A serial killer of cities is wandering about the planet. Its name is UNESCO, and its lethal weapon is the label “World Heritage”, ...
It is heartrending to watch the death throes of so many cities. Glorious, opulent and hectic for centuries and in some cases millennia, they survived the vicissitudes of history, wars, pestilence and earthquakes. But now, one after the other, they are withering and becoming steadily less populated, reduced to theatrical backdrops against which a bloodless pantomime is performed. Where life once throbbed, and cantankerous humans elbowed their way through the world, pushing and shoving and trampling on one another, now you will find only ubiquitously similar snack bars and stalls selling quaint specialities and muslins, batiks and cottons, beach wraps and bracelets. What was once a bustling din of loud excitement is now all conveniently listed in travel brochures.
The death warrant for these cities is delivered at the end of a lengthy bureaucratic process1 held in a building in Paris, in Place Fontenoy, in the seventh arrondissement. The verdict is an indelible label, a branding iron that marks you forever.
The label I refer to is that of the World Heritage Sites, issued by UNESCO. Its touch is lethal: wherever the UNESCO hallmark is applied to a city, the city dies out, becoming the stuff of taxidermy.
The urbanistic dilemma offered by UNESCO is an irksome one.
- 1. ...it is also true that, if in 450 BC the Acropolis in Athens had been protected just the way it was then, we would have neither the Propylaeum nor the Parthenon, nor the Erectheum. UNESCO would have turned its nose up in horror at Rome as it was in the 16th and 17th centuries, which produced an admirable pot-pourri of antiquity, mannerism and baroque. Thank heavens the Marais in Paris was not declared a World Heritage site, otherwise we could forget the Beaubourg.