UNESCO manages the World Heritage List as a result of the 1972 Paris Convention. The list is based on the appraisal that the natural and cultural heritage are deteriorating, and set as a definition of the two concepts and the criteria that can certify that a site has universal exceptional values justifying its inscription on the list. Today (march 2013) there are 962 sites in 157 states.
The threats identified in 1972 by the Paris Convention have been increased in some cases by the climate change, which touches cities and regions, and subsequently the sites on them. The book to which this post is dedicated describes 26 sites grouped in five categories: glaciers, marine biodiversity, terrestrial biodiversity, archeological sites, and historical cities and settlements. For each category the essential problems are identified, and further elaborated for each case. The book is a good reading, not just due to its theme, but also due to the vision on truly exceptional sites, sometimes as mythical as the Kilimanjaro glaciers or Timbuktu. It is like a bucket list of things to see before death….
The chapter on cities mentions London, Venice, Cesky Krumlow and Prague, Timbuktu and the Sacred Valley in Lebanon. The description of each case is limited due to the extension of the book, but overall the main problems you can find in professional practice are present: how to integrate special measures for the sites on a wider urban area, who pays the costs, how to face incertitude… World Heritage is a very interesting issue, but also a really complex planning matter: you have outstanding element, but they have owners, dwellers, visitors, each with their own interests. The sites are even prone, as Nassim Nicholas Taleb would put it, to “black swans”, i.e., unexpected events, as the discovery of archeological remains, man-made features, the mere evolution of the vision of the values of a site, or other, which can have what many would see as a disproportionate impact on sites on which the emotional (but also the mundane…) goes hand in hand with what many would see as redundant layers of red tape… and this also raises a problem, as until now the only way to ensure a legally binding protection regime is to establish a bureaucratic control.