The role of traditional knowledge in healthy & sustainable cities

  • 2016•02•02     Kuching

    The Urban Thinkers Campus on Health and Wellbeing in The City We Need featured a breakout session looking at the issues and challenges surrounding traditional knowledge, and how it can contribute to healthier cities. Traditional knowledge includes aspects of built, cultural and natural heritage, access to which have positive effects on health and wellbeing. It also includes the set of knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities, developed over the centuries. These include traditional remedies, foods and diets, architecture and building materials, social networks and reciprocity agreements.

    The session explored key questions about the issues and challenges facing traditional knowledge in forming healthier cities and sustainable places, and the solutions needed. The group raised the rapid rate of urban development as a key issue, and the inability of a traditional culture to adapt. There are many difficulties in integrating traditional practices and knowledge into the contemporary urban environment; they may conflict with current religious values, or might be perceived as outdated and no longer relevant. Often traditional knowledge and practices are not valued or respected by government institutions and thus, not integrated into formal strategies or policies. For example, the relocation of communities can disconnect them from their environment and consequently prevent them from sustaining their traditional practices.

    The group identified various entry points to addressing the issues that were drawn from the session. It is essential to identify, document and preserve traditional knowledge and find innovative ways of transmitting it to younger generations such as social media. Governments need to play a role in protecting the intellectual property rights to traditional knowledge, preventing exploitation and providing true value of this knowledge for the communities. In so recognising the value of traditional knowledge, policies should be implemented that integrate it into the formal decision making processes.

    By way of conclusion, the group stressed that there was a great wealth of traditional knowledge which can have many positive impacts on our cities, and deserve greater recognition and respect if we are to enhance the health and wellbeing of our communities, places and planet.

    The session was led by Duncan Cave, Programme Manager, Think City Sdn Bhd and Dr Natasha Kuruppu, Post-doctoral Fellow with UNU-IIGH.