People influence heritage protection not just their architecture and history

Dam square in Amsterdam is often seen bustling with people.
Dam square in Amsterdam is often seen bustling with people. Image: Eric de Redelijkheid Flickr CC0

It’s people that make places important. Without their love, these places of apparent lose their historic value.

Heritage sites possess outstanding social value. It’s why state heritage laws and local planning schemes can protect places of community importance. With restrictions on public gatherings, urban heritage places of social significance have more allure than ever. Just as we are distanced from each other, we are separated from these places. Their temporary absence in our lives, and the sense of community and comforting memories we associate with them, only add to their cultural significance.

However, heritage typically favours the historic and aesthetic integrity of older fabric, buildings and structures rather than the ongoing social and cultural relationships between people and built places. A lack of participatory methods to involve the public in heritage decisions is another problem with how authorities and the private sector manage the cultural values of historic places.

A major step towards placing people at the heart of heritage would be to mandate and fund a diversity of participatory methods in state and local heritage governance. It’s important, too, to embed community participation across private sector heritage practice. Only by working towards more holistically conserving the broader cultural values of historic places can heritage achieve cultural stewardship for people.

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