Heritage Listings:
The Beginnings of a Heritage Conservation Strategy

Hari Srinivas
Management Tools Series E-050. May 2015.

Heritage Listings are documentation of assets that can have cultural or historical value. Such listings are predominantly buildings, or groups of buildings, but can also include other heritage assets as well. There are a number of such lists, created both by national governments, agencies or by private organizations. Many countries have laws and formalized systems for heritage listings.

Why heritage listings?

Besides providing a clear way of documenting items for archaeological, cultural or historical purposes, it helps in raising awareness and appreciate the heritage value of such places.

They also enable planners, researchers and community groups to take these values into account in their decisions. This means that places that are listed in a heritage listing have a better chance of being preserved and conserved.

What do Listings cover?

Heritage Listings cover a range of issues including the place's significance, regulation and management. Taking a specific example of heritage buildings, a typical listing will cover the building's heritage values from an architectural perspective, as well as broader cultural fabric to which it belongs. This is the case with most items that are included in heritage lists - (1) criteria related specifically to the item (enabling comparison to other similar items), and (2) its relation to the broader cultural fabric (enabling understanding its contribution to heritage value).

Here, an 'item' can refer to anything with heritage value - a building, a street facade, art, household goods, dress or intangible items such as music, dance etc. For example, in the Philippines, a house is considered "ancestral" when the same family has lived in it for four generations and still own it at present. And for it to be a "heritage" house, it must be at least fifty years old, must have historic or cultural significance or located in a town declared as a heritage town.

Online Portals Heritage Listings are increasingly using online tools to create an inventory

The Philippine Heritage Map (www.philippineheritagemap.org) is the country's first online information and management portal made specifically to create an authoritative and comprehensive inventory of all heritage structures and historic events in the Philippines. It is powered by Arches, an innovative web platform that incorporates international standards for building an inventory of immovable cultural heritage, historic events and other significant cultural resources.

How are listings done?

Based on a study of listings carried out in UK, Australia, India and other countries, a generic process of how listings are done is illustrated in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1: Heritage listing process

In general, a listing is done by first selecting the criteria that are to be used to assess historical assets. This is then converted into a proforma, which will be used by a heritage agency's staff or other researchers to document assets. The next step is for these staff members or outside researchers to span out into a community and identify potential historical assets as outlined in the proforma. An evaluation of assets is done to and the heritage listing proforma is filled out for inclusion in the official listing. The listing is then released to the public for their information and further action.

What are the contents of a listing?

Some of the criteria usually covered in a listing include:

  • Age of the item, and when it was created
  • Techniques and technologies that were used in creating it, and its uniqueness
  • Asset's specific style or period design pattern, if any
  • Historical importance of the asset's creator - an artist, architect or designer
  • Similar items created elsewhere, or if it is a rare example of its kind
  • Particular region or country of the asset's origins
  • State of preservation of the asset and current status (in terms of damage/deterioration)

Listing as a World Heritage Site For a property to be included on the World Heritage List, the World Heritage Committee must find that it meets one or more of the following criteria:
  • to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius;
  • to exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design;
  • to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared;
  • to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history;
  • to be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change;
  • to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. (The Committee considers that this criterion should preferably be used in conjunction with other criteria);
  • to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance;
  • to be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth's history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features;
  • to be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals;
  • to contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.

What the the benefits of a heritage asset being listed?

Listing old buildings and other historical assets in a heritage list has a number of benefits, as illustrated in Figure 2 below.

Figure 2: Benefits of a Heritage Listing

There are essentially four benefits in developing a heritage listing - (a) preservation and conservation, (b) tourism, (c) heritage research, and (d) community pride and sense of place.

  • Preservation and conservation
    Heritage lists provide a snapshot, a starting point in highlighting the relative importance of historical assets, and guide more detailed follow-up on preservation and conservation efforts. In many cases, historical preservation and conservation management pans are developed using preliminary data from listings.

  • Tourism
    Heritage lists help in developing tourism plans for localities, for example in setting up heritage walks or converting assets (such as houses or shops) into mini museums. This provides a more comprehensive view of everyday life in earlier periods - beyond famous landmarks such as palaces, places of worship, or other public places. Through the tourism sector, listings eventually help in contributing to the local economy.

  • Heritage Research
    Ensuring historical assets are documented and listed helps in heritage research activities such as excavation, evaluating historical significance, determining impacts of building projects, architectural valuation etc. Listings also help in highlighting assets that are not well-known, but yet are important to determine historical continuity. Thus listings can help research in providing a broader picture of the heritage of communities and cities.

  • Community Pride and Sense of Place.
    One of the most critical benefits of listings is the acknowledgement of the historical value of an asset to the surrounding residents and communities where it is located. It increases the pride of residents in their community, and helps build a "sense of place*"

Identifying and listing items of heritage significance are the first steps in protecting and managing those places and objects that deserve to be preserved. Listing special places on heritage lists provides a legal framework for managing major development changes so that heritage significance is retained and not diminished.

References and Further Reading

* "Sense of Place" is a term often used to define the subjective feelings of a community towards its location, fostering pride, attachment and belonging to the place.

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Hari Srinivas - hsrinivas@gdrc.org