State of Conservation and World Heritage Policies

Posted by: danaapti on Saturday, October 15, 2011 at 7:00:00 am

Carolina Castellanos provided the COF Lecture titled “State of Conservation and World Heritage Policies.”

As an introduction of Carolina Castellanos, she is a cultural heritage consultant from Mexico who specializes in the conservation and management of heritage sites, particularly on archaeological and earthen architecture sites.  For the past 18 years, she has consulted for diverse international organizations such as The Getty Conservation Institute, ICCROM, ICOMOS and UNESCO’s World Heritage Center on a variety of issues ranging from management planning for heritage sites to policy development for cultural heritage.  While Mexico is her home, she spends the better part of the year to heritage sites.

Carolina discussed the current statutory processes for the assessment of World Heritage properties and examined the challenges faced in the implementation of international policies, with a particular focus on climate change and sustainable development in the conservation and management of sites.

She started by talking briefly about the World Heritage Convention and what happens to a site when it makes the list.  It is a challenge that is being faced by the sites on the list and the management of these sites.

She outlined that international doctrine includes conventions, recommendations and declarations, all by the following groups:

  • ICOM
  • Council of Europe

Important Conventions are dated in the following years: 1954, 1970, 1972, 2001 and 2003; each has the weight of international law, and as ratified by governments these serve as international treaties.

World Heritage Convention (WHC) was adopted in 1972.  As of June 2010, 188 states have ratified it.  The implementation of the Convention is guided by the text of the Convention itself, as well as the operational guidelines, which lay out many of the implementation procedures.  Overall it is meant as a tool for international cooperation.

The Convention brings both culture and nature together under one umbrella.  As preservation professionals, she said that we are concerned with the operational guidelines.

Definition of heritage was created in 1970s and we now realize that the definitions are narrow and simplistic; however, we don’t need to update the Convention to reflect current notions as the world changes, as the procedural guidelines are kept up to date to address: Cities, Monuments and sites, Natural landscapes, and Cultural landscapes.  For example, cultural landscapes was only included in 1992.  Recent additions include: cultural routes

Intangible heritage is another item we need to be concerned with.  It cannot be world heritage itself, unless it is associated with a place.  Yet it can include:

  • Oral traditions
  • Performing arts
  • Social practices, rituals, and festive events
  • Knowledge and practices

Carolina then spent some time addressing the meaning of outstanding cultural values and what does it mean.  Does it mean uniqueness?  Exceptional?  Rarity?  Fortunately, we have Paragraph 49 of the WHC, which says: outstanding universal value means cultural and/or natural significance which is so exceptional as to transcend national boundaries.  This factor was embedded in the Preamble of the Convention.

In recent years:  we’ve come to realize that there are three pillars of outstanding universal value:

  • Criteria,
  • Integrity, and
  • Authenticity
  • However, we’ve recently added Protection and Management as a fourth pillar

With the description of the WHC, Carolina then spent some time discussing what happens when places are put on the list?World Heritage processes include:

  • World Heritage (WH) list
  • Tentative lists (state partners create)
  • Nominations
  • Reactive monitoring
  • Periodic reporting
  • State of conservation (SoC) not “sock”

When the state of conservation for WH properties are reviewed against trends affecting them, all of the following trends have increased their impacts:

  • Development and infrastructure
  • Human activities
  • Natural events and disasters
  • Management and legal issues
  • Other issues

Threatened properties are often a result of a lack of a management plan.  Common issues with this include:

  • Management plans are often considered an end unto themselves and not tools for decision making;
  • Disarticulation between attributes and prescribed course of action for conservation and management;
  • No clear understanding of OUV;
  • Unsustainable policies i.e. not political financially or technically; and
  • Lack of participate of the community.

A global strategy was launched in 1994:

  • Ensure the WH list represents diversity of heritage;
  • Provide a comprehensive framework and operational methodology for implementing the WH Convention;
  • Increase efforts to encourage countries to become States Parties to the Convention; and
  • Prepare tentative lists of WH properties.

Carolina then applied her points to the WH site of Chavin de Huantar, Peru

  • Work with policy makers to address challenges;
  • Integration of climate change variables at the site live monitoring;
  • Development of strategy for risk reduction in coordination with MAB program and WH property of Huascaran; and
  • Pilot case for communication, education and awareness building relating to adaption measures.

Glaciers in this area of Peru have been monitored since 1940s and are melting.  They don’t have research that they are being affected by climate change.  But they can make the argument that changes will have an impact on the heritage site.

Carolina’s final considerations stated that the dynamic nature of heritage is that it is always changing definitions and needs a variety of approaches to conservation and management.  Understanding social and natural contexts is critical for the success of planned, collaborative and sustainable solutions.

Sustainability involves the rights of the present and of future generations.  We need to:

  • Anticipate and manage conditions, mitigate impacts, develop precautionary principles; and
  • Develop policy approaches or general solutions to common development challenges.

Threats are increasing, but so are the potentials, such as contribution of heritage conservation to sustainable development, poverty alleviation, MDG goals, etc.  It is possible to develop:

  • A proactive, participatory approach to enhance the potential synergies between development and conservation (we especially need to enhance the synergies).
  • Integrate World Heritage into national and local planning processes.

Ultimately, she stated that heritage is a conduit for development and should not be worked around.  With Carolina’s outlook, the ongoing protection and management of the world’s heritage sites are in good hands.


Lonnie J. Hovey, AIA, FAPT
Program Manager, Historic Preservation


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