‘Belize City Urban Cultural Heritage in Young Hands Project’


urban-cultralThreats to the preservation of Belize City urban cultural heritage and practices have increased over the past decades as a result of urban pressures, which impact the physical integrity of monuments and the authenticity of historical sites and urban layout; of changing demographics and rural to urban migration, which have caused disruption of intangible cultural practices, loss of community memory, cultural impoverishment and homogenization; and of the ongoing gentrification processes in historic areas, which have marginalized vulnerable communities, particularly the poor and the elderly, the latter, who are the historic dwellers of these areas, and the repositories of their memory.

This pre-existing state of affairs is further worsened by two phenomena. Firstly, by changing climate and climate variability, as ‘Ancient buildings were designed for a specific local climate.’ The migration of pests, for example, can have adverse impacts on the conservation of built heritage, and increasing sea level rises threaten the survival of many coastal sites. In addition, the conditions for safeguarding of archaeological evidence may be degraded in the context of increasing soil temperature.’[1] And secondly, by the drastic reduction of the dominant position of the Creole ethnic grouping, whose history, traditions, language, beliefs and practices, are the DNA of Belize City, by 19%, that is, from more than 75% of total population of the City pre 1980, to 56% in 2010, while the Mestizo population has increased from 12.2% to 34.5%.

This has implications to nurturing community spirit, and the regeneration of social and cultural aspects, with communities changing the way they live, work, worship and socialize in buildings, sites and landscapes, and migrating and abandoning their built heritage, resulting in social and spatial segregation.’[2]

Undoubtedly, this will inevitably lead to the disappearance of the urban cultural heritage of Belize City, which is also recognized as a key resource and asset for sustainable urban development and poverty eradication.[3] It is therefore crucial to preserve, for future generations and ongoing poverty eradication programmes, the city’s urban cultural heritage identity, the physical testimony of its multifaceted history, and the cultural values it embodies.

The ‘Belize City Urban Cultural Heritage in Young Hands Project’ will pilot the preservation of the urban cultural heritage of an underserved inner city community in Albert and Mesopotamia Constituencies in Southside Belize City, which by it’s physical and socio-economic profile and location, is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and climate variability, that is, rising sea levels, more intense storms and flooding. (See Attachment 1- Project Boundary)

  • It will achieve this by firstly approaching the preservation of urban cultural heritage holistically, that is, inclusive of the urban elements (urban morphology and built form, open and green spaces, urban infrastructure), architectural elements (monuments, buildings and sites) and intangible elements, (traditional knowledge, local practices, cultural expressions and cultural industries) all of which comprises the urban cultural heritage.[4]
  • And secondly, by humanizing the architectural and urban elements in this community, that is, by layering and integrating the intangible elements of the Kriol culture on and into the documentation and representation of the spatial evolution of both the architectural and urban elements, through knowledge and capacity building and application, and intergenerational and intercultural dialogue.

Project objectives include equipping a minimum of 50 young persons with the knowledge and skills set to become community urban cultural heritage preservation practitioners; Increasing awareness of a minimum of 80% of the families participating in the project of their urban cultural heritage history and the need for its preservation for economic and social development; Ensuring a minimum of 75% of participating institutions and schools commit to engage in further education, research and actions for community urban cultural heritage preservation; Producing 500 age appropriate storybooks, 500 resource literature booklets, 25-30 min documentary and 1 physical and 1 digital model of the community urban cultural heritage evolution timeline; a Real Time Digital Data Portal for sustained knowledge sharing and real time learning experiences and best practices in community urban cultural heritage preservation; to be a model to roll out to other under served communities in the city and country which are confronted by similar threats, and to share with regional and global partners;

BAP is excited about the prospect of partnering with you and contributing our collective knowledge, skills set and experiences to addressing these challenges. This project is linked to our signature programme, ‘Building Urban Resilience to Climate Change in Belize’, the goal being to create and support a community of urban climate change resilience practitioners to contribute to the reduction of the vulnerability of populations and systems to the impacts of climate change.

The ‘Belize City Urban Cultural Heritage in Young Hands Project’ compliments the ‘Belize City Master Plan’ and the ‘ House of Culture and Downtown Belize City Project’ and will be implemented over 12 months and in five phases.


Urban heritage[5] represents social, cultural and economic assets and resources reflecting the dynamic historical layering of values that have been developed, interpreted and transmitted by successive generations, and an accumulation of traditions and experiences recognized as such in their diversity.

Urban heritage preservation is intrinsically linked to urban planning processes aimed at preserving cultural values, assets and resources through preserving the integrity and authenticity of urban heritage, while safeguarding intangible cultural assets through a participatory approach.

Since settlement was first established at the mouth of the Belize River in the 1650’s by buccaneers, the spatial development and urban form of Belize City, and its architectural landscape, have been shaped and influenced by the historical evolution of the inter-relationship of the socio-economic, cultural and political character of its population.

This has produced distinct urban elements (urban morphology and built form, open and green spaces, urban infrastructure), architectural elements (monuments, buildings and sites) and intangible elements, (traditional knowledge, local practices, cultural expressions and cultural industries) all of which comprises the urban cultural heritage.[6]

According to the 2010 Housing and Population Census, 57,169 or 17.7%[7] of the total population lives in Belize City, the financial, commercial and service capital of the country, and approximately 15,000 or 27% of this population live in a proposed protection categories boundary, which contains 1000 buildings identified and classified by categories for protection and preservation, based on historical value, architectural and typological value, style and conservation status.

Issue Paper 06-Existing Issues of Heritage in Belize City[8] details the various types of Colonial-style architecture that have meshed together to form the city’s distinct architectural typology, and which informed the design of ‘The House of Culture and Downtown Belize City Project’[9], a project which concentrates on Albert and Regent Streets, since those streets, according to the analysis, feature the architectural assets of highest cultural and historical value within the city.

The ‘Belize City Urban Cultural Heritage in Young Hands Project’ project boundary is within this protection categories boundary, but falling outside the scope of the said project. It represents one of the communities characterized by urban blight and decay and high density and levels of crime and violence.

Topic For Cross-Generational And Intercultural Dialoggue:

Topics for cross generational and intercultural dialogue discussions and interviews in the Kriol language are provided below for comparative analysis of the on selected topics to compare the then and now, the impact and influence of events nationally and globally, and the contributions and legacy of the intangible element, that is, the culture of people, families and groups on the spatial evolution of the urban and architectural elements of the community for an understanding of the community urban cultural heritage:

  • Urban morphology, Settlement and Housing
    • Names and functions of canals, streets and alleyways
    • Types of building practices and accommodations
    • Layout and use of yard space
    • Land tenure type and history
    • Water source and waste disposal outlets
  • Belize and the World
    • World War I and II-veterans and descendants of veterans
    • Construction of the Panama Canal
  • Catastrophes
    • 1931 and 1961 Hurricanes
    • Change, migration and displacement of families
  • First in the Community
    • Families, church, schools, shops etc.,
    • Paved street, vehicle and electricity
    • First new ethnic person/family
  • Women, Artists and Intellectuals
    • Life, contributions, route to fame and legacy
  • Food
    • Types and preparation of food
    • Gadgets and tools
  • Celebrations and Festivals
    • Historical, traditional, societies etc.;
  • Family history
    • Social structures
    • Origins and significance of names
    • Multi-ethnicity and multi-cultural changes


Due to urban morphology and subdivision of properties in early settlement to accommodate family living and expansion, and in the absence of motor vehicles, alleys were the means of accessing many properties. They are fast disappearing.

Prior to the Belize City Water and Sewerage Project, access to potable water was from vats in yards and standpipes strategically placed in neighbourhoods. These are no longer in existence Photo Credits : Noel Escalante

Prior to the Belize City Water and Sewerage Project, canals were the main outlets for the disposal of body waste. Outhouses were common features strategically placed along the canal. These are no longer in existence Photo Credits : Noel Escalante


Historic Architecture Deteriorating

For over 150 years this site served as a market, social hub and interaction between rural dwellers who brought produce from the river valley in dories to sell to urban dwellers.


This is Barbershop where community residents socialize The gentrification of the inner city communities disrupts community cohesiveness and marginalizes local industries and vulnerable populations, especially the elderly, who are the historians local knowledge. Picture courtesy www.kriolcouncil.org

[1] UNESCO Climate Change and World Heritage Report 2007 at pg. 10 [2] ibid. [3] UN Habitat III Issue Paper 4 Culture and Heritage 31 May 2015 at pg. 3 and Baker, Judith-Lead Economist, World Bank [4] ibid. [5] UN Habitat III – Issue Papers 4-Urban Culture and Heritage May 2015 at pages 1-2 [6] ibid. [7] Belize Population and Housing Census Country Report 2010 [8] Belize City Master Plan Documents (2011). IDB, Padeco and IE [9] See Appendix 1 for purpose and components of this project