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How to Deal with Historical Context?

Two excerpts are included: one deals with the basic guidelines when working in historical areas, and the other offers suggestions on how municipalities can capture profits after upgrading.

Other resources:

“Urban Heritage and Cultural Tourism.” TRIALOG 58, 3/1998.

Conservation as Cultural Survival. The Aga Khan Award for Architecture. Proceedings of Seminar Two in the series ‘Architectural Transformations in the Islamic World,’ Istanbul, Turkey. September 26-28, 1978.

Projects which focus on upgrading in historical areas:
Lahore Urban Development Project, Lahore, Pakistan

Basic Guidelines for Historical Areas

Excerpt from:
Ernst Reichenbach. “Commercialization of Architectural Heritage - A Sacrilege or a Necessity? Examples of old Newar Towns of Bhaktapur and Petan in Nepal.” In TRIALOG 58, 3/1998. P. 43.

The following principles are drawn from experience in the Bhaktapur Development Project, Nepal, and the second project in Patan. Both are aimed at safeguarding the cultural heritage of the town in the context of urban development with the participation of the people. The most important activities are:

Documentation of the cultural heritage: An official inventory is required to categorize monuments according to their significance, and for their protection.

Pilot projects and emergency repairs: Conservation and development projects are implemented as examples to demonstrate and develop an awareness of improved standards and quality of work. Local craftsmen and technicians are trained so that the same standards can be replicated by preservation agencies, the municipality, and by community organizations. The well known proverb “a stitch in time saves nine” fits well to the cost effective emergency repair program. These include small and medium scale repairs of building and facilities of historical value. A particular aspect of this program is that monuments to be repaired have to be identified by the community who together with the municipality make a financial contribution to the cost.

Building control: To safeguard cultural heritage, the built environment has to be protected. The building environment comprises private and public buildings, monuments, streets, street embellishments, etc., all of which are changing rapidly due to the impacts of modern development trends. The program supports the development of appropriate by-laws, improved building designs, amendments to legislation, the introduction of an effective building permit mechanism, construction supervision, and enforcement.

Integrate Neighborhood Programs: All locally available resources are mobilized to plan and carry out basic improvements as the first step towards a process of raising community awareness and participation in development. Activities include the installation of private toilets, solid waste management, street cleaning, sanitation, health and education campaigns, small scale repairs of basic infrastructure, training programs, etc. All these are planned and implemented with intensive participation of community groups developed through the program.

Public awareness and support: A necessary precondition for the success of all activities is public awareness and support. Campaigns and activities to generate these are of utmost importance and therefore integrated within all components. The publication of a news bulletin, posters, organizing media campaigns, tours, audio visual productions and the use of different modes of communication to inform the public are the tools used in these efforts.

Sharing the Profits of Conservation

Excerpt from:
Ernst Reichenbach. “Commercialization of Architectural Heritage - A Sacrilege or a Necessity? Examples of old Newar Towns of Bhaktapur and Petan in Nepal.” In TRIALOG 58, 3/1998. P. 48.

Once the ‘owners’ of cultural heritage realize that it is an economic asset and as such needs constant investment and maintenance to be sustained as a source of income, the following arrangements within a Municipality should be made to channel a share of the short term profits to the needs of long term conservation:

  • The Municipality (be it an administrative unit, a committee of the elected members, an advisory body, an association or a trust) should ensure that the heritage is marketed ‘well’ in the sense described as above. Only then commercialization will be likely to increase, be sustainable in the long run and at the same time, will not harm the traditional values which might be likely in the case of ‘bad’ marketing.
  • The Municipality should arrange for the collection of cost covering entrance fees, performance fees and a share of taxes from businesses which are directly drawing their profits from the marketing of the heritage like museums, tourist guides, restaurants, in historic premises, etc. Such revenue should be purpose bound for conservation and tourism related services (in particular ‘good’ information) and infrastructure.
  • Other businesses which are indirectly profiting from the asset of the town like traditional craftsmen, souvenir shops, taxi entrepreneurs, hotels, etc. should also be taxed accordingly; the Municipality may eventually levy a surcharge on general taxes for conservation purposes.
  • The Municipality should not try to implement all the necessary and useful conservation work itself but it should seek to use other intermediary organizations like neighborhood initiatives (CBOs and NGOs), hotel associations, shop keeper associations, cultural clubs, etc.
  • The Municipality should try to find solutions to the difficulty of subsidizing the maintenance and conservation of privately owned houses of historical value. Some new ideas of the use of such houses after necessary improvements may be promoted, e.g., as bed and breakfast accommodation for tourists or as rental homes for foreign residents or as art galleries, craft workshops, restaurants, etc.
  • If such arrangements could be made at the local government level, it should be easy to mobilize the interest of central government offices to supplement the local efforts - and last but not least, the international donor agencies, too, would be more willing to consider favorably engaging themselves in the purpose of heritage conservation if such examples of practicing the subsidiary principle in a financially sustainable way could be found.
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