Conservation Efforts in Heritage in Southeast Asia - Urban Coherence and Social Cohesion at Risk

 

Conservation Efforts in Heritage in Southeast Asia - Urban Coherence and Social Cohesion at Risk

Tan Thean Siew

Risk management aims to reduce the hazardous impacts of natural as well as man-made disasters on the human environment. Although a city is particularly vulnerable to natural forces, which apart from the immediate damage they cause to lives and properties, can lead to irreversible situations and complete decay of the city, man-made forces can also affect the social, economical and functional vulnerability of the city, and can also, just as disastrously, lead to its destruction.
Old heritage cities in Southeast Asia have evolved through centuries of human involvement and development that have reached their own functional, balanced and sustainable states. For that, many have been recognized as examples of good human living environment, rich with architectural and cultural heritage and experience, economic functionality, social cohesion and urban coherence. These are of value to the world, not only as living examples to look at, but also to learn from. With the intention of encouraging these values to be preserved, UNESCO bestows recognition and honour to these historic cities by inscribing them as World Cultural Heritage Sites. With such status and pride, funds are allocated and concerted efforts undertaken by the national, provincial and city governments as well as the private sector to spruce up these old cities as show cases to the world, and to boost economic growth and investments, which is a primary goal for these developing countries. Energetic, eager, over-night efforts in the planning, designing and managing for the "conservation" of the heritage sites, although in line with UNESCO guidelines, inadvertently go against the grain of the slow and gradual process by which the old cities have evolved. Old tenants are evicted, long-term communities, traditional practices and skills disrupted, spiritual and emotional maturity, senses of belonging and history erased, social cohesion and urban coherence, which took generations to build up, destroyed. In their places are boutique hotels, tourist entertainment places, transient tourists, odd behaviors and dressings. Whatever efforts taken by the locals to show their old cultures and practices are undertaken merely to attract tourists and the tourist dollar.
Genuine and sincere efforts, with good planning and risk management strategies, have therefore to be put in place by these Southeast Asian cities to preserve for future generations the essential components of cultural, spiritual and built heritage together with the traditional arts and cultural practices to ensure that local residents become the primary beneficiaries economically, socially, culturally and spiritually.

Mr. Tan Thean Siew
Consultant, Town Planning and Real Estate Management
Penang, Malaysia