This Issue is : 03-2014

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What is heritage?.. Why manage it?

What is heritage?.. Why manage it?
Heritage is of increasing significance to each society. Why this is so is not entirely clear but probably it has to do with the increasing speed of modernization and the scale of change in society. In such circumstances, evidence of past societies can provide a sense of belonging and security to modern societies and be an anchor in a rapidly changing world. In many societies, too, heritage can be an important definer of identity. Understanding the past can also be of great help for managing the problems of the present and the future.

The range of what is regarded as heritage has broadened significantly over the last half century. Heritage properties tended to be individual monuments and buildings such as places of worship or fortifications and were often regarded as standalone, with no particular relationship to their surrounding landscape. Today, there is general recognition that the whole environment has been affected by its interaction with humanity and is therefore capable of being recognized as heritage. It becomes even more necessary to make judgments about what has significance and what does not.

Inevitably, this expansion of the concept of heritage has meant in turn an enormous expansion in the range of types of structures and places treated as heritage. The World Heritage Convention recognizes that heritage can be defined as ‘monuments, groups of buildings and sites’. In practice, a broad set of typologies has developed that includes: urban centres, archaeological sites, industrial heritage, cultural landscapes and heritage routes. This greatly increases the range of places and landscapes that has to be managed by heritage managers and thus widens the range of skills required. It also greatly increases the type and number of threats that can have an adverse impact on heritage places. Apart from direct threats to the fabric or components of the heritage place itself, it is much more common for places to be threatened by adverse developments in their urroundings. In these circumstances, decisions taken for wider economic or social benefits must be compatible with the well-being of the heritage place.

The recognition that heritage places are not isolated has led to their surroundings being addressed both as a physical setting and as a series of social, economic and environmental threats and what happens in those surroundings can have an Protecting and sharing heritage require management strategies that define and monitor property boundaries but also address the setting in which the property is located. For World Heritage properties, this could be a precisely identified and regulated buffer zone or it might extend to include a larger ‘area of influence’ The values of the property, and above all the OUV, are the primary parameters for defining the physical area(s) that management strategies need to address and for defining the varying levels of control necessary across those areas. Distant views from the property (for example, the view of the volcano Vesuvius from Pompeii in Italy) or views of the property from certain arrival routes (e.g. the Taj Mahal in India) could be important to maintaining values.

However, other parameters will influence the definition of the physical area(s), including:

• the type of threats and their relative timeframes (e.g. the impact of vandalism, uncontrolled development of the built environment, climate change);
• the extent to which the management strategy involves local communities and other stakeholders (a successful participatory approach can permit reduced levels of control);
• the extent to which the management system embraces sustainable management practice

This recognition that physical boundaries are no longer where the property boundary falls but are in fact a series of layers undoubtedly favours protection, but it creates new management challenges. It is also an acknowledgement that heritage places depend on their setting.

Written by: Dr, Ali Taha