Review of Cultural Conservation of Place in Conserving Culture: A new discourse on heritage

“Place is space made culturally meaningful.”

Author Setha Low rightly and justly argues the inseparability of conservation of place and its critical relationship to cultural conservation. “Place is space made culturally meaningful,” says Low.  Place is more than merely a setting for people to experience their cultures.  Place creates and contributes to the social interactions and processes. Furthermore, place gives a specific location and context for culture to establish itself.

Not only does place come with cultural benefits which need to be conserved, place is also burdened with challenges:

  1. Politically, the challenges facing cultural conservation are just that, cultural.  And the challenges are not easy identified, labeled and placed into definitive categories.  Some are class-centric while others are ethno-centric. These categories are further complicated by controlling groups with greater power and influence (hegemony). Planning and design challenges also arise based on preferences towards logic and best use practices vs. irrationality and recognized culturally-significant places in need of conservation.

  2. Pluralism presents itself in terms of what Low refers to a “cultural mosaic built on a multiplicity of histories, voices and peoples.” The old saying you can’t please all the people all the time comes to mind. Conflicts arise as a result identifying and determining which traditions, social and culturally historically elements are to be conserved

  3. Cultures are fluid and dynamic. Once important cultural elements of place may become unimportant to the people as the culture matures.

Low brings to light both the critical importance of and the realities associated conserving place. Something with which I completely agree. However, from a capitalistic (market economy) perspective, places also need to compete to maintain relevancy in the world of economic development. City planning departments conducting evaluations to determine best use deliver pragmatic results and data. However, combined with thoughtful approaches and processes specifically designed to account for conserving dynamic and fluid cultures, solutions may in fact create win-win situations for both causes.

Place is central to every culture.  In each of the topics we have discussed this week, the role of place has been mentioned on some level.  However, as we pursue sustainable cultures, place should be recognized early in the discovery process in order to fully understand the effect on cultural context.

“A place without meaning is no place to be.” ~ Trotman

Questions:

Based off the example of the Inner Harbor - Imagine a cultural festival or event you have attended. And imagine the place - being specific.  Think about the trip to get there, the setting, the time of year, the temperature, the smells, the food and the activities enjoyed. Now imagine that festival or event in a newly constructed event venue about a half mile away.  Does is still work? Would you attend? Is the cultural romance you enjoyed gone?

Who is/should be responsible for protecting and conserving place? And are they equipped?

In cases where change is imminent, do you believe there to be viable solutions to conservation of place without damaging cultures?

What are viable approaches to offer?

Introspective: What are places of importance to you?

Andy Kovan