Wujiang District, Tongli and Water Towns Cooperation Initiative
Author:Marie-Noël Tournoux  PublishDate:2019-04-20  Hits:737

On 18-19 April, a joint delegation of WHITRAP-Shanghai and the Petites Cités de Caractères de France (Small Towns of Character of France) attended the opening of the 23rd edition of the “Tongli Spring International Tourism and Culture Festival” in China and held a technical meeting with the Wujian District, represented by Ru Shao Feng, Vice-Director of Administrative Committee and the town of Tongli, represented by Chen Yuan, Ren Sujun, and Jiang Weiqun, Vice-Director of Tongli Ancient Town Protection Management Committee, to discuss joint cooperation projects. The discussions focused on the establishment of a network of towns to enhance the heritage and cultural assets of 6 Water Towns and their territory and foster innovative development strategies as well as promoting new approaches to tourism. The meeting allowed to identify a series of shared priorities, and it was agreed to organize a technical workshop on the creation of a network of Chinese water towns at the end of 2019.

During the two-day mission, the Delegation visited Tongli and Pingwang towns and the Fei Xiatong museum in Liu Cun village, as well as the Grand Canal, and met the mayors and deputy mayors of these towns as well as directors of local institutions.

WHITRAP-Shanghai delegation was led by Prof. Zhou Jian, Secretary General of WHITRAP and Director of WHITRAP-Shanghai, the Vice-President, Roger Bataille, and the Director, Laurent Mazurier represented the Petites Cités de Caractères de France (PCC). The Small towns of character of France is a long standing partner of WHITRAP, through a quadripartite MOU with Tongji University College of Architecture and Urban Planning (CAUP) and the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine (Architecture and Heritage City) Observatoire de la Chine Contemporaine (Contemporary China Architecture Observatory).

The French Small Towns network was created in the 1970s by a gro-up of small towns, mainly rural, eager to promote their heritage and revitalize their urban functions working together (federating various stakeholders) around a key objective: the acknowledgment and safeguard of heritage as a driver for the development of the towns and their territories.

Towns join the network on a voluntary basis if they meet the network criteria and commit to respect its charter. The network is an NGO and is coordinated by a secretariat that interacts with each town. It partners with other stakeholders, such as State or Regional institutions and is recognized as an important player by the French Ministry of Culture. Each year the mayors of the network meet to discuss and share experiences, and learn from each other.

The principle of the network is to address the needs of the inhabitants, and attract new residents, focusing on their wellbeing and implementing projects which aim not only to rediscover the heritage values of a town, but also to develop activities building on these values to provide practical solutions to key problems. For example, revitalizing historic buildings to create services such as a public library or a kindergarten, or developing incentives to support local business to improve the quality of life of the community. Tourism is acknowledged as an important sector, however mass tourism is not the main priority. Even though the Small Towns network is project-oriented, it is committed to advocating the development of long-term strategies and accordingly to developing tools and rules to save heritage.

Furthermore, the network allows to promote and valorise the specific and unique character of the partner cities at the national level, and to reach out to an international audience. In the past years, the Petites Cités de Caractère de France has engaged in international cooperation.

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