Day Two, Intangible Heritage – UNESCO Asia Pacific Mayors’ Forum for World Heritage Cities

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 A key theme for the second day of the forum looked at protection of the authenticity of heritage places. We looked at issues such as: when does tourism become a problem for heritage – taking away its authenticity and integrity instead of conserving and enhancing it.

This included an interesting discussion on the links between tangible and intangible heritage. Tangible heritage includes the built heritage we normally think of – the monuments and buildings etc we can see and touch. In contrast, intangible heritage is the culture and people and customs that make a place.

But a clear agreement that emerged is that tangible heritage becomes much more meaningful and authentic when its intangible heritage is still practiced in that place.

It is easy to think of places where the tangible built heritage remains but the intangible heritage has gone leaving the place feel more like a museum or a Disneyland than a real place. For example, in Venice where tourists in the peak season out number residents 60 to 1 it is hard to spot a Venetian! Similarly, the recent world heritage listing of the village of Lijiang, China has meant that most of the residents (the very people that made the ancient village so interesting and unique) were forced out by high rental prices and the conversion of residents to short-term accommodation and souvenir shops. It is now a place where tourists just see other tourists more than an authentic village.

To bring this to the fore we visited the oldest historic village in Korea. Yangdong Village is a world heritage site which has been occupied by the same family since the 15th century. While it was very interesting, as well as beautiful, it was hard not to think that these families in Yangdong were also treated a little like museum pieces that acted for the tens of thousands of tourists that watched them “in everyday life”. It seemed more caricature that heritage to me perhaps because it lacked authenticity and integrity.

What are the implications of this for Fremantle? The challenge for Fremantle is that while our tangible built heritage is now well protected – our unique old buildings alone don’t’ make Fremantle the special place it is. We also need to protect Fremantle’s intangible heritage. For me this is a place of diverse people, people who value culture and the arts and sustainability. A part of our heritage is that we are like a big village. We are a bit alternative, we know each other in the streets and look out for the less advantaged in our community and like to do things a little differently to the rest of Perth.

This intangible heritage of diversity and difference requires special protections too but they aren’t as easy and defined as protecting old buildings. But it is possible and includes making sure Fremantle is a place in which there is affordable housing, in which artists can live and work, in which we continue to be leaders in social and environmental policy.

So day two of the forum focused on a debate that is relevant to Fremantle. It was clear that the most successful heritage cities are really living cities that provide a unique and authentic experience for a wide range of people – both tourists and residents.

I finished the day’s formalities with a Mayoral group photo and a one on one meeting with the Mayor of Gyeongju. I received a beautiful gift of 24 carat gold oversized heritage ear rings from him. The City of Fremantle gave him in return a photo of Fremantle’s by a local Freo photographer and a Freo book. Now I just have to work out how the get these huge ear rings home!

About Mayor of Fremantle Brad Pettitt's blog
City of Fremantle Mayor

One Response to Day Two, Intangible Heritage – UNESCO Asia Pacific Mayors’ Forum for World Heritage Cities

  1. freoview says:

    I like the intangible heritage aspect and we should be very aware of it when we change things in Fremantle. Fos example is not the Crooks family living at Arthur Head part of that intangible heritage after 18 years and if so why would we force them to leave to make way for artists?
    Tourists love that family and their cats and take heaps of photos of the cottages and things around it, and the love talking to the kids.

    Roel Loopers

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