Ismail Serageldin

Speeches


Our Past is Our Future: Investing in Our Cultural Heritage

 16/01/1997

 

Important Issues:

 

The protection of our cultural heritage is an essential part of protecting a sense of identity, a sense of who we are, that underlines that the present is a link from a well defined past to a future crafted by our actions, guided by our aspirations and our innate abilities, individually and collectively This cultural heritage covers many things: literature, visual art, music buildings, customs, ritual and the objects of everyday use. This essay will focus the built environment and specifically historic cities. By that, we mean the living historic cities, not the conservation of monuments and archaeological sites. More focus will be given to the living cities of the developing world, where the challenge of protecting the heritage is greatest.

 

 

A Critical Social Discourse:

 

The rapidly urbanizing developing world faces many social challenges. Population growth, influx of rural migrants, and an evolving economic base, all challenge the ability of the cities to provide jobs and livelihoods. Crumbling infrastructure, poor and over stretched social services, rampant real estate speculation and weak governments all contribute to putting tremendous pressure on the central cities, often loci of invaluable architectural and urbanistic heritage, while the degradation of the urban environment limits the abilities of a growing, shifting homeless population to take root and establish communities with a minimum standard of decent housing. The animosities between groups rise and tensions within the cities fray the social fabric as much as economic speculation transforms the urban tissue. The inner historic cities are increasingly ghettoized, with the middle-class and economic activities either fleeing the historic core or actively destroying its very fabric.

 

Against this spiral of mounting problems, a response is possible. This positive response to the challenges of old cities is possible, even under difficult conditions. To protect the urban context, the sense of place and to revitalize the old city is indicative that a whole city can be kept alive, its economic base rejuvenated and its links to the surrounding modern city reinforced. This requires much more than a restoration project, it requires Herculean efforts at urban revitalization.

 

Within that context, some efforts have doe much that is innovative, creative and successful. Such projects, many of which have been recognized internationally by various awards and publications, have each shown in an exemplary fashion one facet of the solution. The proper integration of the old city, restored and renovated, into the fabric of the new metropolis is feasible and has been successfully achieved in some places, like Bukhara. In some cases, the linking of the restoration of the different buildings has been achieved to make the whole more than the sum of the parts, as was done in Sanaa. In rare cases it has been possible to transform the socio-economic base, as was done in Hafsia in Tunis. Problems of the poor and of potential community strife were addressed in the Aranya project in Indore, India. The intractable problems of the homeless were addressed in the Hyderabad, Pakistan Project. And there are so many more excellent projects to learn from, even if each provides a creative solution to only part of the problem.

 

Together, these projects have much to say to enrich the international debate about the problems of rapid urbanization, historic cities and the problems of a growing urban underclass. But these are only facets of the solution, addressing parts of the problem. What is needed is to bring them together in a framework that would engender the positive processes needed to create a powerful upward spiral of investments, social cohesion and rising incomes, that gives again to the old historic cities their inherent vitality and retains their unique charm.

 

Architecture and Urbanism:

 

Too frequently, the question of new building in historic areas is fraught with polemics. Clearly, to insert new buildings in a historic context is one of the most difficult things an architect confronts. Yet the thought of preserving cities frozen in time, just for their quaintness, would run counter to any notion of the city as living organism. The museum city, such as Khiva, is not likely to be the historic living city that we aspire to keep alive.

 

But how to build in historic areas? This goes to the very heart of what great architecture is all about.

 

The language of architecture is more than form and esthetics. It evokes the past, prefigures the future, and articulates the present urban reality for all people. The language of architecture is therefore an integral part of manifesting a society’s image of itself, while architects are both the custodians of a past legacy, an architectural and urbanistic heritage of forms and spaces, as well as the creators of the heritage of tomorrow.

 

Architecture is the most localized of the arts. It is rooted to site. It must respond to functional realities and user needs. Yet it is more, much more. To the extent that location provides context and user needs provide the functional requirements, architecture is specific to a particular society and locale. To the extent that architecture responds to the universal and to the evolving globalization and its challenges, it must transcend the limits of the locale and provide more to the user, and the viewer, than just the functional response to felt needs. It has an emotive quality and symbolizes a state of being.

 

In the Developing world, the crisis of identity is manifest in the choice of architectural vocabularies. These tend to either reject the contemporary and repeat the iconic forms of the past, a position charged with ideology by a type of architectural traditionalist fundamentalism, or they try to break out of the locale and import the westernized modern as an expression of “progress”. Both of these approaches tend to be heavy handed and devoid of sensibility to either time or space.

 

What is needed, and is still all too infrequent, is an architecture that can reflect and enrich the critical discourse about the contemporary architectural language and expression. An architecture that reinterprets the past through contemporary eyes, and sees respect for the heritage not in the slavish copying of past form but in the respectful incorporation of the spirit of the past in the new.

 

When that is done, we will have an architecture capable, by the quality of its innovative solutions, not only to protect the historic district’s character, but also to enhance the sense of place that it engenders. Such projects make a real contribution to an architecture of humanism, that transcends the boundaries of place.

 

Innovative Concepts:

 

Progress is hostage to innovation. The incremental improvements of past forms or solutions is seldom able to respond to the needs of tomorrow. Such approaches do not possess the liberating contribution of innovative concepts that open the door to rethinking the content of the challenge of the evolving world around us, and to the avenues that should be pursued to find fertile grounds to plow. Such innovations, that require breaks with the conventional, are seldom born in perfection. The innovators are risk takers, who bring a subversive creativity to challenge us all to rethink what we have long taken as granted. The risk takers must be recognized for what they do, arguably a far more important contribution than just another well-functioning building.

 

The developing world today, the entire world, needs the creative leaps of the imagination that dare to think what remains unthinkable within the confines of the conventional wisdom, which by definition reflects the experience of the past.

 

Intervening in Historic Cities:

 

From the soaring language of architecture and form, we must come down to the prosaic world of politics and finance. Without finance there would be no projects, period! But Finance and economics are dependent on a framework that brings together the different actors, public and private, international, national and local, formal and informal in a manner that the whole is more than the sum of the parts. Such processes require not only sound finance and economics, but also effective political processes that bring all these actors together towards working collaboratively on effective approaches to conservation and socio-economic rejuvenation in historic cities.

 

In general terms, most approaches involve some combination of the following:

 

• Restrictions on activities in the historic areas. The most obvious such restriction is not to destroy culturally-significant structures. Restrictions may go further, however, by requiring particular standards of upkeep or specifying how that upkeep should be carried out (for example, by requiring particular materials that match those originally used). The activities that can be carried out in such areas are also often restricted. Such restrictions can be imposed on both public and private sector activities.

 

• Conservation activities on specific structures that are particularly significant.

 

• Measures to encourage conservation by other actors. In an urban context, direct intervention to conserve all structures is impractical. Conservation efforts, therefore, are dependent on an incentive framework that will encourage spontaneous efforts by other agents.

 

Some of these actions can be deliberately chosen and directed by government decision-makers, but many others will be outside their direct control and will depend on independent decisions made by many private-sector actors. Analysis of such efforts must include, therefore, both an economic and a financial analysis. The economic analysis asks whether the proposed investments are worth undertaking: do their benefits to society as a whole exceed their costs? The financial analysis, on the other hand, examines the specific costs and benefits that different groups will experience as result of these investments, and asks whether each such group will individually gain or benefit from them.

 

The Rubik’s Cube:

 

Like the great and elegant puzzle known as Rubik’s cube, where aligning the mosaic of one face tends to undo the matched colors of the other face of the cube, so too trying to match sensitive architecture and urbanism, sound municipal finances, adequate incentives for the private sector, concern for the poor and the destitute, and community involvement and participation while promoting socio-economic diversity and pluralism also seem impossible to resolve. Like Rubik’s cube, however, the solution, though very difficult, is possible. It requires patience, dedication and imagination. but it is possible.

 

To understand better the faces of the Rubik’s Cube and the thread to be followed for a solution, we must start by identifying the multiple actors, the different levels of decision making, and above all a leitmotif that we must not lose sight of: who pays and who benefits?

 

The actors are many: The government, national and local, the international community and its agencies, the tourists, both national and local, who visit the historic cites, the private sector, both international and national, who will invest in the old historic core, for commercial or real estate development, and the local residents, be they owners or renters, the poor, who risk being displaced by the unaffordability of the changes, not to mention the local community, for whom this is not just home, but also a fundamental part of the definition of their identity, and who can be the very real agents of transformation when they are adequately mobilized and organized, especially the women, who are the primary agents of the networks of cooperation and reciprocity, that create a sense of social solidarity in the community.

 

Each of these actors has a different way of looking at the problem of rejuvenating the historic cores of living cities in the rapidly evolving context of developing countries. They will have their own calculus by which they will decide whether to invest their effort and funds in the renewal of the historic core and the preservation of its unique character. he problem lies in the fact that the set of incentives that are necessary for each to act in a particular way is not independent from the others. Thus, the context of the fiscal and regulatory regimes that will govern economic activity and social life in the historic city must be so designed to give each the necessary set of incentives, so that the whole act in concert to reverse the negative downward spiral we described, and so that the whole is more than the sum of the parts, and create a positive spiral of renewal. Herein lies the analogy with the Rubik’s Cube puzzle. trying to shore up the finances of the municipality through more rigorous taxation may discourage the necessary private investment, while excessive incentives to the private investors could bankrupt the municipality. Attracting higher income residents in the city may raise the revenues and create economic opportunities, but it could also lead to the displacement of the local population. Thus the striking the balance between the needs o fall is the trick required to rejuvenate the economic base of the historic cities while protecting their unique heritage and maintaining their social cohesion. This is the equivalent to solving the Rubik’s Cube.

 

So let us start by looking at the different types of economic and financial analysis that we will have to bring into play to define the parameters by which the decisions of each of the actors is likely to be made and accordingly to arrive at the right balance of incentives and regulations that will be required.

 

Economic analysis, drawing on the work done in environmental economics in the last fifteen years or so, the calculation of costs and benefits can be undertaken. The results of this analysis would be of primary interest to the national government that must decide to invest public resources that may not be offset by direct revenues. Such an analysis is also essential for the international financial community that must decide whether to finance the proposed interventions of the national governments, whether with loans or credits. The economic studies could also be very relevant to those who would provide grants for the international support to an invaluable part of the world heritage. True, some sites and buildings are so valuable, that the cost benefit criterion does not apply, and we tend to look at the cost-effectiveness method to evaluate possible courses of action. But the reality of available resources makes such exercises few and far between.

 

The result of such analysis is not only a single number, the internal economic rate of return (IERR) or even the net present value (NPV) of the proposed investment, it should also identify the different actors and the parts of the cost and the benefit streams that they would assume. This is essential then in the context of the leitmotif we sketched out (who pays and who benefits), in order to help set the overall framework for the regulatory, fiscal and financial plans that would be both equitable and effective.

 

Organizing the Public Finance role: The definition of responsibilities between the national and local government is important and would require an equally clear distribution of authority on revenues and expenditures. The combination of actions at the national and local level creates the framework within which the individual investment decisions of the residents and the private sector will be undertaken. Recognizing the different public sector perspectives of the local and national governments as well as other involved public agencies is an important nuance in defining a work program that is effective and implementable.

 

Financial analysis. If the economic analysis shows that returns are positive, then the total benefits of the proposed investments exceed the total costs. Society as a whole will be better off; individual sub-groups may be worse off, but the gains by other sub-groups will outweigh them. In principle any sub-group of society that is worse off can be compensated by those that emerge better off. In practice, however, this theoretical compensation of losers often does not occur. The economic analysis, therefore, must be supplemented by financial analysis of the specific impacts of the proposed investments on particular groups. This is important for three reasons:

 

• Sustainability: financial flows will determine the sustainability of many activities. Socially beneficial activities have often failed because agencies charged with implementing them have not had sufficient resources to do so.

 

• Incentives: private sector agents need positive financial flows if they are to respond as hoped; indeed, if they do not receive them they may not only fail to participate in conservation efforts but may actively oppose them.

 

• Equity: some groups that are adversely affected by the proposed investments may be unable to make their interests be heard. In the context of historic cities, this is particularly true of poor residents. Such groups already live in wretched conditions, and it is important to check that the proposed investments do not, at the very least, aggravate their plight.

 

Solving the Rubik’s Cube:

 

The success of investments in cultural heritage in historic cities depend on the cooperation of a multiplicity of actors, whose perspectives must be taken into account. Financial analysis needs to be undertaken for three groups or sectors:

 

• Public sector: Public finance issues need to be examined at several levels. The analysis can be used to define clearly what costs should be incurred at what level of government (local or national), what revenues may be levied, also by level of government, and whether these levies should be earmarked or simply channeled through the general treasury. It is particularly important that separate financial analyses be undertaken from the perspective of the municipalities and any implementing agencies involved; inadequate financial flows to municipalities and other implementing agencies have often led to the failure of projects. It is also important to ensure that local authorities have access to sufficient resources to maintain the investments once they are in place. The analysis may well show that changes are needed in the way that revenues are raised and allocated. Revenues from tourism, for example, are often captured by the central government, giving local authorities little incentive to undertake activities that encourage it.

 

• Private sector: Conservation strategies in historic cities often rely heavily on induced investments by the private sector, including tourism operators, commercial establishments, property owners, and others. Moreover, the financial sustainability of the efforts from the perspective of local authorities often depends on taxies and levies capturing a portion of the benefits derived by private sector actors. The viability of investments that these various agents are expected to make must be subject to financial analysis to determine their likely profitability. The structure and magnitude of any proposed taxes and levies must be carefully examined to ensure that they do not stifle the profitability of private investment necessary for the renovation of the economic base. (Changes in policies adopted for other reasons may also be necessary to achieve this goal, in addition to changes in the levies, taxes, and regulations imposed as part of the conservation effort itself.)

 

• Poor residents: An analysis of affordability is needed to make sure that the poor can still have access to renovated residences, and that levies for the necessary infrastructure investments do not become prohibitive. This type of analysis would help guide the levels of service and standards to be used for the upgrading.

 

The alignment of the results of these different analyses, all yielding positive incentives for the different groups of actors, along with an effective overall economic analysis capturing the international dimensions of the heritage questions, is still not enough to solve the Rubik’s Cube. The political process within which these decisions are undertaken, the involvement of the local communities, the participation of the poor, the empowerment of the key actors in the neighborhoods, especially women, and the manner in which this is all done are all critical to make an urban rejuvenation and conservation effort a success. Only when we have mastered these aspects as well as the financial and economic aspects will the Rubik’s cube yield to an elegant and deceptively simple solution!

 

The Institutional Dimension:

 

Clearly, the nature of the institutional arrangements in a particular city could help or impede the search for the elegant solutions of the Urban cultural heritage Rubik’s cube. The arrangements are usually complex and bureaucratic. They involve multiple agencies and many bureaucracies but are not adequate to actually involve many of the inhabitants or to address the needs of private investors who could be key in rejuvenating the economic base of the historic city. One of the approaches that could be explored in this context is the use of a historic district development authority. Elsewhere, I have written about this aspect of the problem, but the idea is simple enough: to cut across the forests of red tape with one bold piece of legislation and to structure its decision making in such a way that it provides accountable but effective and efficient management with a primary responsibility for all aspects of the historic area.

 

One key innovation would be to recognize the rights of all actors in a set of shares that could be allotted in proportion to the stake they have in the geographic area under consideration. This would give the government a significant position to start with since the government owns through the public spaces a significant part of the land. The market value of rented space could also be recognized in the allocation of shares in this system.

 

How to Conserve: Adaptive Re-use and Flexibility

 

 

The need to preserve has to be matched by the need to provide flexibility of reuse. Experience shows that excessively rigid adherence to restoration standards, i.e. where nothing is changed form the original can lead to less than optimal use of the properties. A case from the UK is instructive: two buildings in Bath, of exactly identical appearance, one of which was totally remodeled from the inside, basically allowing a totally different layout while maintaining the facade unchanged, the second being maintained and remodeled exactly as it was both inside and outside. The former rented at L18 per sq.ft. the going rate, the latter remained vacant for 2 1/2 years. This calls into question the need to review the prevalent practices in conservation to ensure that purity of purpose does not constrain the ability to strangle the economic and social revitalization of historic city cores.

 

 

Examples from Washington DC also bear out this need for flexibility. Successful private redevelopment has sometimes carried flexibility to extremes of “facadism”. An example is the Red Lion row-houses on Pennsylvania Avenue, where the facades of old residential buildings are protected, but the interior spaces are combined for commercial use and linked to new and discrete architectural construction.

 

A more interesting example is the restoration of the Willard Hotel. The Willard Hotel in Washington DC represents a very successful effort at architectural conservation and addition. The historic hotel whose lobby was such an important meeting place in the 19th century that it gave us the term ”lobbying” in the language, has been restored in all its splendor. However, to make the renovation project pay, the developers had to build a new addition of commercial offices and shops. This was very elegantly done, echoing but not copying the architectural motifs, and cascading downwards from the roof line of the original. A more muted color tone, a gentle setback around a courtyard and the whole is that most elusive of all successes where the new not only blends with the old, but actually enhances it. It is one of those rare cases where the whole is indeed more than the sum of the parts.

 

 

Affordability and the Poor:

 

The vast majority of those living in the dilapidated buildings of old historic cores of the cities of the developing countries are poor. Yet, it would be mistake to assume that all those who live in historic cities are poor. Far from it. There is considerable wealth in pockets of the old cities, and commerce there seems to be very remunerative, if for no other reason than the enormous densities and frequent tourism. Yet, it is the poor who are most at risk of involuntary displacement and/or of being squeezed by the cost recovery of new infrastructure investments executed in ways and at standards that have more to do with the perceptions of acceptability of higher income decision makers than with the needs of the poor.

 

From a sociological as well as an economic point of view it makes eminent sense to minimize involuntary displacement. Oustees should then be treated as fairly as possible, compensated for the disruption in their lives, and assisted in starting anew elsewhere. The power of eminent domain should not be abused. With such an approach, the process of renewal of the historic cores can become a major source of community pride and civic engagement, just as it can draw strength from the unleashed power of the community to take charge of its own destiny. It is thus essential to involve the local communities in the design and implementation process.

 

The quest for economic and financial rigor should not lead to a regime where the cost recovery and user fees result in effective large scale displacement of many poor residents. This is neither humane nor essential for success. But it should not be confused with an assumption that no change of any kind is to be tolerated. Some gentrification is likely and should be welcomed, so that the inner core of old cities do not become receptacles for only the poor and destitute, but benefit from a mixed range of socio-economic groups and occupations. This would enhance the vibrancy of the city and its fabric, and is quite feasible, as Hafsia in Tunis has shown. Indeed, a carefully graduated system of levies can marry the needs of sound fiscal management and ability to pay of the population. That is why a careful affordability analysis is relevant to round out the other financial and economic analyses in a thoughtful project of rejuvenating a historic city in the developing countries. It can be done.

 

Examples:

 

Hafsia, Tunis:

 

The historic cores of the cities of the Muslim world are under assault. Treasures of the architectural and urban heritage of the world, these city cores are victims of crumbling infrastructure and real estate speculation. They have become depositories of the poor in dense and unsanitary conditions. The inner historic cities are increasingly ghettoized, with the middle-class and economic activities either fleeing the historic core or actively destroying its very fabric.

 

Against that background, Hafsia represents an exemplary success in revitalizing the economic base and diversifying the social mix of the inhabitants of the old medina. The middle class has returned to the old medina, making it once more the locus of social and economic integration that it historically had been. This is a unique success in reversing the negative trends seen throughout the Muslim world.

 

This project received widespread recognition in 1983 when it won the Aga Khan award for Architecture because of its ability to contain the damage of earlier misguided efforts at large scale development in the area, by encircling the three apartment buildings and the two schools and creating the covered souk that organically re-links the two parts of the old city texture and sensitively inserting some scaled housing that emulates the texture. The key questions raised then were whether a second phase would be able to do more than just promote a physical implant of a few new houses. The response over the past decade has been spectacular. The second phase has not only successfully confounded the skeptics, but also won the unique distinction of a second Aga Khan award for Architecture in 1995.

 

In an amazing amalgam of public and private, the Municipality of Tunis, the ASM and the ARRU have succeeded in reducing the enormous population densities in the old wekalas, dealing with the displaced through a sensitive resettlement scheme. Rehabilitation of the structures through credit schemes have worked extremely well in all but the rent-controlled non-owner occupied structures. The success of the project in 1995 in nudging the government to finally remove the rent-control law has effectively lifted the remaining obstacle to commercially financed rehabilitation of these non-owner occupied rental units.

 

Hafsia II is a financial, economic and institutional success. Cross-subsidies have made the project financially viable as a whole. The rates of return on public investment have been high. The multiplier effect of private to public funds has been of the over 3 to 1. All of this has been accompanied by a sensitive treatment of the urban texture, and an integration of the old city with its surrounding metropolis. It is a project worthy of study and emulation.

 

The Case of Fez:

 

The project for the rehabilitation of the old medina of Fez is an example of how a carefully designed operation can weave the different strands of all the various aspects discussed in this essay. It represents the most comprehensive effort to date to deal with the problems of a dense medina, one that is on the World Heritage List.

 

Whether this project will be successful or not in implementation will depend on many things, not least of which is the institutional arrangements chosen to implement it. But the project has already yielded an enormous amount of sophisticated analysis that should be a benchmark for future projects of this kind.

 

Briefly stated, the project will involve an improvement in the infrastructure of the old medina, including improved access for some parts of the area as well as an emergency road network (tight at 1.7 meters, but still passable with special vehicles), assistance to owners and residents to upgrade the dilapidated housing stock, and incentives for the commercial activities, as well as enhanced tourist visits. The project is conceived as a public-private partnership and designed in a participatory fashion with the FES-ADER playing an important role in grounding the operation in the community. External consultants from the Harvard University Unit of Housing have focused as much on innovative capacity building as on rigorous analysis.

 

The benefits of the project include improved infrastructure, especially the emergency access network, improved living conditions, including incentives for upgrading substantial parts of the residential housing stock, restoration of important parts of a jewel of the world urban heritage, rejuvenation of the commercial activities in the old medina and increased tourism revenues.

 

The rate of return for the pubic investment appears to be quite robust against downside scenarios of cost overruns of the order of 10-20% remaining consistently over 10% after the eighth year.

 

At this point, I want to caution against a tendency to limit the benefit stream to the increased revenues fro tourism. Even if it proves to be more than enough to justify the investment in economic terms, it is an inadequate framework to measure the benefits of heritage.

 

A benefit stream that focuses exclusively on tourist revenue not only misses the intrinsic value of the heritage, it could lead to three erroneous conclusions, that are imbedded in the logic of such an analysis:

 

That those areas of the cultural heritage where you could not generate a sufficiently large tourist stream are not worth investing in. This is a denial of the intrinsic worth of the cultural heritage, both for the people there and for the enrichment that it brings to the world at large by its very existence. After all, many of us will not visit any of the sites on the world heritage list, but we would feel impoverished to know of the loss of such sites, and feel enriched by their continued existence, even if we never visit them.

 

That maximization of the number of tourists visiting the place and the amount that they spend would be desirable, since it increases the benefit stream. in fact, in many cases, such a development would destroy the charm of the place and denature the activities that are endogenous to the cultural setting.

 

That if another and mutually exclusive investment -- say a casino on the beach -- resulted in increased tourist dollars for the country, we should leave the old city without restoration and build the casino.

 

Clearly, all these conclusions are neither justified nor defensible. We must look for the intrinsic value of the cultural heritage above and beyond what it is likely to generate in terms of tourist dollars.

 

In the case of Fez, a special study was undertaken to try to capture the added value of the historic heritage. Three different methods were used, in addition to the conventional estimation of added tourist revenues through the result of increased stays or increased spending per tourist. The first sample was of tourists who had visited Fez, and an estimate of how much they would be willing to invest to upgrade the old town yielded the figure of some $11 million dollars. The second samples involved tourists in Morroco who had not visited Fez, and the estimate from that yielded some $33 million (because the total numbers are larger, even if the per person willingness to pay was lower). This could be called an “option” value for the heritage of Fez, since the interviewees could presumably visit there some day. The last sample involved a Delphi approach with some Europeans who ad never visited Morroco and who were not necessarily likely to in the near future. Their estimates, if generalized to other European households yields a non-use value for the existence of the heritage in Fez at over $300 million. The purpose of such numbers is not that they would be translated immediately into some added revenue for the maintenance and restoration of the Fez heritage, but rather that there is a large intrinsic value that goes beyond what is actually measured by or measurable by actual tourist revenues.

 

The estimation of such “existence” values is not a senseless academic exercise. It is an effort to grapple with and ultimately define the intrinsic worth of protecting the cultural heritage. It is very similar tot he work that has been done in environmental economics to estimate the existence value of biodiversity. In that case, patient analytic work over a number of years led to the recognition of the global benefits associated with the local costs of protecting the environmental asset, say biodiversity in a rain forest. This was the foundation for creating the Global Environment Facility (GEF), which has already provided more than $3 billion of grants to poor countries to covert he incremental cost of protecting the global environment.

 

Surely, the parallel with the cultural heritage of the world, especially that which is recognized as part of the world heritage list, is striking. Conserving the cultural built heritage needs to be recognized in a similar fashion to the way we recognize the conservation of the natural environment. Here too, the costs of the conservation are local but the benefits are global. Perhaps we can hope to see a Global Cultural Facility (GCF?), that would garner funds on a much larger scale than those currently provided to the World Heritage Fund which are a mere fraction of what is needed to address the major challenges of conservation that we face around the world.

 

Envoi:

 

For the sake of the world who needs a memory to have an identity;

 

For the sake of all humanity who would be impoverished if the magnificent heritage of the past is no more;

 

For the sake of the poor who should not be displaced to make room for the rich;

 

For the sake of the overwhelmed local administrations that have become the custodians of such treasures but lack the means to meet the simplest and most basic requirements of their citizens

 

For the sake of the communities, that must not be wrenched apart to adjust to the new economic realities, but should find the ways that these would benefit and empower them;

 

For all our sakes.. we must learn to master the Rubik’s cube of social, economic, environmental and physical complexities, so that the rich legacy of the past becomes a continuing source of joy and enrichment as it evolves into the legacy of tomorrow.

 

Only thus will the historic cities of the developing countries be able to remain living entities matching the wonder of their past with the reality of present well-being for all their citizens and future opportunities for the next generation who are growing up to claim their heritage and their rightful place in the sun.

 

It is a task worth doing!


Copyright © 2020 Serageldin.com