In order to draw out and distil the essence of these efforts, we can start by asking a single question that, in fact, contains just two words, "SO WHAT?" - emphasizing three essential questions that we need to ask.
These three questions, around which much of heritage conservation activities can revolve, are:
1. So what is happening?
2. So what does this mean to local communities?
3. So what can be done?
Figure 1: Awareness, Assessment and Action
So what is happening?
This is the 'so-what' question that begins the quest for action. What is happening to the heritage around us? How is it being affected and what factors are leading to its degradation? The heritage around us may look fine, but what are the real problems (and problems behind the problems)? Who should be made aware of the problems observed (including local communities)? This is the first awareness stage of heritage conservation.
So what does this mean to local communities?
How does the changing communities and lifestyles affect heritage? Positively? Negatively? What are the relationships - cause-and-effect - between heritage and local communities and their lifestyles? What are the cyclical impacts of human activities on heritage, and vice-versa on human well-being? This is the second assessment stage of heritage conservation.
So what can be done?
This is the stage where actual action takes place, What action needs to be taken? Who has tp take the actions? At what level should the actions be taken?
At each of these stages, what role does heritage conservation play? What is necessary to generate awareness for the first question, 'So what is happening?;' to stimulate reflection and assessment for the second question, 'So what does this mean to local communities?'; and to provoke action for the third question, 'So what can be done?'
A broad plan of action for heritage conservation goes beyond just preservation and restoration techniques for historical assets (which is best left to the experts on these topics), and requires multiple stakeholders working at multiple levels and in partnership, for conservation. In a very broad sense, this can be illustrated in the form of a matrix - with governments, businesses, and civil society actors working at the global, national and local levels. This is illustrated in Figure 2.
Figure 2: Multiple Levels and Multiple Stakeholders
The three main stakeholder groups who can play a critical role in heritage conservation include:
Governments - including national, provincial and local governments, and member-states at the United Nations
Business and industry - including chambers of commerce, services/trade groups, and industry associations
Civil society - including a rage of actors from NGOs and universities to research institutions and community groups.
What can these stakeholders do at the global, national and local levels, to conserve heritage assets? It is important to match the type and capacities of organizations to the level where they are best suited to work. For example, the United Nations at the global level needs to get national governments to prioritize heritage conservation through multilateral agreements. Community groups and NGOs at the local level need to raise awareness of residents on heritage assets in their community, and involving them in conservation activities.
Much of the "multi-acton" that the above stakeholders are best suited to undertake are illustrated in the Governance-Education-Technology (GET) Approach (Figure 3)
Figure 3: The GET Approach
The GET Approach integrates three main policy clusters that are critical for heritage conservation - governance systems, education systems and technology systems. The approach in distinguishing between the various governance, education and technology policies needed for heritage conservation. It also helps in identifying the appropriate stakeholders that have the resources and capacities to implement the action.
Governance systems include the laws, regulations, codes and standards that influence and guide heritage conservation. While this responsibility lies primarily with governments, it could also include codes of ethics for businesses in the tourism industry, or developers working in the construction industry. Which are the most important and relevant? How do they help in conserving heritage? Who are the responsible agencies for their implementation?
Education systems promote greater awareness and involvement of all stakeholders in heritage conservation - both formal (schools and universities), and informal (community groups, mass media, campaign groups etc.), What is the message that needs to be disseminated? How can it best be done, and what media can be used? Who are the end-targets for the messages, and who can help the targets to take action?
Technology systems, in a broad sense, include the actual technology itself, but also the knowledge - techniques, skills and capacities - that are needed to effectively use technologies. Who are developing the technologies needed for heritage conservation? What activities are enabled by these technologies? WHat are the missing elements? What skills and capacities need to be put in place for the use of these technologies?
The multi-approach outlined above has another "multi" element that will significantly assist heritage conservation efforts and integrate it into broader developmental efforts. Such efforts are not isolated activities that are carried out by government agencies, but are indeed a multi disciplinary constellation of efforts linked to other fields as well, that in an integrated manner, will contribute to overall development, and heritage conservation in particular (Figure 4).
Figure 4: Integrated Approach to Heritage Conservation
There are a number of developmental activities, particularly in an urban setting, that will enhance the conservation of heritage assets, and increase its overall impacts and effects. These fields include, for example:
Urban services and planning processes: A number of zoning, landuse planning and related urban management processes that influence the character and preservation of old districts, including heritage-related planning regulations
Transportation systems: Planing and development of transportation infrastructure, including pedestrian and non-motorized streets, and promotion of public transport, go a long way in helping conservation efforts.
Mass media support: The role of print and electronic media is critical in raising awareness of heritage value, both among local communities, as well as outside visitors/tourists
Local communities involvement: The consensus of local communities that live in heritage-rich districts to conservation efforts is important for many reasons - to generate jobs and income, to promote tourism and related economic activities, to raise awareness of the need for preservation, to instill a sense of pride, or increase livability of the area.
Entrepreneurship and business development: Heritage conservation efforts that focus only on preservation and maintenance could fail unless it is integrated within the broader economic activities of the community and city, helping in entrepreneurship and setting up of businesses (particularly tourism related).
Environmental management: Many of the regulations and strategies that promote heritage conservation in fact have a number of externalities, particularly preventing degradation of the local environment.
Disaster management: Due to their relative age and construction techniques used, heritage assets are usually more vulnerable to disasters such as earthquakes and typhoons. This not only puts the assets at risk of loss, but also the communities that live in the districts. Disaster risk reduction plans should also include heritage assets in their retrofitting plans.
Tourism development planning: As mentioned above, tourism development and planning is not just an economic activity, but can and should also promote and integrate heritage conservation efforts within its processes.
In developing countries that particularly have significant heritage assets, integration of heritage conservation strategies into poverty reduction programmes and informal sector development is also a critical factor that increases community involvement and improves their economic standing.
And yet, the two-word question remains, 'So what?' - to which there are multiple answers