism industry generates wealth and stimulates economic activity at all levels of society.