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.
Organisations such as AKCS-Z can help kick-start development processes, but none of the Stone Town's problems will be solved without the active participation of the local community. The Programme has facilitated a number of initiatives:
Zanzibar Stone Town Heritage Society Conservation Centre Training in Traditional Craft Techniques Providing Support for Tenants Groups Conservation & Design Guidelines
"An Integrated Approach to Urban Rehabilitation", ed. Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme, Geneva: Aga Khan Trust for Culture, 2007.
Dedicated as it is to the in-depth rehabilitation of urban heritage in the Islamic World, the Historic Cities Programme (HCP) of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture deals with a complex reality. For historic cities harbour an important architectural legacy that goes well beyond the realm of “bricks and mortar”. Their monuments and their traditional urban patterns speak to us about the attitudes, the aspirations and the living conditions of past generations of human beings. That is how cities gain their symbolic dimension and how they are enabled to dispense cultural identity.
While the architectural shell, due to its material inertia, tends to resist the effects of time, the more volatile social realm is subject to changes and transformations that are not immediately refl ected in the built form containing it. It is this delayed interaction between physical structures and more intangible social, emotional and spiritual factors that makes interventions in historic cities particularly challenging, because once the delay leads to structural incongruence, remedial action is needed.