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What are they doing all day in Paris anyway? www.worldheritagesite.org Forum / What are they doing all day in Paris anyway? /  
 

World Heritage centre "efficiency"?

 
Author Solivagant
Partaker
#1 | Posted: 11 Jun 2009 09:09 | Edited by: Solivagant 
What indeed are they doing all day?
I note that www.whc.unesco.org has been down for almost 2 days now!
No doubt the run up to Seville is a busy time for them all but they really ought to learn how to keep a Website up and running.
I fear that a lot of what we can't see is equally inefficient - note the comment of ICOMOS Japan regarding "UNESCO's administrative stagnation" in delaying Plovdiv's vernacular building preservation project.

Am I alone/unfair in finding little positive to say about this over-bureaucratic, over-political and over self-important undemocratic organisation. Yet everything I hear just emphasises my view. Still they all have "nice little numbers" don't they - travelling the world, treated as VIPs who have to be feted in case they fail to give a state (whose government is often even less savoury than they are!) what it wants or else decide to make an example of it -however democratic its credentials!

I was surprised to hear Francesco Bandarin state on UK radio that the problem with the Dresden bridge was that its was "very standard" .... just a "highway bridge" when the site required something "special". Is that why his organisation told Dresden that they had to build a tunnel - so special it couldn't be seen? Is this a case of a post hoc attempt to push all the blame elsewhere "If Dresden had been reasonable, none of this need have happened..."!!

Author Nem
Partaker
#2 | Posted: 11 Jun 2009 16:05 | Edited by: Nem 
You do seem to have problems with UNESCO and world heritage, a major axe to grind.

Have you taken these allegations up with UNESCO directly, instead of being negative here (and on the Edinburgh Architecture site, I believe? :-) )

It's hardly the fault of those who travel that they are feted, but I also gather that missions have a great deal of hard work to do also.

I understand that the WHC doesn't consider itself over-funded, and it struggles to keep up with all it has to do.

Well, possibly Dresden should either have been a special bridge, something of architectural merit, or one which would enhance the WHS rather than detract. Or a tunnel. But Dresden chose neither. Shame, but possibly some encouraging of the others who want WHS status, but not the responsibilities which go with it, would be useful at this point.

Possibly there is more complexity to it all than this soundbite.

It's easy to moan but conservation of heritage at all levels is frequently a thankless task.

Author Nem
Partaker
#3 | Posted: 11 Jun 2009 16:09 | Edited by: Nem 
Solivagant:
What indeed are they doing all day?
I note that www.whc.unesco.org has been down for almost 2 days now!
No doubt the run up to Seville is a busy time for them all but they really ought to learn how to keep a Website up and running.



This is working:

http://whc.unesco.org/en/about/

Author Solivagant
Partaker
#4 | Posted: 12 Jun 2009 05:18 | Edited by: Solivagant 
No, I have no particular "axe to grind" re UNESCO per se - just a dislike of intellectual inconsistency and bullying by unelected organisations of whatever sort. We are (probably?) about to see an excellent "World Heritage site" removed from the list in order that UNESCO can show its strength and batter others into submission in the future - and on highly dubious criteria. In my view this act will be part of a wider malaise within the World Heritage scheme as now being operated by UNESCO.

Mr Bandarin had the chance on radio to really explain his organisation's policy on modern "development" and the answer he gave was at best disingenuous and at worst .....! Does anyone really believe that, even a bridge which was the 21st Century's architectural equivalent of the Ponte Vecchio, would have been acceptable? We are told that the bridge will alter the historic "Canaletto" view of Dresden across the meadows - well any bridge there will do that however magnificent it might be. Yet that same city was, back in 1989, said to be not "authentic" enough to be inscribed in its own right - if the city isn't authentic then how can the view of it be? Dresden was told to build the bridge (any bridge) elsewhere or else build a tunnel and Bandarin should have explained his organisation's stance on that basis rather than trying to deflect all the blame onto Dresden's own intransigence. I understand that these are all matters of degree and nuance and some issues just require a stand to be taken - but Dresden is NOT the right battlefield for UNESCO to fight on. And many people still do not really understand why UNESCO has chosen it - in opposition to the large majority of democratically expressed desires of the people of Dresden and despite it not being a really major issue whilst, at the same time far worse things happen elsewhere.

So I look at e.g China. Take a look at the Forbidden City from atop Coal Hill - it has become overwhelmed by development - no UNESCO "worries" about the view there! What about the Disneyfication of Lijiang which has been allowed unchecked and unremarked upon? And, as for the apparent "non authenticity" of the central city of Dresden - well DPRK can get a Koguryo tomb which has been constructed anew for the greater glory of the "Dear Leader" inscribed! Why? Because China and DPRK are both not susceptible to pressures from UNESCO and are "necessary" to be in the World Heritage fold for UNESCO's political agenda.

Dresden is about Bordeaux, Bath, Tower of London, The Upper Middle Rhine, St Petersburg and, yes, Edinburgh too - as well as other issues as yet unknown. A sacrificial lamb "pour encourager des autres". Today Dresden, tomorrow UNESCO comes to a city/town/National Park near you... Now, if one is inherantly anti-development, then it will seem very good to have such an influential "bully" to interfere with the internal democratic processes of a nation state.

"Ah, but they all joined the scheme knowing the rules and the responsibilities" I hear someone saying! Oh no they didn't! These rules and responsibilites have altered over time as UNESCO has been able to leverage the growth in popularity of the scheme (it was almost begging sites to join in the early days!). Many early inscriptions had no detailed boundaries let alone "buffer zones" - now they find that the rules have changed and even developments well outside the central zones of inscribed sites are being opposed. There is clearly serious debate going on within many countries about whether more inscriptions are really worthwhile - and UNESCO's request for developed countries to "ease off" provides a convenient excuse. It may well be that soon only the "smellier" countries democratically will be bothering or those which are considered to have been "missed out" such that some "politically correct" minor site in some Ruritanian island state can be elevated alongside the Taj Mahal etc.

But those sites which are already in have a big problem - the "rules" of membership have changed around their ears but they can't "get out" without being "thrown out" - with all the political downsides of that process. UNESCO is not "even handed" in these matters and is interfering in ways which were never envisaged.

As regards the World Heritage Centre's "lack of resources" - well it has always been so among the quangos of this world who live off means voted to them in unclear ways. UNESCO has one of the worst historical records among UN agencies for its waste and corruption. Some of the worst excesses may well have been addressed but I sense an organisation which is institutionally flawed. If it is so cash strapped perhaps it should move out to the banlieux or leave Paris altogether!

And, as for writing to UNESCO to explain concerns - that really would be a complete waste of time! UNESCO has shown itself only willing to deal with the "big boys" of this World - the Expedias etc. So, if for instance you are a small author wanting to write a book about World Heritage sites, don't expect any help from them or permission to display their logo! I won't mention the author concerned (who I don't know or have any connections with) but Els knows of the example.

So .. I still find it difficult to find anything positive to say about UNESCO!

Author Nem
Partaker
#5 | Posted: 12 Jun 2009 06:12 | Edited by: Nem 
Interesting take on it all, but really, I think you are grinding a personal axe. And a little behind the times, as well as not totally up to speed on why some things happen the way they do. In fact, I would say you are spectacularly biased, and not totally well informed.

Maybe you would be better holidaying in Skegness. Forget world heritage. If the World Heritage badge isn't worh a candle, then Dresden will still be Dresden without it.

http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=514781

An alternative scheme? A tunnel, or a better bridge? The city council was against the scheme.

I also think you need to distinguish between UNESCO's actions and the actions of the World Heritage Committee, which is independent of the organisation's bureaucrats such as Banderin, who really has no come back to the committee's decisions

As for 'anti-development', it depends on the development, and the particular circumstances of that development, surely? No two places are alike, and, for example, in Bath no-one is objecting to the Western Riverside being developed, but they are objecting to the plans which have been passed which they don't feel are good enough for the city. It was the same with the Dyson Academy; no-one objected to its re-use, but they did object to its butchery, and the unsympatheic design of what was to replace it. There was a call-in, but Dyson withdrew the plans, so the affect on the WHS was not tested at inquiry.

(Re logos, they are not supposed to allowed to be used for any commercial purpose. Seems fair to me.)

Author Khuft
Partaker
#6 | Posted: 12 Jun 2009 07:31 
I must say I do agree with most of what Solivagant says.

The Dresden city council (as well as the state of Saxony) were extremely stubborn - as was the WHC. So this all has a whiff of Cuba crisis to it, unfortunately with the nuclear option being chosen in the end as no-one wanted to blink.

Interestingly, Germany was faced with the conundrum of having to do everything it could to save Dresden's World Heritage status, while at the same time upholding the will of the people who in a referendum voted for having a bridge. In the end, the federal government did little to stop this train wreck. But for democratic societies, this does raise the question of colliding democratic will and international obligations.

Concerning whether the bridge is nice or ugly - it is in my opinion too early to judge that. After all, the Eiffel Tower was considered ugly by many people when it was built. I do find it worrying, though, that the head of UNESCO (who is also head of the WHC, whatever his day-to-day role there is) is now challenging the bridge not on the basis of its existence anymore, but on basis of its looks - a definitely subjective issue!

Final thought on the Dresden matter: in my opinion the WHC did not make clear enough in how far the new bridge contains such a huge threat to the universal value of the Dresden Elbe Valley. Ok, the Canaletto view will be disturbed or even eliminated - but hasn't it already been disturbed by all the destruction that Dresden had to endure during WW 2? Was Dresden's listing solely or even mostly based on a painting made a few hundred years ago? How does the bridge affect the universal value of parts of the valley outside Dresden? To me, delisting Dresden does seem like using the nuclear option for solving a minor dispute. (Compare with the Oryx sanctuary delisting: here the size of the site was to be reduced by 90%!)

Also, I do fully agree with Solivagant that the WHC is acting differently when adressing developed and developing countries - Kazan can build a modern mosque inside its Kremlin, for instance, and receive WH status even for that one (maybe it is more "beautiful" than Dresden's bridge?). Zabid, in Yemen, has been criticised quite a few times for doing nothing to prevent the massive deterioration of its historic centre. Zimbabwe is apparently happily building hotels inside the protected areas of Victoria Falls (I think I read that somewhere).

Just like any other international organisation, the WHC / UNESCO should be open to criticism, and highlighting the points where people disagree with the WHC / UNESCO does not mean these people hate UNESCO or have "personal axes to grind". For my part, I am a big fan of the WH program (else I wouldn't be participating on this forum) but there are some decisions - like the Dresden de-listing - where I don't agree with the WHC.

Author Nem
Partaker
#7 | Posted: 12 Jun 2009 08:01 | Edited by: Nem 
Of course it should be open to constructive critical comment, but is Solivagant actually doing anything constructive to alter things (other than posting here and on another website about his subjective views how bad he thinks UNESCO is, how unworthy some sites are of being WHS, while not really understanding fully, I think, the situation his big stick is being used to beat World Heritage with, on that other website? He's thrown his hat in the ring with an ill-assortment of anti-heritage bedfellows, who few take seriously).

Dresden, well, I hope it will encourage the others. I hope it encourages the British Government, which has really has not been too clever at protecting WHS here from unsuitable development. It relied, possibly naively, on existing and far from adequate conservation area and listed building legislation, and local management plans, without appreciating that not all WHS are covered by existing legislation, that legislation is weak at the best of times, and management plans and local policies are routinely ignored when a developer waves its wads of cash.

Conservation, however, is a subtle game, and you really shouldn't confuse what is happening with one building, one site, with another, or one country and its legislation and views on conservation with another.

Khuft]I do find it worrying, though, that the head of UNESCO (who is also head of the WHC, whatever his day-to-day role there is

Expand?

Author Khuft
Partaker
#8 | Posted: 12 Jun 2009 08:10 
Sorry - my bad! Was thinking that Francesco Bandarin was the Head of UNESCO, but of course that would be Koichiro Matsuura...

Author Nem
Partaker
#9 | Posted: 12 Jun 2009 08:31 | Edited by: Nem 
http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=45728&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html

' "There is nothing wrong with having a thousand properties inscribed on the World Heritage List," argues Francesco Bandarin the Director of UNESCO's World Heritage Centre commenting on the annual addition of sites to the List. But he notes that the monitoring of these sites, which are subject to regular visits by experts, poses a problem to UNESCO whose limited staff and financial resources are increasingly stretched '

And, pertinently to this discussion

'The Convention - whose primary goal has always been to foster international solidarity to preserve cultural and natural heritage and raise awareness about the value of heritage stipulates that some sites should belong to humanity as a whole because of their "outstanding universal value." Nevertheless, the Convention, ratified by 186 States, recognizes national sovereignty over these sites and States remain responsible for the management of the sites that they proposed for inscription on the List. '

See also: http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=45675&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html

What are they doing all day in Paris anyway? www.worldheritagesite.org Forum / What are they doing all day in Paris anyway? /
 World Heritage centre "efficiency"?

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