Meet ends with calls to protect heritage

by Eric Johnston

NARA — Representatives from 55 historical cities worldwide wrapped up a three-day meeting Thursday with calls to boost protection of heritage sites against natural disasters, global warming, religious and ethnic conflict, and a form of globalization that emphasizes commercial uniformity over cultural and ethnic diversity.

Increased international travel has brought a corresponding demand for tourist facilities and services, but the delegates in Nara noted that too often cities with distinct histories embrace a form of standardized tourism that offers travelers a uniform experience, especially with chain restaurants and hotels. The result is often loss of local identity.

“Under the influence of rapid globalization, the process of worldwide standardization has moved forward with the result that regional and local uniqueness has been eroded and the establishment of distinctive identities has become more difficult,” the leaders said in a declaration adopted at the end of the conference.

The conference also addressed more traditional threats to protecting heritage sites, especially in ancient cities in ethnically diverse countries experiencing rapid urbanization.

“The concentration of populations into large cities is exacerbating regional disparities and various tensions. Indeed, there seems to be no end to the problems resulting from ethnic disputes and religious conflict,” the declaration states.

Natural disasters, including fires and floods, as well as more severe weather patterns due to climate change, were on the minds of many delegates seeking to address the physical threats to their city’s historical districts.

Japanese delegates in particular spoke of the problems they face in protecting Kyoto and Nara’s many ancient wooden shrines and temples from fire and damage due to urbanization.

Over the three-day conference, East Asian representatives tended to emphasize official, municipal-led plans they were implementing to protect their city’s assets, while delegates from European and American cities stressed the importance of government, private and citizen-led initiatives to preserve not only buildings but also a city’s cultural and ethnic heritage.

One area that all delegates emphasized was education and the importance of action by local authorities and citizens to ensure that younger generations have a proper appreciation for their city’s historical and cultural heritage.

“Handing down cultural assets to the next generation is indispensable to the sustainable development of historical cities,” the declaration says.