Balancing 'World Heritage” with Development is the Challenge, says Mayor Ratwatte
Kandy mayor Mahindra Ratwatte who recently attended a UNESCO conference of mayors that discussed World Heritage Cities says that it is a real challenge to protect World Heritage sites and character of a city such as Kandy while allowing modernization and development to take place to meet the needs of the community. Thirty-four mayors from twenty Asia-Pacific countries had participated in the conference held in the southeastern coastal city of Gyeongju in South Korea. The mayors of Galle and Anuradhapura also had attended the conference.
UNESCO grants a city or site “World Heritage” status when that city or site meets criteria specified under the World Heritage Convention adopted in 1972. Currently there are 962 such cities and sites comprising of 745 cultural sites, 188 natural sites and 29 mixed sites in 157 countries. Sri Lanka has eight, six of which are cultural (Kandy, Dambulla, Sigiriya, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Galle) and two natural (Sinharaja Forest Reserve and Central Highlands consisting of Peak Wilderness Protected Area, Horton Plains National Park and the Knuckles Conservation Forest).
The conference had focused on three themes, “Economics of urban heritage,” “Mobilization of the private sector and engaging the community to protect city heritage,” and “Heritage conservation and urban sustainability.” Mr. Ratwatte noted that all three were equally important for Kandy. When he was offered the position of rapporteur for one of the three discussion groups that the conference had formed, he had opted for the group that took up the third theme.
In the rapporteur's report on “Heritage Conservation and Urban Sustainability” that mayor Ratwatte had presented to the conference plenary he had summarized the discussion that took place in his group. He told this newspaper that much of what they discussed was highly relevant to Kandy.
First and foremost was the issue of preserving the ancient heritage and culture of the city while reaping the benefits of globalization and modernity. An obvious example is allowing a growing number of tourists to visit the city that brings revenue. But more tourists also mean more hotels, more construction, more transport and traffic congestion and more pollution, Mr. Ratwatte noted. The KMC has limited financial resources to protect its heritage. To increase our revenue we have to encourage tourism and other such industries. But we have to be aware not to overdo development that will undermine the historic nature of the city that attracts visitors in the first place, he said.
He says the mayors agreed that there has to be some tradeoff between conservation on one side and modernization and development on the other. In a town such as Kandy where land is scarce, wherever possible old buildings should be preserved but also used for some normal purpose. However, in some situations “less important” old buildings may have to give way to preserve the more important old buildings. Striking the right balance is the challenge. Some mayors at the conference had mooted the idea of “Heritage Corridors” but that is unlikely to be applicable to all cities, Mr. Ratwatte said.