Understanding Asian Cities II: Heritage for the People
A project by André Alexander and the ACHR Project Steering Committee: Arif Hasan, Maurice Leonhardt, Nguyen Thithu Huong and Somsook Boonyabancha.
Summary / main question
Heritage is becoming an important issue in Asian developing economies and booming cities. Together with a developing middle class, there arise questions of identity and heritage. And tourism, even local tourism, is becoming a very important economic factor.
The questions we propose to investigate concern the impacts of heritage conservation and tourism on the urban poor. Is heritage conservation detrimental to the interests of the poor, by driving up property prices and rents, and will they fall victim to relocation and eviction as authorities wish to present a "clean" and sanitized city to the outside world? Or will heritage conservation and tourism present new and vital economic opportunities for the poor?
Objective of the study
The objective is to map out the status and impacts of heritage conservation in cities within the ACHR network. 8-10 cities in different countries are to be selected. Within the cities, all of which should have heritage, help communities to identify positive and negative impacts, and best and worst practice. Bring communities and other main actors of heritage processes together so that they can learn from each other. Enable the poor communities to participate in and gain from heritage conservation.
The recent ACHR project, Understanding Asian Cities (UAC), particularly the study of historic Beijing, generated some discussion within ACHR and the ACHR network. A number of issues were raised that were not dealt with in the original format of UAC.
These points included the fact that historic districts often preserve traditional social networks and traditional building skills, and in a rapidly-changing world represent values and identity. In practical terms, old urban districts also offer affordable housing to low-income communities. All too often, when the heritage aspect is "discovered", the low-income communities are pushed out, and traditional intangible structures also disappear. Cities or districts become "heritage sites", and often significant resources for restoration and heritage management become available. While this could present a chance to the poor for upgrading of homes and jobs, available evidence suggests that the results are often otherwise (as found in the study of Beijing).
ACHR has established a heritage task force. The working title is "preservation for the people". Using the extensive ACHR networks of community groups in the region, the task force will involve these poor and low-income communities to evaluate the heritage processes in their respective cities. We then propose to provide a forum for the main actors including poor communities to learn from the experiences in other cities of the region, so that poor can be enable to benefit from the potentially large economic potential of heritage tourism in their city.
In the first phase the task force will map out the heritage aspect in the region, and to enable local communities to identify best and worst practice. At the end of this phase will be a workshop where the findings are reported and discussed, and published as a report on the relation between urban heritage and poor communities.
In a second phase, which will be partly determined by the outcomes of the first workshop, ACHR proposes to help affected communities in some of the cities to start participating in the larger heritage management process (for example by helping them to participate in home repair programmes, which most heritage cities seem to have). ACHR will also extend the network of poor communities in heritage cities through its local networks.
ACHR has already created an effective network of poor and disaster-affected communities across Asia and Africa. As a result of this project, there will be a new network connecting communities affected by heritage projects with heritage professionals across the region.
There will be an evaluation report for each of the cities, and best and worst practice will be identified, together with communities and heritage professionals in each of the cities. The impacts and outcomes of best and worst practice will be communicated to poor and low-income groups and heritage professionals in a workshop.
The heritage task force will help to start up community participation processes in at least two of the cities visited.
The task force shall consist of a co-ordinator and participants from the ACHR network. The task force will:
A Map out where vulnerable and poor communities (the main target group) living in historic city districts in Asia, choosing relevant sample cases in relevant regions.
B In order to identify best and worst practice, the following issues are to be investigated:
How has "heritage" recognition (local, national or international level) affected the low-income residents? Have they moved out? Have they benefited?
Heritage conservation traditionally tends to be anti-people, focussing on monuments rather than communities, seen as a way to generate money from doing up old districts but destroying livelihoods and cheap habitat in the process.
We therefore want case studies in the participating cities, that have already been subject to some kind of preservation program, or to infrastructure upgrading. Then we try to find out the people's opinion about this project. We shall determine how many of the original, pre-preservation are residents are still living in the area? What do they think about the preservation program that has taken place, or that is still running? What do other communities in the same city think about such project?
C We will also identify cases where no heritage program has happened yet, but where recognition of heritage status and potential investment are just about to happen. In such cases, it is proposed (perhaps as follow-up) to seed two local initiatives to prepare the local communities for the situation and ensure their participation in anything that will happen. It seems plausible that such support might focus on recently-industrializing countries (such as Viet Nam), or those that are still beyond the world of international economics (Laos and Myanmar).
D To add to a proper understanding of the matter, we need to identify the qualities and problems of historic and traditional settlements. In particular we would like to identify
a) disadvantages of historic urban settlements (e.g. lack of infrastructure, houses don't correspond to changed life-styles and social structures, too dark, too dusty etc.)
b) qualities (climatically appropriate, using local crafts and materials, fitting local life-styles and social structures better than developer-built western-style housing, affordable, neighbourhood structures etc.).
There shall be no romanticising of historic districts, but a proper assessment of life quality by letting the local people judge and tell us what they think the qualities and drawbacks are.
One follow-up aspect of the "preservation for the people" project is to identify local planning and construction practices that are inexpensive, suited to the local climate and conditions, and create jobs / keep professions alive among resident communities. In the past, locally available (or locally produced) materials were often used for building construction. This knowledge can be used not only for preservation, but for any upgrading, potentially spinning-off into slum areas. Who says slum upgrading designs have to be ugly?
Further, there might be more qualities in term of traditional planning, that might be overlooked by modern architects and planners. The way houses are clustered together, the way they face (to the sun, away from the sun, to the winds etc.). All this is important local knowledge that we should identify. Modern construction in steel and cement is too often the domain of contractors. Using at least a degree of traditional techniques and materials generates jobs for urban poor, slum dwellers etc. The positive results of mobilizing residents for upgrading has been successfully demonstrated by Arif Hasan's Orangi project, THF's Lhasa old city project and others.
E The heritage task force shall identify relevant cases, contact participants and initiate contributions in the form of local reports. The heritage task force shall also visit all (or most) sites for on-site evaluation of all the points described above.
In addition, the task force shall create a network of communities in historic districts. In a follow-up, that shall also include a network of local artisans to create a common body of knowledge of low-cost but adequate traditional-style habitat construction to solve upgrading etc and to generate employment (this initiative could eventually become an Asian Institute of Urban Heritage Conservation if I could find a nice-sounding acronym).
F ACHR and the task force shall hold a workshop (organised by the task force) in April 2007 or later to present and discuss the findings. The task force is ultimately responsible for producing a final report that answers the issues raised and describing the best/worst practices.
Criteria for analyzing heritage preservation's impact on the poor
There are seven issues to look at during the exploratory visits, and these issues are also the base for reports delegated to groups within the cities.
1 People's participation in the heritage project
a) have the residents (poor and other) participated early in the planning phase?
b) who are the main actors? who is the main driving force of the process – government, private sector, external agencies, universities or community groups?
c) participation in the implementation
d) participation in maintenance
e) participation in overall management of project / district government
f) existence of community-based organisation
g) existence of savings groups
2 How are the urban poor / low-income residents affected?
a) to what extent do they depend on the historic area for cheap housing
b) have there been resettlements and relocations?
c) population figures of low-income residents 10 years ago / before any heritage initiative started, and today
d) changes in economic patterns for the poor – has their traditional livelihood been affected adversely ( closing of markets, workshops etc), unintentionally positively (fringe benefits) or intentionally positive (new jobs, new markets for local products)? had the project design promised these things? have they delivered? we need to get an accurate picture, not just according to statistics.
e) have living conditions improved (infrastructure – access to safe drinking water, better waste management, better drainage etc.)
3 The impact of tourism
a) which impacts can be observed?
b) what gains / interests for the tourist industry have negative / neutral /positive impacts on communities? which interests of the tourist industry might result in conflicts with community interests?
4 Physical Aspects of Heritage Conservation
a) were the results of heritage work carried out positive (good quality work, authenticity of place preserved)?
b) was there a significant loss of historic structures over the past 10 years? if so, get details.
how much money for historic conservation work came from tourism? how much from external sources? how much from the private sector (or from public-private partnerships), how much from government, how much from the communities? how much in relation to the overall was spent on low-income communities?
6 The Image of the city
has it changed / improved as a result of heritage conservation work? is the heritage district a main factor for the image of the city (as in Luang Prabang eg.) or a lesser factor (eg. Bangkok)?
7 Who are the main actors?
Who initiated the heritage process and why? Are the decisions taken on local level or provincial or national level? Who were the conservationists and where had they received their training? Which are the schools and conservation courses that are available in the city / country and their nature and orientation. What are the relevant conservation and relocation laws, zoning regulations and procedures in the city/country?
Tibet Heritage Fund | Preservation for the People
Copyright, Tibet Heritage Fund