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More of the same

Author elsslots
#1 | Posted: 12 Jul 2008 09:45 | Edited by: elsslots 
Of this year's new entries, it appears that Mantua stands out as really being more of the same. Already 8 relatively common connections have been named, and there are numerous more to add (an Etruscan city, invaded by Byzantines, besieged during the War of the Mantuan Succession, city was passed to Napoleon's control, at Porta Giulia, a gate of the town at Borgo di Porto, Andreas Hofer was shot, baroque theater etc) :
. Walled cities
. Renaissance
. Jewish religion and culture
. Mannerism
. Frescoes / murals by famous painters
. Designed by famous architects
. Opera
. Ports

P.S.: universities were also suggested as a connection, but I couldn't find proof of that

Author Assif
#2 | Posted: 12 Jul 2008 17:10 
You can have a look at Google Maps. The University is located in the old town.

Do you think that being more of the same doesn't add any value to the list? It's clear that represntation of categories not yet found is important but should good sites of already represented features be rejected only upon these grounds?

Author elsslots
#3 | Posted: 13 Jul 2008 02:18 
Some categories are so overrepresented that if you haven't got in years ago, your case obviously isn't that important compared to others. I'm interested to read (as I always am) the Comparative Analysis in the ICOMOS report on the site. What's different in Mantua from for example nearby Ferrara?

It's also a matter of how you look upon the future of the World Heritage List. I think that sometime we will reach the limit of having inscribed all worthy sites that there are, and that new ones only can be 21st century constructions or discoveries. Some people already think that the first 100 were the best ones (I don't).

Mantua probably is a lovely town to visit though.

Author Assif
#4 | Posted: 13 Jul 2008 05:06 
Would you say the same for Amsterdam?

Author Solivagant
#5 | Posted: 13 Jul 2008 05:34 | Edited by: Solivagant 
It is interesting to consider what "The List" might look like in say 20 years. If they carry on adding an average of just over 20 new sites pa there would be around 1300 sites. What will those extra 400 be like?

I think a problem is that UNESCO has tried to portray the list as "The Best of the Best". It never was this - right from the earliest days a number of very average sites got on as UNESCO tried to build up a momentum and brand image. But every year we still get the publicity machines in successful countries stating, as some other relatively non-descript (albeit "pleasant", interesting etc) colonial town or religious building gets added, that it has "joined the Taj Mahal and Pyramids" as if it is in some way equal to them in importance! And how many of this quality of site still remain to be inscribed - certainly not 400!

Internally the debate among UNESCO/ICOMOS/IUCN has recognised another aspect (which it doesn't publicise widely outside conservation etc circles) - that of ensuring the inscription, not so much as "the Best of the Best", but of a full range of sites. I.e. one can conceive of a list of types of Cultural and Natural sites which should be represented on the list in order to provide a (relatively) complete "picture" of the World's cultures, history and natural niches. There are some excellent papers on the Web sites of these organisations listing the categories (and potential sites) which should be represented. Thus "The List" moved into the domain of "Representative Sites" and "Filling the Gaps". Fleetness of foot became the watchword here. A States Party which got in first with a representative site could bask in the glory even though there might be many other similar sites equally as good or better. I always think of Spiennes Flint Mine - Grimes Graves in UK is as good or "better" but is there room for 2 Neolithic flint mines on the List?? I think that ensuring a good coverage of sites is a perfectly valid objective - but Els's comment about "more of the same" just highlights the reality that relatively few sites added each year fit into that category - let alone the "Best of the Best" - more and more are what I call "me too" sites niether the "Best of the Best" nor filling a gap.

I would suggest that there is a 3rd possibility for "The List". Again the element is already present as in some "categories" of site it has clearly moved beyond both "The Best of the Best" and being "Representative" viz Cathedrals, Colonial towns in the Americas. That is for it to be a repository for ALL those sites World-wide which are prepared to "sign on" to the Preservation and Management regime required by UNESCO. A prerequisite would be that the site meets the Criteria - but that is a fairly elastic concept now and there is no reason to believe that there aren't thousands of sites World-wide which can meet the latest interpetation of them. "Signing on" to this set of management principles would give a site the right to use the UNESCO Logo in much the same way as a company can use the ISO logo if it operates certain Quality Management principles.

We are already finding I believe that the biggest difficulty faced by States Parties in getting their sites inscribed is NOT that of proving "Universal Value" and adherance to at least 1 criterion but that of meeting the required Management Regime. Some sites /States parties might not consider it worth the candle - but it will become a decision which needs to balance the potential upsides of "improved" conservation and economic and patriotic benefits of inscription with the potential downsides of additional control etc. There is already evidence that some potential sites in some countries can't be bothered with this - that will be their choice.

As is always the case a "Brand" is a mixture of reality and myth - the Myth is that the UNESCO list is the best of the best. It suits both UNESCO and those sites already inscribed to maintain that myth to avoid diluting the Brand. The reality is that the List has always been diluted by less significant sites. As more and more "me too" sites get added I believe that the reality behind the Brand will become clearer. It might be better for World Conservation if UNESCO accepted both the reality AND the need and dropped the annual WHC charade of "Inscription of the Best" and handed over control to conservation bureaucrats whose prime objective would be to increase the number of well managed cultural and natural sites worldwide by coaching as many worthwhile sites as possible towards achievement of the right to use the WH Logo! But it won't of course.

Author elsslots
#6 | Posted: 13 Jul 2008 05:35 
It's an interesting subject you're touching there: I don't think Amsterdam needs WH status, and so isn't trying very hard. Amsterdam (and Buenos Aires for example) just have missed out on their opportunities, due to country politics or other priorities.

Before having read the ICOMOS-report about Mantua, I would rank Amsterdam higher though (and also higher than many German cities on the list). So maybe we could argue that in the long list of European city centers, not always the best have crept in. But that still doesn't make Mantua one of those best that have been overlooked before.

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