The “TBI: youth, city and heritage” project is the response of 30 young people from 7 countries to the identified demographic, social, economic, cultural, communication, political and spatial challenges and a step toward new possibilities for future generations in Idrija, world’s former second largest mercury mine and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Through various tools and methods (literature reviews, social, economic, cultural and spatial analyses, on-site visits and excursions, interviews with local stakeholders, collaboration with youth organizations, surveys of local inhabitants, workshops with blind and visually impaired and people with special needs, and public debates), international and interdisciplinary (sociology, architecture, marketing, urban studies) the group of young participants has created, based on its rich heritage, a vision for the 21st century Idrija. More than 60 innovative (architectural and social) projects for the UNESCO World Heritage Site Idrija were proposed, attracting much approval in the local community and among professionals, and raising the awareness of the potentials, not limitations of cultural heritage.

Idrija (Slovenia) is a small (6000 inhabitants) and a unique town with a rich history, recognized by the inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The town is located in the heart of the Idrija Unesco Global Geopark and has a successful electro-industry, that emerged after the closure of the world’s second largest mercury mine.

Unfortunately, not all recent changes were for the better. In 2015, Idrija has entered a demographic crisis as the number of young people is constantly decreasing. Almost 80% of the jobs and 80% of the economy are (still) industrial and mainly driven by the two big companies, while only 4.78% of the population of Idrija is considered part of the creative class. Despite exemplary renovation and conservation of its rich heritage, this did not do much to revive the local community. The town is still struggling to showcase its rich mining heritage in a more creative, engaging and experience-oriented way. In the meantime, skilled young people lack employment opportunities in the service and creative sector, therefore moving to bigger cities or abroad. The “TBI: youth, city and heritage” project is thus a response of young people to the challenges of the local environment and the lack of employment opportunities. Throughout the 4 months project, young people researched and created a proposal for the development of three industrial heritage locations in UNESCO-protected Idrija by participating in international working groups.

The project aimed at:

  • Stressing the importance and reuse possibilities of heritage for the future of young people and the importance of heritage for the future development of the city;
  • Providing ideas and proposals for new business and social initiatives, based on Idrija’s rich heritage;
  • Establishing a platform for local decision-makers, youth organizations, heritage protection organizations and businesses.
  • Connecting foreign young participants (students and professionals) with local youth, decision-makers, and businesses to create impetus for re-thinking the future of a heritage-rich town;

In the course of the project, more than 30 young people from 7 different countries, 15 adult participants (as mentors, informers…) and 400 visitors and workshop attendees have tried to re-think Idrija’s relationship with its rich UNESCO heritage and reach a consensus on how to use the potential of this heritage to tackle identified demographic, social, economic, cultural, communication, political and spatial challenges and create new possibilities for current and future generations.

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Through literature reviews, social, economic, cultural and spatial analyses, on-site visits and excursions, interviews with local stakeholders, collaboration with youth organizations, surveys with local inhabitants, workshops with blind and visually impaired and people with special needs and public debates, the international and interdisciplinary (sociology, architecture, marketing, urban studies) group of participants has created a vision for Idrija in the 21st century. This vision aims to create a prosperous economy, new opportunities for young people, solidarity between generations, connected and accessible spaces, a renewed self-image and empowered local actors – all based on 500 years of local history and heritage that is both a reminder of the previous achievements and an inspiration for the future.

Throughout the project, more than 60 innovative (urbanistic, architectural and social) projects for UNESCO World Heritage Site Idrija were proposed, attracting much attention and approval in a local community and among professionals. The project thus raised awareness about the heritage and connected it with challenges of the local environment. Perception of heritage was shifted from being a burden to being an opportunity. Furthermore, young participants, many of them with little practical experiences in working with real-life examples, have gathered valuable experiences during the interdisciplinary and international student workshops, a unique and exemplary methodology facilitated by the European context. With this new knowledge, they can contribute to their environments in dealing with heritage issues.

Razvan_Zamfira_Idrija_project_table_of_elementsAs Idrija’s challenges could be almost any-European-small-city’s challenges, the project, its results, experiences, and know-how were shared on a national level with an exhibition and complementary events in the Museum of Architecture and Design in Ljubljana (Slovenia). At the European level, the activities were presented in the European Parliament at an international workshop „Rosia Montana: Never Ending Story‟.