Today, over half of the world’s population resides in cities as a result of which cities are evolving and developing at a faster pace. It is incumbent on us to know how to manage these urban spaces as they grow such that we can dwell in a blooming present while reminiscing our fond past. Nonetheless, it is disheartening that most cities in the developing countries come across similar issues related to high-development pressure, a complete lack of concern for cultural heritage, and little or no public participation in the decision-making process in urban development and conservation.
Heritage sites are landmarks that identify and define a city. They trace the historical lineage of the development of a city, its journey through the changed times. The antiquated walls whisper unspoken tales and oozes ‘curio’ smell. You sail to Caribbean Islands and you will get to see old Havana with an overall sense of architectural, historical and environmental continuity making it one of the most awe-inspiring city in the entire American continent. Modern Kyoto, preserving ten thousand shrines, rise as a shining example of urban heritage conservation in Asia Pacific. Tel Aviv, a new city bears quintessential characteristics of 20th century built; yet it has emerged as the most dynamic of all urban settlements in Israel where the ‘living city’ and the ‘historical past’ continues to co-exist.
As we enter the new urban era, conservation of these heritage sites not only act as our cultural ally fostering a deep friendship with the bygone days, this very effort of conservation as an integral constituent of sustainable urban planning and practice also helps us in addressing key global challenges that the ever emerging urban spaces encounter everyday —-climate change, refugee rehabilitation and homelessness, poverty and many more. Conservation of heritage sites as one such approach to sustainable development of the urban landscape encourages new policy implementation and promotes a philosophy of development based on the role of culture and heritage. 21st century witnesses willing initiatives of numerous associations and organizations from all over the world joining hands in promoting conservation of heritage sites ICOMOS, UNESCO, INTACH, Aga Khan Foundation being in the forefront. Private-Public Partnership (PPP) is very essential in promoting conservation of heritage sites across the globe. We need not go far off, let us have a look at Delhi and we will find how Regal Cinema, a monument to the city’s cinematic history at Connaught Place has shut down. A favourite of Kapoor, this theatre has screened several movies under Kapoor Films banner and yet we find no initiative from any end, be it Government or public-private partnership for conservation of such historic past; Regal Cinema is just a living example in Delhi’s throbbing reality.
Nonetheless, we need common people to realize the philosophy of heritage sites conservation and its associated boons so that it features as a sustained collective effort leveraging public benefit at its core. This has to be realized as a mass movement towards better living and one such token celebration each year on 18th April as the World Heritage Day won’t mobilize the collective conscience. Let us draw inspiration from an instance that was witnessed in Hong Kong few years back. In Hong Kong, decisions on heritage conservation were traditionally being facilitated by experts from various fields of study since the establishment of the first heritage legislation in 1976. Public participation at that time was considered insignificant. Since the change in sovereignty in 1997, the majority of Hong Kong’s common people have become increasingly attached to heritage sites and have actively voiced their right to participate in the urban development and heritage conservation initiatives.
The above instance proves that proper and effective advancements in conserving the World Heritage Sites requires both public concern and expert consultation.