Spotlight on… Dr. Gabriela García Vélez – Cuenca University

Dr. Gabriela García Vélez, Universidad de Cuenca

The RECETAS partnership is rich in interdisciplinarity and expertise on topics related to mental health, loneliness and nature-based solutions.
How do our partners work on loneliness? How are they involved in RECETAS? Each month, one or more of our experts answer our questions!

🎤 Can you briefly introduce yourself and the purpose of the organization you work for?

I am an Ecuadorian architect by the University of Cuenca (UC) Ecuador (2008). This public University is one of the most important Universities in the South Region of Ecuador and the most recognized in the country within the cultural heritage field. I obtained my Master degree in Education from Universidad Técnica Particular de Loja, Ecuador (2011). Specialist in Cultural Heritage management by the Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina (2011) and Doctor by KU Leuven Blegium(2018), with the thesis titled: “The activation process of Cultural Heritage as a Driver of Development”. I have participated as part of an advisor and technical team for the study and intervention in heritage buildings in Cuenca, mainly earthen architecture. My professional carrier is an academic one. I have been working for 14 years at UC as Assistant Professor and Researcher. I consider myself very lucky and privileged to be part of this academic community, particularly for being part of one the most active research groups named “World Heritage City Preservation Management” (CPM).

🎤 How local cultural heritage can reactivate social ties? 

In the last two decades, scientific studies worldwide have demonstrated the crucial role of culture, and cultural heritage, play on sustainable development. Concerning the social dimension, cultural heritage is considered as a vehicle to express values and identity, and organize communities and their relationships through its powerful symbolic, aesthetic, technical, social, and economic dimensions. Recent research also revealed cultural heritage, embodied on building environments, traditional social networks, traditional knowledge, traditional skills, and so on, are means to help victims recover from the psychological impact of disasters, including the COVID-19. Today, the value of cultural heritage and its transmission for “making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” is an integral part of the UN Agenda 2030 and the new international policy for Disaster 2015–2030. Nonetheless, cultural heritage is not register as a priority area in some countries such as the case of Ecuador and it continues exposed to a number of threats from urbanization, development pressures, socio-economic transformations, unsustainable tourism, lack of resources and others, that gives sense our work.

🎤 Can you give us some examples of projects you have worked on?

Within the CPM research group, I have been honored to be part of diverse research projects and coordinate some of them, mainly funded by international organizations such as the: Project “Latin-American axe on the preventive conservation of built heritage.” Universidad de Cuenca, Ecuador; Universidad de Oriente, Cuba y Universidad Católica de Lovaina, Bélgica, funded by VLIR UOS from Sept 2015 tol Dec 2016.
The Project “Innovative governance systems for built cultural heritage, based on traditional Andean organizational principles in Ecuador.” Universidad de Cuenca, Ecuador y Universidad Católica de Lovaina, Bélgica, funded by VLIR UOS from Jan 2019 to Dec 2023, and in hand with a prestigious consortium of international institutions, the current Project “Re-Imagining Environments for Connection and Engagement: Testing Actions Social Prescribing in Natural Spaces.” RECETAS, funded by European Union, H2020 from Mar 2021 to Mar 2026.

🎤 Were these activities a success? Have people appropriated the new spaces of conviviality? 

The TEAM Minga project is in progress in three different territories in southern Ecuador: Saraguro (indigenous community), Nabón (farming community), and Cuenca (urban area). The project takes inspiration of Andean practices such as the “minga” that refers to solidary (no paid) work among community members for collective benefits. It promotes the participation and co-creation of innovative governance systems for cultural heritage based on a self-diagnosis, participatory planning, and prioritization of interventions. The interventions includes hands-on activities and involve -in all phases- the joint work of academic, institutional, and civil society actors. Thus, it strengthens local social capacities for care through maintenance practices and use of the built heritage, creating new spaces of conviviality.

🎤 How are you involved in the RECETAS project? Do you plan to “involve” cultural heritage in the activities developed within the project?

The local research team of the RECETAS project in the pilot city of Cuenca, Ecuador, is lead by Fausto Cardoso (Director) and integrated by an interdisciplinary team of University of Cuenca. I work as local coordinator. We work to introduce innovative concepts for the Latin American context, such as the Nature Based Social Prescription (NBSP). As result of the co-creation process, the Menu for NBSP in Cuenca, includes cultural activities related to inmaterial heritage such as: music, ancestral medicine, and practices like the work with clay.

First experience working with clay, ©Fausto Cardoso, Nov. 2022

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