Prof. Dr. Klaus Hüfner

[+]Cover_HS Vol 4_PerceptionsMarie-Theres Albert (Ed.): Perceptions of Sustainability in Heritage Studies. Berlin/Boston: Walter De Gruyter, 2015, 239 p. (Heritage Studies, Volume 4).
ISBN 978-3-11-041513-1

Review by Prof. Dr. Klaus Hüfner

The editor, since 2010 director and chair of the doctoral program “International Graduate School: Heritage Studies” at Brandenburg Technical University Cottbus-Senftenberg has produced here a collective volume with a total of eighteen contributions.

Seventeen authors guarantee for an international, global analysis of the differing perceptions of the definition and operationalization of the concept of sustainability in World Heritage Studies. After a brief introduction by the editor, the seventeen contributions are divided into the following four chapters: I. Introductory Reflections; II. History and Documents; III. Paradigms; and, IV. Theory, Methods and Practices.

In this context, it is not easy to discuss every contribution in-depth. The intention is rather to determine some commonalities, without losing sight of the diversity of approaches. Eleven contributions refer to the Brundtland Report. Furthermore, many articles reference the framework set into place and defined by the UN Conferences in 1972 on the Human Environment in Stockholm and the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, as well as the Millennium Summit in New York (2000) and the Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015). Some contributions also include highly relevant references to the preparatory work of the UN Secretary General on the UN Agenda 2030, which started this year.

Of course, seen in all contributions, both directly and indirectly, is reference to the UNESCO World Heritage Convention, officially known as the 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage. Marie-Theres Albert points out that already in 1972, the Convention “explicitly formulated a vision for the role of sustainability” (p.13). Threats mentioned due to increased destruction are “not only by the traditional causes of decay, but also by changing social and economic conditions,” as stated at the beginning of the preamble to the Convention. Threats become even more evident when the ‘List of World Heritage in Danger’ is mentioned in Article 11. Marie-Theres Albert warns in her article that the term sustainability is already being misused and calls for a return to the fundamental concepts of the Convention. Minja Yang criticizes a one-sided economic perspective in which cultural heritage is reduced solely to its touristic value. She refers to the 2001 UNESCO Declaration on Cultural Diversity, which states in the preamble “that culture is a set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society or a social group, and that it encompasses, in addition to arts and literature, lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs.” Thus, she covers many of the areas that UNESCO is involved with to develop the preservation of all types of cultural heritage linked to cultural dialogue for peace through mutual understanding between civilizations (p. 23). She also stresses that cultural sustainability – alongside the environmental, economic and social pillars – should be considered as a fourth pillar of the development process in order to ensure that the UN Agenda 2030 is a “humanization process” (p. 33). Also taken into account is the role of culture in Agenda 2030, which is emphasized by Francesco Bandarin who highlights the demands of the Kyoto-Vision (2012): “To strengthen the relationship between people and heritage as well as political measures for the integration of tangible and intangible heritage in pursuit of a common goal of sustainable development” (p. 44).

Part II contains three articles that address the history of natural heritage, cultural landscapes and intangible cultural heritage. In the contributions from Barbara Engels and Mechtild Rössler, it is clearly expressed that the 1972 World Heritage Convention includes the “spirit” of sustainability, without actually mentioning the term itself (p. 51 and p. 61). Mechtild Rössler focuses on the role and importance of cultural landscapes as a future reference and illustrates this with a table showcasing previous activities undertaken within the UN system (p. 63-64). The article from Shina Erlewein discusses the relationship between sustainable development and intangible heritage against the background of UNESCO activities and the UN reports in preparation for Agenda 2030.

Part III contains five contributions. Giovanni Boccardi calls for a new heritage paradigm for the Anthropocene. This refers to the epoch “in which humans started to have a significant global impact on Earth’s biological, geological and atmospheric processes.” (Wikipedia) Assuming that heritage is a social construct and that Michelangelo, if he had lived today, never would have been allowed to do what he had done, the author attempts to reconcile the goals of heritage protection with ecological, social and economic needs. Michael Turner deals with the social sustainability of Historic Urban Landscapes, in light of the exponential growth in the speed of their transformations. The 2011 UNESCO Recommendation on Historic Urban Landscapes looks at the city not as an object, but rather as a process; it presents an approach to ‘social sustainability’ in which NGOs are assigned a role and also considers the influence that previously marginalized groups have at the local level (p. 108). The contribution from Jyoti Hosagrahar is dedicated to the urban heritage of South Asia and explicitly highlights the associated risks of unplanned tourism. She also emphasizes the important role of local NGOs and community groups (p. 115 and p. 122). Robert Rode discusses the recognition of sacred natural sites of indigenous peoples in the context of the cultural dimension of sustainable development. Here again, culture is discussed as a fourth pillar in the process of Agenda 2030. The article from Manuel Peters also refers to this fourth pillar and focuses on its relationship to the other three (p. 138). Finally, he discusses solidarity as an alternative approach to sustainable development.

In part IV, a total of six contributions are included. The first three articles deal with disciplinary approaches. Joaquim Sabaté and Mark Warren deal with the concept of the cultural landscape and present the US National Park Service as an example. They also call for a stronger involvement of the local communities (p. 157). In a literature review, Solmaz Yadollahi reflects on the definition of social sustainability and the importance of public spaces. With two empirical studies, she focuses on urban revitalization and improving the quality of life and engagement of the residents. Juliana Forero’s contribution deals with the social functions of cultural heritage in the context of socio-cultural sustainability principles and that both tangible as well as intangible cultural heritage should serve to improve the processes of social harmony and peaceful coexistence (p. 179). Ron van Oers once again enters into a contradictory discussion of the United Nations. On the one hand is the UN General Assembly’s December 2010 Resolution 65/166 on Culture and Development and on the other hand is Agenda 2030 which refers solely to the three pillars. Corresponding efforts by UNESCO to stabilize the fourth pillar have not yet been implemented (p. 192). The author includes two case studies with extremely different management strategies and problems (Macau and Shanghai). In her study, Carol Westrik very clearly points out the problematic relationship between World Heritage and sustainable tourism when it comes to the “outstanding universal value.” Critically, she addresses individual cases. Michael Kloos provides information about specific Heritage Impact Assessments of urban landscapes, that is, about the visual impacts of construction measures on selected World Heritage Sites (Waldschloesschen Bridge in the Dresden Elbe Valley and the planned Golden Horn Metro Bridge in Istanbul and ICE High-Rise Cluster on the opposite side of the Rhine River from the Cologne Dom). He shows how these investigations – if time allows – when combined with appropriate communication strategies, promise constructive solutions and help to avoid unnecessary conflict.

As already indicated, this is a collection with extremely different theoretical approaches and practical case studies. Overall, the book provides an exceptionally good insight into both the ‘workshop’ of UNESCO with its multi-faceted efforts, as well as the large number of institutions within the UN System who work in cooperation with UNESCO. The dynamics of the unresolved issues is also visible, by which the implementation of Agenda 2030 is connected. The fourth pillar was visible in all its complexity, yet its integration into a global concept of sustainable development has not yet been satisfactorily resolved. Without a doubt, the reading of this volume is by no means easy, despite additional assistance (indices and literature references for every contribution); it is a reference book, on the one hand to follow up work (for example, it is best suitable as a seminar reading), on the other hand for ‘translation’ challenges, thus reducing the complexity of these aforementioned problems and making them easier to understand in the political arena.

Klaus Hüfner

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