Rethinking Heritage: Adapting to Climate Change and Embracing Transformative Continuity
Shifting Perspectives on Heritage Preservation
The impulse to save everything at all costs is no longer sustainable, especially in the face of climate change. British author Jan Morris once controversially suggested letting Venice sink, highlighting the need to rethink our relationship with heritage. As loss and destruction of global heritage sites due to climate change become more common, it is crucial to redefine our notion of failure and shift our values to align with the changing climate.
Transformative Continuity and Embracing Change
Cultural geography professor Caitlin DeSilvey emphasizes the importance of going beyond the instinct to preserve everything in its original state. In her book "Curated Decay: Heritage Beyond Saving," DeSilvey explores the idea of letting landscapes and landmarks evolve naturally, acknowledging the winds of change and the erosion of time. This concept of "transformative continuity" allows damaged sites to serve as memories and deterrents, while also discovering new heritage values as they evolve.
The Case of Venice: Sinking City and Rising Challenges
Venice, once described as a problem by Morris, has now become a disaster due to rising water levels and tourism. While the city's new MOSE flood barriers offer protection, their construction faced delays, corruption scandals, and high costs. Preserving all World Heritage sites "in perpetuity" is deemed fiscally impossible, leading to discussions on alternative approaches.
Shifting Focus and Protecting Natural Heritage
Instead of solely focusing on preserving urban heritage, attention could be redirected towards protecting Venice's natural heritage, particularly the vital coastal ecosystem of the lagoon. Relocating the city's residents could be a more practical use of resources, while allowing the visual impact of a partially submerged city to serve as a powerful reminder of the consequences of climate change.
Transforming Heritage Sites and Redefining Connection
While the emotional attachment to historical sites is understandable, the loss of a physical structure does not necessarily sever our connection to the site. Embracing the concept of transformative continuity enables us to stay connected as we witness sites undergo change. Abandoned structures, like harbors, can unintentionally become thriving habitats for marine wildlife, showcasing the ancillary environmental advantages of decay.
Adapting and Redesigning Heritage Management
Rather than simply accepting the loss of cultural sites to climate change, a proactive approach is needed. This entails physical management of sites to ensure safety, along with digital documentation and archiving. Technologies like augmented reality and drone imaging can provide immersive experiences for visitors, offering new ways of experiencing heritage sites. It is essential to embrace the idea of creating new ruins and transition from a Western framework of permanence to a more adaptable perspective.
A People-Centered Approach and Indigenous Heritage Ideologies
Detaching our sense of identity from heritage sites and embracing different heritage ideologies is crucial. Indigenous communities, for example, view impermanence as an integral part of their cultural sites and landscapes. A people-centered approach allows us to explore heritage values that better align with our changing world and promote sustainable preservation practices.
Avoiding the "Endangered" Label and Managing Change
Labeling sites as "endangered" can inadvertently increase their value and exacerbate tourism pressures. Instead, we should view heritage sites as continuously evolving entities, avoiding the ticking time-bomb effect. By adopting a more expansive and generative approach to heritage management, we can better navigate the challenges posed by climate change and ensure the preservation of our global heritage.
In conclusion, the preservation of heritage sites in the face of climate change requires a paradigm shift. It demands a transformative approach that embraces change, redefines our connection to sites, and adapts our management strategies. By doing so, we can navigate the challenges of a rapidly heating world and ensure the protection and appreciation of our diverse cultural and natural heritage for future generations.
Implications for New Businesses
The paradigm shift in heritage preservation, driven by climate change and the concept of transformative continuity, presents both challenges and opportunities for new businesses.
Challenges and Opportunities
The challenge lies in the need to adapt business models that have traditionally relied on the preservation of physical structures and cultural landmarks. This could mean rethinking tourism strategies, visitor experiences, and conservation practices. However, it also opens up opportunities for innovation. New businesses can differentiate themselves by prioritizing transformative continuity in their operations, creating experiences that respect and enhance the evolving nature of heritage sites.
In conclusion, the move towards embracing change and redefining our connection to heritage sites is not just a response to climate change, but also a potential competitive advantage. New businesses that proactively embrace this trend, rather than resisting it, will be better positioned to succeed in the evolving heritage management landscape. They will not only be adapting to changing environmental conditions but also meeting the growing demand among visitors for more sustainable and dynamic experiences.