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Curate the past toward the future

Your hub is a place where to co-define a common heritage value
How to use heritage as a catalyst for innovation and social inclusion in former industrial districts? This chapter will offer a possible strategy, and the tools and methods that are part of this strategy. The main challenge lies in revitalising the sites without gentrifying them. This is difficult, because working with heritage, i.e. working with traces of the past that have been carefully selected, often has a gentrifying effect: it makes locations attractive for specific groups of people, while pushing away others.
The methods and tools presented here are thus designed to support Fab City Hubs and organisations who want to set up an innovative space that works with heritage towards regeneration and social justice. The strategy is based on the idea that ‘heritage work’ should be considered as a way of curating the past, and therefore should implicate practical, theoretical and ethical reflection.
Restoring an abandoned meat factory, archiving long forgotten textile workers’ songs, or revitalising traditional ways of urban farming are all examples of curating the past. It is a conscious, future-oriented way of working with the multiple meanings and possible significances of traces from the past, including those traces that (seemed to) have been lost, hidden, forgotten, ignored, or suppressed.

Why does it matter ?

Fab City Hubs intervene in the local context with the aim of making cities more inclusive and sustainable. In CENTRINNO it is and has been continually acknowledged that this also should imply historical engagement with the buildings or sites from which the FCH’s operate. This engagement asks for a critical interest in processes of heritagisation, including the ones that the FCH’s themselves are part of. Being aware of what happened in the past, what happened with the past, and how the past works in the present should make it possible to accelerate the desired transition process, while taking seriously the ethical concerns that come with these types of interventions in a specific context.
Curating the past - as in heritagisation (Harrison, 2013), fostering, safeguarding, showcasing, collecting, archiving, revitalising - can have a positive effect, but it can also, albeit unintentionally, do harm. People may have divergent interests, feelings and memories in relation to the actual buildings and sites that are used for the development of FCH’s. Mutual misunderstanding, or even sentiments of disgust, antagonism and polarisation can be the result of such divergent experiences.
In CENTRINNO we generate knowledge about alternative and silenced histories. We want to reveal how these histories and objects unsettle ways of looking at the world and its histories and how to deal with this discomfort. We do this by ‘reconnecting’ traces from the past with their different historical and cultural biographies. In order to understand the impact of the industrial past in the present, we also need to explore how it came about. How did ‘we’ turn specific traces of that past into ‘heritage’, while other aspects were neglected?
By acknowledging the history and the impact of the industrial past - in all its different dimensions – FCH’s are better equipped to work in an ethical manner with the past towards the future, to acknowledge and eventually curate the past in the process of re-generation.
Curating the past with a focus on inclusion and regeneration is relevant as we do not want to just replicate the past, but stimulate critical reflection on the relation between the histories of the sites and the major problems societies are facing today, in particular problems regarding social injustice and climate change. These link the industrial era of production to the current-day versions of class dynamics and capital-prioritising exploitation and extractivism. Curating the past is an intervention that may work out differently depending on the context. This means that, in working with (traces of) the past, not only the practical dimensions of the work should be taken into consideration, but also the conceptual and ethical dimensions. In this sense, theory, practice and ethics are always interrelated.
Curating the past is also important as it prioritises the equality of different members of the community, attempting to find ways to include those who have previously been oppressed or marginalised. In the industrial context, rethinking the industrial via heritage methodology means to engage meaningfully with what remains from the industrial histories, individual and collective, that proliferate in and through these industrial spaces. This, again, includes the exclusion of people through the passage of historical time, with an emphasis within CENTRINNO of unearthing and re-displaying the voices and skills that have been excluded or marginalised within the grander narrative of industrial progress.
What then is our strategy in relation to heritage?
Collect stories and memories related to the industrial past and share them online showing the content relates to each other. This can help FCHs to see how the past works in the present and how they themselves also play a role in this.

Key aspects

Find here a list of key aspects you should take into consideration when you want to design activities and practices that are heritage sensitive for your Fab City Hub.
Taking a dynamic, integrated and practise centred approach to ‘heritage’
Any trace from the past can be labelled as ‘heritage’. Also keep in mind that
  • labelling things as heritage happens always in a specific context (in terms of time, place, or actors)
  • tangible heritage always also has an intangible dimension and vice versa, and they work in interaction
  • heritage is the temporary result of an interaction between places, objects, bodies, ecologies, and materials
  • heritage is experienced as embodied, as something that one can ‘possess’. It is something emotional
  • heritage is always contested, but some examples of heritage are more contested than other examples
  • the word heritage means different things in different languages and also in different academic and professional fields. Often it is simply used as a synonym for monuments, traditions, rituals, canonic knowledge or ideas, repertoires of songs, stories, languages etc, meaning that applying a label of heritage to something without being critical about what heritage means, or being critical about the process of working with what has been inherited, greatly undervalues any act of heritage-making
Finding a starting point
Curating the past can be a challenging activity. How to decide what to focus on, where to go first, and whom to listen to?
  • From CENTRINNO we learned how important it is to explore the site by doing ethnographic fieldwork
  • The Emotion Networking methodology was useful for the construction of the CENTRINNO Living Archive. The CENTRINNO ‘How To Emotion Network’ guide, published in the CENTRINNO Guidebook, helped pilots to think holistically and avoid potentially forgetting the workings of the past in the present. Most importantly, however, is the question of why: why do we want to know something about the past?
Digging deeper
Curating the past could mean collecting histories of past events, traditions, practices we deem important in the present in the transformation process of the site. But who are ‘we’?
  • We learned from the 9 Fab City Hub cities how important it is to take the time to talk with specific people, one-on-one. This doesn’t only include people living or working on the site, but also those who may have been pushed out.
Having a heritage curator
  • Curating the (workings of the) past in the present towards the future will take time and effort. It comes with ethical challenges. Observing, interviewing, uploading, tagging and analysing collected stories are all part of curating the past in the present for working towards inclusive and sustainable futures.Having a person who keeps challenging the team to take into consideration the ethical challenges of heritage work can prevent the Fab City Hubs from the unintentional, undesired impacts of the work on a local (and supra-local) level. Also the Living Archive (online & offline) as a product is a tool to share and discuss the collected information across the team: how do the stories matter and to whom? How do we deal with issues of inclusivity in our use of language and visuals?
  • Writing stories and making an exhibition, based on ethnographic fieldwork, interviews and emotion networking sessions are a creative way to share what aspects about the past have been silenced. Doing this in a participatory manner, it will become a collective learning process and a way to engage with the site. (see Participatory Exhibition Making tool for detailed instructions).
Working with information that is already available
  • Curated acknowledgement of the [workings of the] past in the present is a relevant activity to create an inclusive sustainable hub. For some purposes choosing to collect stories that are already available can help. In the early phase of the CENTRINNO project desk research has been done, gathering information about the history and heritage of some of the sites. Here ( link coming soon) you may find one example of background research conducted in relation to the pilot in Amsterdam.


Find here a curated selection of Tools and Stories from the 9 cities part of the Fab City Hub Network that could inspire you to develop an heritage sensitive approach for your Fab City Hub.

Other Resources

Find here a list of resources collected to know more about Heritage and Heritage sensitive strategies .
Check this BLOG POST about Heritage as a Roadmap to Innovation

CENTRINNO Living Archive

(link coming soon)
A digital platform giving more information on ways of working of the past in the present, showing how the past works in the present, giving insights into ways of working with the past in the present. Finally, the Living Archive shows how the 9 Fab City Hub Network members have been undertaking different ways of working with the past in the present.

→ Curated decay

→ Artistic intervention

→ Heritage Futures

Heritage Futures was a 4-year research programme (2015-2019) funded by a UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Large Grant (‘Assembling Alternative Futures for Heritage,’ AH/M004376/1), and supported additionally by its host universities and partner organisations.