Monday, January 16, 2006

"Preservation: Sure, It's a Good Thing, but.."

Girls on parade in Izamal
Janet Jarman; The New York Times

Go to the multimedia piece by Seth Kugel for the New York Times. (January 15, 2006)

"The phrase Unesco World Heritage site has been crossing from the lips of travel agents and popping up more and more on travel Web sites. That's no coincidence: the list has grown steadily from the first 12 in 1978 to 812 today, and includes everything from the Statue of Liberty, the Taj Mahal and Angkor Wat to the Wooden Churches of Southern Little Poland and the Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape in Mongolia.

"But as the list expands each year, many, including Unesco staff members, are left wondering: is this rapid growth watering down the list's meaning? And by drawing both tourism and development that's often left unchecked, can the honor do as much harm as good to those places so anointed?"

Seth Kugel has produced this thoughtful piece for the New York Times, questioning UNESCO's World Heritage Site list, and indirectly the process by which sites are added and deleted from that list.

Today was marked in Washington by a story in the Washington Post on the destruction of a historic astronomical observatory. Two 1890 telescope buildings designed by one of the fathers of American architecture, Richard Morris Hunt, are being torn down. According to the Post, "precise, astronomical measurements -- celestial and equatorial readings that gave Naval warships their bearings and the world's clocks their precision -- had been made inside these buildings for much of the 175-year history of the U.S. Naval Observatory."
"No ship sailed, no missile fired, no mission to outer space was ever launched without help from the star positions marked by the telescope observations made in these buildings," said Gail S. Cleere, a Washington historian who wrote a book about the observatory.

My point is that the 812 sites on the UNESCO list are far from exhausing the number of natural and man made sites that constitute the heritage of man. UNESCO, with its very limited budget and staff can not preserve man's heritage, but it can and does serve as a venue for the nations of the world to discuss that preservation. UNESCO's World Heritage Center draws attention to sites that are clearly very important, and that attention encourages communities and nations to protect their local heritage for us all.

The multimedia show on this website, documenting the Times visit to Chichén Ítza and Campeche in Mexico's Yucatán peninsula, are well worth visiting!

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