Valletta, Malta’s capital city, is currently preparing for the European Capital of Culture 2018. It is a World Heritage City, famous for its imposing fortifications and holding out against the Great Siege of 1565. The built form of the city is the outcome of the dominance of European powers in the Mediterranean from the late-medieval period. Although blitzed during the Second Siege in World War II, the city today thrives as a seat of government and administrative hub, a principal tourist venue and cultural centre. Development in the postcolonial period has been marked by the shift from an imperially framed economy to a fragile local micro-economy. This is felt also in the Paola Township on the opposite side of the Grand Harbour, which remains predominantly industrial. Paola was affected significantly, as a result of the departure of the British Mediterranean Fleet and the slow closure of its shipbuilding and dockyard. Paola, also an area important for its cultural assets predominantly the World Heritage Site of Hal Saflieni Hypogeum and the Kordin III Temples, is also seeking to regenerate a locally sustainable economy to create a better quality of life for its citizens. Here the domains of culture and economics are seen as bound up with each other.
In Valletta, flagship projects have been developed under the HERO (Heritage as an Opportunity) Action Plan (2010–2015). The projects target vital areas around the Marsamxett quarters through a Cultural Heritage Integrated Management Plan (CHIMP) and consider culture and heritage as the main drivers for the area. The Action Plan for Valletta is based on a character appraisal and is considered a new approach through surgical interventions in the planning policies within the Valletta Local Plan. One of these projects is Cultural Urban Landscapes for Sustainable Tourism, which has been part-financed by the European Union through the European Regional Development Fund. The project involves revamping the dilapidated and abandoned Peacock Gardens into a recreational area, bel vedere, tourist hub and World Heritage City Interpretation Centre. The project was delayed by new archaeological discoveries—namely, a series of casemates wall segments, a World War I battery and a fortification wall—but over time will showcase the cultural heritage of the city and assist tourists in discovering the City’s history through an interpretation centre. It will also be act as a gateway to the city from the west side and Marsamxett Harbour ferry landing.
Paola’s ‘Sustainable Planning through Urban Regeneration’ projects have been developed as an integrated programme through the REPAIR Action Plan (2010–2015). The Action Plan follows four main themes to spur sustainable development; 1. conservation, 2. tourism and recreation, 3. energy and waste; and 4. local jobs for local people. In delivering these principles tangible projects were designed along the principle north-south axis of the town. Based on a green corridor and heritage route the project targets the restoration and adaptive re-use of heritage assets and regeneration of gardens and public spaces. The corridor connects two of the most significant critical heritage systems: the Corradino Fortification Lines and the Hal-Saflieni Hypogeum.
The first phase of the Corradino Prison Museum was finished in October 2013 and works are underway on the interpretation section of the project. The Corradino Royal Navy Prison has been restored and the east and central wings are being adapted to a museum. The project focused on the external and internal restoration of the wings, chapel and central officers’ quarters, the gatehouse and most importantly the south wing. In the south wing a crucial restoration project of a double roof with a Victorian ventilation system has been restored to guarantee energy efficiency and maintain micro-climatic conditions. This project will enhance the master plan for the site, based on a triple-helix system with its current use as sports complex enhanced, a hostel developed and the museum developed to attract niche tourism to the area of Paola. In all these projects there evidence of multi-domain sensitivity.
Both Action Plans were developed with the support of the respective Local Councils but essentially with the intervention of the Urban Local Support Group (ULSG). The ULSG was significant in empowering people and to motivate citizens to participate in planning. The ULSG was a prerogative of the URBACT programme but in Paola it was significant in creating an awareness that activated the founding of an NGO to promote local heritage, the Paola Heritage Foundation. The promotion of these projects was only possible through strong political will at the local council level, supported by European Union funding. In both cases the drive to encourage the implementation of the projects was only possible through a strong decentralized administration. What assisted the Councils in Valletta and Paola was also the possibility to tap funding necessary to drive and complete the projects. In the compilation of the Action Plans the funding has supported integrated and long term planning with heritage and culture as a fulcrum for sustainable conservation and development. The experience of these local council driven projects supports the principle of subsidiarity and decentralisation in a state where councils are still relatively young in the realm of city management. Moreover the public participation in both projects shows keen interest of the local citizens to support local projects and democratisation in planning and design is vital in ensuring wide recognition.
The assessment done in 2013 was just for the domain of culture. Malcolm Borg and his team conducted cultural assessments using the ‘Circles of Sustainability’ method for Valleta and Paola, as well as Conspicua, Floriana, Senglea, and Vittoriosa. The assessment for Valleta drew upon background research, statistics and public data, as well as nearly 200 interviews within the areas earmarked for the Hero Valletta Action Plan. The interviews give a sense of the cultural strength of the city. Eighty of those adults interviewed attended and were attracted to local cultural activities and events, even when they were younger. Most of those interviewed were active within the Parishes of St Augustine’s Church or St Dominic’s Church, with 88 interviewees directly involved with the preparation of the feasts or active in the church feast organizing groups. Out of those responding to the survey, 138 interviewees felt pride in contributing to the neighbourhood and 175 were proud to live within the area or neighbourhoods. Over 148 interviewees aspire to see more activities and would like to see more cultural events held within their location. These according to those interviewed should be aimed at families and the younger generation. Over 173 felt that cultural activities made their community feel closer. Many were aware of the increase of tourists within the locality and 173 interviewees were happy to have more people visit these locations. The vast majority of interviewees knew that Valletta was a World Heritage City and were proud of it.
The weakness of Malta’s capital city occurs in the area of education, and this has repercussions for loosing young people overseas, attracted by universities in Europe, North America and Australia. It also affects the flexibility, skill-levels and sustainability of the workforce. For all of its strengths, Malta remains, for example, amongst the lowest ranked Member States of the European Union in some key areas of research and development. In 2010, Malta had 3.3 researchers (full-time equivalent) per thousand labour force compared to a European Union average of 6.5. Only four Member States had lower values. Malta has the lowest public expenditure on research and development as a percentage of GDP in the European Union (0.25 per cent compared to an EU average of 0.75 per cent in 2010), with more than 80 per cent of all business enterprise expenditure on R&D is spent by foreign-owned companies. All of this adds up to the importance of cultural questions in considering economic sustainability, and well as the overall sustainability of a city.