Institute of Archaeology


Jilke Golbach

Heritage and the Right to the City: reclaiming the ruins of modern Rome

Close up of Jilke Golbach's face looking straight at the camera

Email: jilke.golbach.12@ucl.ac.uk
Section:  Heritage Studies


Heritage and the Right to the City: reclaiming the ruins of modern Rome

My research examines how the concept of the ‘right to the city’ can advance critical debates on urban heritage futures. Through the lens of the ‘right to the city’, I explore the relationship between heritage politics and contemporary neoliberal city-making with particular attention to notions of urban illbeing and wellbeing.

The United Nations predict that by 2050 nearly three-quarters of the global population will live in cities. The kind of cities that result from this process of planetary urbanisation reflect the tendencies of a global neoliberal capitalist system: commodification, environmental destruction, and social inequality increasingly shape urban conditions. Heritage often plays an important role in such matters, particularly when ways of living (communities, social cohesion, belonging, historic fabric) are perceived to be at risk, and closely related questions of urban justice, liveability, and quality of life are now more important than ever. Following Tim Winter’s call for critical heritage research to reflect ‘the larger issues that bear upon and extend outwards from heritage’ (2013), this project argues for the development of a framework that can foster a more complex understanding of how heritage interacts with (and challenges, supports, reinforces, or counters) neoliberal cities. How is heritage employed as ‘cure’? What urban ills is heritage supposed to fix? And who stakes a claim to such processes?

I look at the case study of contemporary Rome where processes of regeneration and resistance in relation to modern ruins (post-industrial markets, factories, warehouses etc.) complicate traditional notions of doing, making, and understanding heritage. The ‘right to the city’ (Lefebvre 1968; Harvey 2008) – as a political slogan and a concept that straddles the spatial and the social in framing the urban as a site of struggle – offers a useful paradigm here, especially in the way formulated by Brenner, Marcuse and Mayer as a demand for ‘cities for people, not for profit’ (2011). Applying these ideas to the heritage field, I explore what it means to assert a right to ‘heritage for people, not for profit’ in today’s urban worlds.


  • BA, Liberal Arts & Sciences, University College Utrecht, 2010

  • MA, Art History, University of Amsterdam, 2012

  • MA, Cultural Heritage Studies, University College London, 2013