Earlier this week, two articles on Domus engaged each other in a debate over the affect of UNESCO World Heritage status on the cities they supposedly protect. Is UNESCO turning the world’s cities into museums and hindering their future cultural development? Or could it be a positive force for protecting architecture and culture? Read on after the break to learn more about these clashing opinions.
In an op-ed article entitled Urbanicide in all good faith, author Marco D’Eramo denounces UNESCO and the growing list of World Heritage Sites around the world. With 759 protected sites and counting, the World Heritage Site label is coveted by many cities. D’Eramo describes the increasing number of tourists pouring into cities around the world as a crippling by-product of these historically protected areas. He discusses the phenomenon of many historic cities being devoid of every-day people and businesses, and rather, overrun with tourists and souvenir shops. He also makes the point that historical preservation sometimes hinders all future development in a city, arguing that humans will continue to produce notable works of art and architecture. Europe, for example, is home to the majority of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and its urban development is stagnant in comparison to many parts of the world.
Soon after D’Eramo’s article was published, author Michiel van Iersel published a piece entitled Unesco is not ISIS, rebutting many of the arguments made against the organization. Iersel argues that many of the issues that D’Eramo cited with World Heritage cities are not in fact a direct result of the UNESCO label. It is true that many cities are jumping to become new World Heritage Sites, but “ironically, only heritage sites that are already well protected make it to the list.” This could mean that many of the problems caused by regulations for historic preservation would remain regardless of whether or not it was on the UNESCO list. Iersel also points out that “The claim that World Heritage status will cause a rise in the number of tourists is false.” The rising tourist industry in many cities may pose a problem for locals, but it is an issue that must be addressed by local governments, who are often the ones doing the most to increase tourism. It is also possible that some of these issues could actually be remedied if UNESCO operated differently and encouraged more public engagement in the process.
Which side of the debate do you agree with? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.