How to compensate for lost heritage?

Future making in the Antropocene interview with Heriland researcher Maitri Dore | By Azadeh Arjomand Kermani

The City of Gothenburg is searching for compensation since a train track that goes right through a heritage area of 'national interest'. But compensation for heritage is uncommon in Sweden. Image: KavalenkavaVolha/Canva

In construction and urban development projects compensation is a well-known word when it comes to environmental and well-being aspects but what about cultural settings both tangible and intangible? Are they also entitled to being compensated for the damages and disruptions resulting from developments? In this interview article with Maitri Dore, PhD researcher in Heriland project, the concept of compensation in cultural context and its importance is being discussed.

When a large-scale change and development is happening in a cultural setting, for example in an area with heritage values, there is a danger of disruption and damage to the cultural heritage. The first thing coming to mind can be the physical disturbance or stability/vibration danger that it can pose to the buildings and structures but the damage can be broader. In her PhD research within Heriland project, Maitri Dore is studying this phenomenon using two different case studies one in Mumbai, India and the other in Gothenburg, Sweden. In her research, Dore is studying urban development projects in cultural settings and by looking into authorities’ and developers’ plans and actions she is mapping the compensation concept in these cases.

Dore explains: “Strategies to deal with loss or change in cases of war, climate change or environmental and natural disruptions has been studied and addressed in planning policies and is very common in practice. But what about cultural heritage when it comes to large-scale urban developments?” She is studying and analyzing two very different case studies not to compare them but to gain a better perspective and reflect on what is considered compensation in various cultural settings and how this new concept can be integrated into development agendas.

From Mumbai to Sweden

Metro line 3 in Mumbai. Image: Maitri Dore

The case of Mumbai is the development of metro line 3. The length of the corridor is 36 km and runs north to south. Segments in the southern part of the line pass under the former colonial parts of the city, where there are many listed buildings and parts of the former fort from the 18th century. The focus of the authorities in this case study is mainly on the preservation of monuments and cultural structures. The efforts and policies aim to preserve the tangible heritage from vibration and physical instability due to construction and development nearby.

The second case study: The construction of West link in Gothenburg. Image: Maitri Dore

In Sweden on the other hand, the cases of large scale change and developments are additionally examined and studied deeper and more holistic. Compensation in case of cultural heritage is a new concept in Sweden. Conceptually It is not merely about physical structure nor limited to the vicinity of the development projects. The project West Link is a railway extension with three new stations that started in 2018 and will be completed in 2026. The Swedish Transport Administration is responsible for the planning and implementation of the project but because a large part of the extension goes through old parts of the old city, the city of Gothenburg is asking for compensation. The project is seen as a threat to the “national interest” as the 17th-century fortifications, ‘landeris’ (ancient agricultural properties) and historical parks are being dug and disturbed in the process. The City’s cultural heritage administration is seeking procedures and ways to make them compensate for the damage.

There are plans to use old tiles and remains as elements in the new station buildings of the West Link. Image: Maitri Dore

The discussion is ongoing, but some proposals for compensation (also referred to as strengthening the affected heritage) that have come up during the consultation process include storytelling around the sites of damage, through information points, plaques and digital techniques; displaying archaeological finds from the excavations in the new station buildings; and incorporating elements like old tiles in the flooring in and around the new architecture. She has recently published a paper on this topic (pages 83-118). “I just want to highlight that discussion for compensation in the West Link is still underway so none of the proposals have been fixed or implemented,” adds Dore. The case study in Gothenburg is thus the main case study as it has been instituted in the project.

As the second case study, Dore has chosen a context that she has background knowledge about it. “I started to think about how heritage can be dealt with in situations of large urban change on a broader, international scale, and that led me to think about taking another case that was close to my background and I chose my hometown Mumbai,” explains Dore.

From architecture to heritage

Dore has been trained in architecture in India and has worked in practice for a few years dealing with vernacular architecture and using traditional building materials and technics such as “building out of mud and incorporating rainwater harvesting techniques and that kind of sustainable designs.” After joining a Master of Urban Studies within the 4Cities program, she became more interested in interdisciplinary research and has gained academic and practical experience in 4 European countries. “We had one city per semester and so I was in Brussels, Vienna, Copenhagen and Madrid for the program and for my internship U did a short project at the Architecture Museum in Vienna as part of the exhibition Critical Care. It was about how architecture and urban planning can respond to climate change and other changes and challenges that are going on right now in the world.”

After that, she chose Heriland to become a part of an innovative European training network on cultural heritage in relation to spatial planning and landscape. Dore adds: “Heritage studies were not directly connected with anything I had done before, but I was always interested in heritage in the sense of old historical buildings. Now my view has expanded, but being an architect, that was my core understanding of heritage.”

Scales of compensation

After three years of research with Heriland, Dore looks at heritage and landscape differently. “It is more than objects and buildings, it is about the values and not only preservation but playing a role for future.” In addition to technical skills, Heriland makes her more familiar with critical heritage studies and how we define heritage and who has a right to do so. In her case study in Gothenburg, she did an in-depth study of the values and assets that are being interrupted in the process of large-scale development. In addition to ancient remains of the fortifications and the objects found during the excavations for the project, the colonial history of the port and also the stories of ordinary citizens, those who built the fortified city in 1621 are among the values that are being lost or damaged due to the construction of West Link.

Compensation involves negotiating various interests. Image: Maitri Dore

The railway project is seen as a sustainable solution for transport in the area, reducing travel time and pollution and improving connectivity within the region but at the same time, the construction will cause the removal of roughly 200 trees in the process and damage to historical parks. It is a very complicated project. Policy does not have any precedents for compensation for cultural heritage environments on this scale and the government-instituted condition that says ‘negative consequences’ should ‘as far as possible be minimized’ is very vague. “There is also the problem of scale. How large in scope and geographical extent should the compensation measures be?” adds Dore.

Dore believes producing knowledge on the concept of compensation for cultural heritage and its integration with planning policies and regulations will give a better understanding to the practitioners on both sides of the table. It is crucial to study the constraints and challenges of this concept, bringing it to the mainstream and understand how to operationalize it. In short, Dore summarizes her research as: “My project is about negotiating the future goals while having the past in mind. It is about the constant negotiation between future and past.”

Which societal challenges in the context of heritage, landscape and the built environment would you like us to address in our future articles? Please get in touch at @Future4Heritage on Twitter or send an email.

This article is part of a series 'Future Making in the Anthropocene' that positions itself in the mental space between heritage and spatial design and deep histories and future landscapes. The project aims to unravel histories and heritage perspectives that contribute to the conditions of the Anthropocene – the age of humans – in order to create better-balanced future scenarios for European cities and landscapes.. The series of articles will be published by the European Heritage Tribune free of charge, made possible by the generous support of the Creative Industries Fund NL. Information on Maitri Dore's research can be accessed on the Heriland website.