Culture, Identity, Heritage and Economics:
Creating a Sustainable Future for the Past

March 20, 1999 – Conclusion

Pamela W. Hawkes,
Chair of the Symposium Scientific Committee

“The family, the dwelling house and the field are inseparable.” This quote comes, courtesy of Philip Marshall, from a petition by Hopi clan and village leaders prepared in 1894, as the Federal government prepared to break up their homeland. It provides a wonderful metaphor for the themes and challenges presented in the symposium. Today, we can think of “the family” as not just the nuclear household of modern culture or even the extended family of the past, but any group of people bound by love and duty. We can consider the “dwelling place” not just a home, but the structures that sustain society, such as churches, schools and courthouses. “The field” is a metaphor for the things that sustain us physically, whether fields and orchards, workshops and factories, or the earth, air, wind and water.

As the symposium speakers demonstrated, in every part of the world, modern life has caused ruptures in this self-sufficient fabric of life, leading to the decay of communities and natural landscapes. Masood Khan illustrated how an act as simple and commendable as the education of women has led to the breakdown of traditional extended families and a demand for housing that has overwhelmed communities in Karimabad, Pakistan. Mona Serageldin painted a clear picture of the downward spiral of disinvestment and decay that has taken place in Arab cities since the 1960’s. As the middle class moved out of the historic centers in search of better living conditions, they leave behind the poor, the aged and migrant workers from the countryside. We have seen the same chain of events played out in cities all across the United States.

To date, traditional preservation and traditional urban planning efforts have had little impact on these forces. Indeed, as more parts of the third world become industrialized, the problem continues to grow. Because preservation has been funded to date either through private philanthropy or governments, support has wavered as individuals die and administrations change. With such limited resources, preservation efforts have typically focused on aesthetic or historic landmarks, which are often set apart from everyday life as museums. As Bonnie Burnham pointed out, this isolation has led to tragic results, as planning and development efforts ignore heritage.

Nevertheless, the symposium presentations suggested a new paradigm, one which puts preservation at the heart of solutions by making it, in the words of Eduardo Rojas, the “concern of the whole community.” It is characterized by several conditions:

1.   The involvement of all parts of society, public and private, and a respect for different cultural values, starting with the basic family structure.

2.  Education of the community about heritage, both teaching young people about their own cultural practices and, as Pierre Bikai described, helping adults in Jordan understand that the monuments of Roman and Byzantine conquerors are part of their heritage.

3.   Private sector development and public-private partnerships, whether “adopt a landmark” programs suggested by Pierre Bikai or taxes on airlines, hotels and other tourist businesses to support preservation of the monuments from which they benefit.

4.  Involving private and cultural institutions, whether through leadership of foundations such as the Aga Khan Trust or the religious organizations in Cairo that control a high percentage of land in the historic city.

5.  Building public commitment through appropriate legal structures, sustained investment of public funds, and strong political leadership.

All of factors rely on broadening and illuminating the value of heritage. As Marta de la Torre and Randy Mason explained, there are many values, social and spiritual as well as economic. We must learn to present the benefits of heritage in terms that have meaning for public and private decision-makers.

In reflecting on the day’s presentations, I am reminded that preservation is the process of managing change, not stopping or reversing it. The model described above offers an even more proactive approach, one which uses heritage to re-knit the fabric of communities and make them sustainable once more. The model must be developed more fully into viable programs, and must be prepared to adapt continuously as the conditions in communities evolve.

Rapporteurs Steven Kelly, Richard Pieper, Gunny Harboe and I suggest the following activities to further develop the valuable ideas presented in the symposium:

Publish the proceedings to make them more widely available.

Identify existing structures within ICOMOS to continue the dialogue. The Historic Landscapes Committee has already committed to continuing the discussion among its members, and the Historic Towns and Cultural Tourism committees are other likely venues.

Continue to develop partnerships between ICOMOS and other organizations such as the World Monuments Fund, the Getty Conservation Institute and the Aga Khan Trust to make our concerns and our expertise available to the World Bank and other decision-makers who are shaping the future of developing countries.

Consider enlarging the ideas as a theme for the 2001 annual meeting, focusing on the challenges of cultural landscapes, which were not discussed at this year’s conference. This would provide a logical opportunity to invite environmental groups to participate, since they are also recognizing the need to value intangibles and integrate protection of habitats into a larger economic framework.