Edinburgh World Heritage - News Article


Director's Notes - January 2013

Monthly update from EWH Director Adam Wilkinson.

Jan 21, 2013

Before Christmas, I had the pleasure of presenting some thoughts to the ICOMOS UK conference 'World Heritage for Tomorrow'. I was asked to speak to a title, which, to my mind, summarises much of what is wrong with the concept of World Heritage; 'what tools are available to spread the benefits of World Heritage?' The question turns the concept of World Heritage into the bright sun around which the rest of the world orbits, and has resulted in an ecosystem of charters and thinking, all based on a bit of a mistake. I thought it better to turn the question on its head and answer how World Heritage could serve its communities, through the example of the work we try to do at EWH.

The work we carry out at EWH is about using World Heritage as a lens through which to view the city, as a tool to achieve a range of splendid things, from the obvious, such as the repair of buildings and monuments (using heritage for heritage) to teaching literacy, numeracy and history, to bringing people closer to their communal identity and giving them a place in society, to improving the quality of life (for example, with the various gardening projects we have supported the community in) to creating a better place for businesses to flourish (such as through shop front improvements).

For us to claim that World Heritage is the sole reason for Edinburgh's success would be hugely arrogant, yet there is a tendency across the World Heritage community to make such massive claims for the concept, for the badge. At one end of the scale, UNESCO has recognized this with its Historic Urban Landscape Initiative, while at the other end of the scale the good burghers of Berwick upon Tweed held a discussion this time last year to consider whether they should go for World Heritage Status, or consider whether what they hoped World Heritage status would give them through other means. They chose the latter, while we have chosen to give World Heritage a somewhat different meaning to what was intended at the outset of the movement, with the rescue of Abu Simbel.

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