Inhabited Heritage

At The China Story, Ken Taylor discusses ‘Cultural Heritage and Urbanisation in China’ — with Hangzhou and the Shanghai periphery illustrating successful models of deep conservation. Taylor takes the opportunity to promote the UNESCO-approved Historic Urban Landscape principles (HUL), which emphasize the sociological dimension of heritage protection, rather than limiting consideration to the “purely physical architectural fabric.” Shanghai’s restored Zhujiajiao is presented as an example of HUL conservation working well.

Familiar gentrification processes, whilst strongly aligned with heritage protection and restoration, are also associated with local population displacement, which compromises their value from the HUL perspective. Community continuity is therefore introduced as a supplementary criterion, extending the sense of heritage in a concrete ethnographic direction. Dynamic metropolitan development, which — in Shanghai at least —  is increasingly comfortable with architectural heritage protection (and even stimulated by it), is likely to find the full-spectrum HUL agenda awkwardly ‘precious’ and growth-retardant. With the global quangocracy firmly supportive of HUL, any such objection will have to remain discreetly muted, although a critique of these ideas, from the side of high-speed urbanomic flows, can be expected at some point (perhaps here). For urban areas of lower intensity, however, where real estate markets play a less radically catalytic role, HUL ideas will no doubt find a more unambivalently welcoming home.

Shanghai is not only a test-bed for HUL-sensitive development, but also a center for intellectual refinement of the model, following “the move of Dr Ron Van Oers from UNESCO Paris to the World Heritage Institute for Training & Research (WHITRAP), Tongji University, Shanghai in the role of Vice Director with the particular brief to work on the HUL Paradigm in China and Asia.”

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