Old City of Vienna
View of the Historic City of Vienna © Duncan McCallum
View of the Historic City of Vienna © Duncan McCallum

Managing Urban Heritage: From Nationalism to Neo-Liberalism and Beyond - the Rights to Heritage

by Professor Michael Turner, practicing architect and the UNESCO Chairholder in Urban Design and Conservation Studies at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem

There have been two concepts, sometimes diverging sometimes merging, underpinning planning processes - the collective right of 'doing good' and the individual right to 'not to be harmed'. These concepts also highlight the differences between the sources of US planning and that of the UK city fathers of the 19th century and which found expression in the 1909 Housing and Planning Act. Moreover, after the traumas of the Second World War, it was the 1947 Act that allocated all development value to the state. Local authorities were also given powers to control 'outdoor advertising, and to preserve woodland or buildings of architectural or historic interest' - being the beginning of the modern listed building system.

Although the concept of 'doing good' in public use and public interest was paramount, there was little knowledge as to how this may be assessed. Heritage emerged only much later as an amenity when the values began to be recognized by the wider community and understood in the urban context.

It was the devolution inherent in the 2004 Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act that finally put the nail in the coffin of the socialist ideals. These changes, which reduced the capacities to safeguard cultural heritage in general and World Heritage in particular, may necessitate the inscription of all the UK cultural properties on the List of World Heritage in Danger under Paragraph 179 (b) of the Operational Guidelines:

Potential Danger - The property is faced with threats which could have deleterious effects on its inherent characteristics. Such threats are, for example: i) modification of juridical status of the property diminishing the degree of its protection; ii) lack of conservation policy; iii) threatening effects of regional planning projects; iv) threatening effects of town planning; v) outbreak or threat of armed conflict; vi) threatening impacts of climatic, geological or other environmental factors.
Paragraph 179 (b) of the Operational Guidelines, List of World Heritage in Danger, UNESCO

The evolution of management systems for urban heritage have been slow albeit with spurts with the UK creation of Conservation Areas in 1967 and the 1976 UNESCO Nairobi Recommendation. The subsequent ICCROM Integrated Territorial and Urban Conservation Programme (ITUC) 1994 to 2004 was a beacon of its time which came with the greater recognition of Sustainable Development in 1987 and in the wake of the 1992 definition of Cultural Landscapes in the World Heritage Operational Guidelines and the subsequent 2000 EU Landscape Convention. However, it became clear, very quickly, that:

the problems of tomorrow could not be solved with the tools of yesterday.

The Historic Urban Landscape (HUL) approach was based on the need to better integrate and frame urban heritage conservation strategies within the larger goals of overall sustainable development.

The contentious issue of the HUL approach centred on the interpretation of 'Development' where in paragraph 18 it indicated that: "many economic processes offer ways and means to alleviate urban poverty and to promote social and human development… When properly managed through the historic urban landscape approach, new functions, such as services and tourism, are important economic initiatives that can contribute to the well-being of the communities and to the conservation of historic urban areas and their cultural heritage while ensuring economic and social diversity and the residential function."

A textual interpretation has yet to develop and we are currently seeing some confusing and even conflicting situations. We have witnessed this in Liverpool with three heritage impact assessments - each pulling in different directions. On the positive side, we are finding that the HUL Recommendation is being used extensively and UNESCO is preparing a survey and report to internalise these case-studies in formulating an 'acquis-culturel'. Specifically, there needs to be a greater effort to develop "the application of a range of traditional and innovative tools adapted to local contexts".

In 2021, Liverpool was deleted from the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Where do we go? The dissonance between urban heritage assessment and the planning systems is growing and integration should be supplemented with harmonisation. In evaluating emerging approaches to integrated appraisal in the UK, Richard Eales et al (2005), point out: "the challenges for the integrative approach given inevitable resource limitations will be a risk that the depth of impact investigation may be sacrificed for breadth of coverage. Furthermore, there is the risk of integrated appraisals being 'captured' by a dominant set of interests, leading to the neglect of particular types of impacts".

About the author

Professor Michael Turner is a practicing architect, the UNESCO Chairholder in Urban Design and Conservation Studies at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem. He is currently special envoy to the Director of the World Heritage Centre and has accompanied the UNESCO Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape since its inception. He was a contributor to the UNESCO Global report to UNHabitat III and is an advocate of the UNISDR Resilient Cities Programme.

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