The Need for Heritage Site Regeneration
Culture and Heritage make a community. It is our past, our present, and hopefully the future that we can pass onto the upcoming generations. Nowadays, there are many heritage sites that are in danger from natural and man-made causes. It is our responsibility as human beings to preserve and protect the heritage sites and the artifacts they hold, which are the backbone of our culture and humanity.
Heritage sites represent the history of a nation and at times, provide inspiration for future art and history in the making. Heritage sites are fundamental to creating a sense of place for a community and a sense of belonging. A focus on heritage matters can inflict increased community values and greater social inclusion. For those outside the community, heritage sites act as a means for cultural education. Only by learning and educating oneself about the culture and heritage of others, can one become a respectful citizen of the world who appreciates the many different religions and cultures in the world.
However, heritage sites are always prone to damage whether it be due to the passage of time and the decay of building materials, or natural disasters, or man-made problems such as uncontrolled urbanization, armed conflict, pollution, and unchecked tourist development. For instance, the Tombs of Buganda Kings, a UNESCO world heritage site in Uganda was severely damaged due to a fire in 2010, earning a spot on the List of World Heritage in Danger by UNESCO. Gaining international attention and immediate assistance from the World Heritage Fund, rebuilding efforts were taken with significant investment from the Ugandan government, international aid provided by UNESCO, and foreign aid from the government of Japan (UNESCO, 2015). Despite all the efforts for regeneration, the Tombs of Buganda Kings was, once again, a victim to a devastating fire disaster in June 2020. Unlike the Tombs of Buganda Kings, the cultural landscape and archaeological remains of Bamiyan Valley in Afghanistan are faced with destruction due to military action, dynamic explosions, and abandonment. This has led to higher risks of Buddha niches collapsing and further deterioration on cave murals.
While some heritage sites are in danger due to natural causes and armed action, heritage sites such as Historic Cairo and Historic Town of Zabid in Yemen are facing an entirely different problem. Since more than 40% of houses in the Historic Town of Zabid has been replaced by concrete buildings and Historic Cairo is in need of rehabilitation of the site, Urban Regeneration is necessary in both cases. Heritage-led regeneration is an approach to preserving heritage features while simultaneously favoring any interventions that can improve the social, economic, and environmental aspects of the neighborhood. Conservation of heritage sites can generate an economic return and brings success to the tourism industry. In addition, it strengthens the sense of place, sense of identity, and contribute to community cohesion (World Urban Forum, 2020).
Governments, local and international organizations alike are putting in their utmost effort to protect and regenerate such heritage sites in danger. For this specific reason, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has established a List of World Heritage in Danger in 1972. The purpose of this list is to raise awareness about the heritage sites in danger and to inflict immediate response from international organizations to support in taking counteractive measures. As of January 2020, there are 53 World Heritage sites on the list and more than half of the sites were inscribed in the last decade, indicating a rise in the number of heritage sites in danger in recent years. This may be due to political instability around the world contributing to multiple heritage sites being affected, particularly in the Middle East. Just in the last decade, more than a dozen heritage sites from Yemen, Syria, Libya, and Iraq were added to the list of World Heritage in Danger due to being treated as literal battlegrounds (Thomas & Wilber, 2020).
While UNESCO is working globally to ensure the preservation of heritage sites on the UNESCO world heritage lists, there are many local organizations in each country that aims to make sure the heritage sites that hold the culture of their community are being protected. Historic England, an organization in England runs the Heritage at Risk (HAR) program which identifies England’s historic sites that are most at risk of being lost as a result of neglect, decay or inappropriate development (Historic England, 2020). The annual Heritage at Risk Register report published in October 2020 has shown that over 200 heritage sites in England were added to the existing list of Heritage at Risk, bringing the total number of historic sites at risk in England to a staggering 1,475. Despite the struggles due to the Covid-19 global pandemic, in October 2020, the government has granted the first round of “Culture Recovery Fund” of £103M to heritage organizations in England to help them survive the pandemic and to continue the restoration work on the beloved English heritage sites (Sharman, 2020).
There are several similar organizations around the world whose focus is preserving and regenerating irreplaceable heritage sites and cultural properties. One remarkable example is Blue Shield International which is a non-government, non-profit organization that works globally to protect cultural heritages in events of armed conflict, and in natural or man-made disasters. Not only do they protect heritages, they proactively try to prevent any damage that can happen to the heritage sites by raising awareness and by providing education through training. Such organizations are essential to increase awareness about the dangers the heritage sites are facing and to educate people on preventing these damages before they happen.
In conclusion, several thousand heritage sites around the world, whether it be heritage buildings, historic cities, or rainforests, are in danger. While local and global organizations are working to preserve our invaluable heritage sites, there is only one question left to ask: What will you do to support heritage sites in danger? As global citizens of the world, our responsibility is to ensure that heritage sites are preserved for the future generation to enjoy and learn from. Let us raise awareness on heritage sites that are in dire need of global attention and support. Let us support the heritage organizations that are working to save our heritage sites. Let us not take our heritage sites for granted. Let us integrate heritage sites in cities into the urban regeneration plans instead of taking them down.
Together, let’s make the world a better place… filled with cultural heritage sites for us and our children to explore.