Forget About World Heritage: What Are the Values? A research into lay people's heritage perception in World Heritage nominations
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Summary This research has set out to investigate how lay people’s perceptions of historic buildings and Cultural Landscapes influence the definition and selection of World Heritage sites in nomination procedures. UNESCO is increasingly aware of the fact that conservation and management of World Heritage sites depends to a great extent on local participation and support: in order to conserve World Heritage sites, local communities must see the value and benefit of preserving, and act accordingly by maintaining traditional life styles and generally conserving the site or landscape. This growing awareness has led to an increasing importance of local participation at potential and actual World Heritage sites (Fowler, 2004; Mitchell et al, 2009; UNESCO, 2003; 2008; Rössler, 2006). The way in which local participation takes place in actual nomination procedures has however hardly been researched, nor have lay people’s heritage perceptions, crucial to the conservation of the site as they may be, have been related to nomination procedures. The very few studies that did research this kind of topic, such as van der Aa (2005), Jones (2007), Stenseke (2009) and Mitchell et al (2009), related to World Heritage issues in general, participation in landscape maintenance, participation in the maintenance of a Cultural Landscape and participation in World Heritage management plans respectively. The main conclusion which could be drawn from these four studies was as follows: in World Heritage nomination procedures, there are trends of increasing importance of information exchange amongst stakeholders and of participation. Participation in landscape management can make decisions regarding these landscapes more legitimate and supported by local communities, which enhances conservation. Also, the nomination procedure is led by key people from either local or higher scale levels who have to operate within a framework of stakeholders and power relations between those stakeholders. Although these conclusions are highly relevant to the present research, they did not take into account local perceptions of heritage, while the perceptions of heritage by lay people may vary to a great extent depending on site- and personal characteristics. Studies from Ganzeboom (1983), Coeterier (1987; 2000; 2002), Roth (2006) and Huysmans & de Haan (2007) proved that both site characteristics such as elements in the façade of an historic building and a layered image and story in historic landscapes, and personal characteristics such as age, level of education and knowledge of the site may influence heritage perception. In addition, Asworth & Graham (1997) and Lowenthal (2008) found that the increased popularity of heritage in society may also influence lay people’s stance towards heritage. None of the studies mentioned above, however, focused on lay people’s perception of World Heritage sites, nor did the studies on the World Heritage nomination procedure specify how key people in the nomination operate, or how power relations structure the nomination procedure. This research therefore set out to answer the following research question: To what extent do lay people’s perceptions of historic landscapes differ from their perceptions of historic buildings, and to what extent do both perceptions influence the definition and selection of UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Landscapes and Sites? This research question was investigated by surveying lay people and interviewing experts. The survey included 360 questionnaires for two case studies: the World Heritage sites Rietveld Schröderhouse (an historic building) and Schokland and Surroundings (a cultural landscape), at which the inhabitants of the area and the visitors of the site were sampled. The interviews included experts who had worked at or with the World Heritage Centre in Paris, or who were closely involved in the nomination procedure for one of the two case studies mentioned above. The analysis of these empirical data led to results regarding the differences in perceiving World Heritage sites, and to insight in what way and why participation in nomination procedures takes shape. Interestingly, the differences in perception of the Rietveld Schröderhouse and Schokland begin with the overall perception score which was considerably lower for the monument than for the landscape. The people from the two samples regarding the Rietveld Schröderhouse perceived the monument less positively than those from the samples regarding Schokland perceived the landscape, which suggests that the Rietveld Schröderhouse did not answer to the physical perception parameters as well as Schokand did. More important differences in perception, however, were caused by a number of personal characteristics. First of these was the level of education, which was found to be of influence on the perception of the Rietveld Scröderhouse and not on the perception of Schokland, whereas the existing literature suggested that the level of education should not be of influence on heritage perception at all. Another difference was found in the influence of gender: in the sample of inhabitants of Utrecht, concerning the perception of the Rietveld Schröderhouse, gender was found to have an influence on the perception of the monument whereas this influence was not found for Schokland and was not expected by the existing literature. These were the main differences between heritage perceptions found in the survey. The extent to which lay people’s perceptions of Cultural Landscapes and historic buildings differ can therefore be considered limited, considering the effect of the factors included in this research. The construction of different perceptions on the basis of physical characteristics remains unchallenged by this research, but some differences in the influence of personal characteristics have been found. In the attempt to relate local heritage perceptions to the UNESCO World Heritage nomination procedure, however, the extent to which the perceptions do not differ turned out to be more interesting because the role of perceptions is of similar and evident importance in the appreciation of World Heritage for all samples. As nominations need support of local communities to be successful, the local appreciation of World Heritage provides an important link between perceiving and participation. The similar importance of information on lay people’s appreciation of World Heritage does the same, as information is also of great importance in lay people’s support for a nomination procedure. Another way to bridge the aspect of lay people’s perceptions and the World Heritage nomination procedure is through key people in the nomination process. Key people from the local, national or international level can influence the participation of lay people in the nomination procedure through a number of ways. They can talk to local communities or lay people directly, they can have a key position in stakeholder management and therefore be able to include more or different stakeholders and they can have an influence on the management plan of a site which eventually has to include local perceptions (Mitchell et al, 2009, p. 35). They can do so because of their knowledge of the local conditions, the nomination procedure or the requirements of the Operational Guidelines regarding participation and the management plan. The position of key people in the nomination procedure must however be related to the power relations within the procedure for every site, as these relations were proved to determine to a great extent how much participation takes place and which of the stakeholders are involved. Power relations in World Heritage nominations consist of three parts: the number of stakeholders, ownership, and power structure. The number of stakeholders, which is larger for Cultural Landscapes and smaller for historic buildings, determines how easy it is to adjust interests among stakeholders and how easy local communities can be taken into account. The same is true for ownership: in Cultural Landscapes, there are often several land owners while an historic building typically has one owner. Ownership therefore determines how much other stakeholders have a say about the nomination: one owner can decide for itself, whereas several owners have to reach an agreement. These two factors together determine the power structure: Cultural Landscape nominations are typically structured bottom up and include local communities and local perceptions much more than nominations for historic buildings, which are typically structured top –down with little participation to this date. The main recommendations which could be drawn from the conclusions in this research were: move attention for participation from management plans to attention to nominations, this saves effort and time in arranging a working management plan and aids participation. Also, move focus to the nomination practice: research what actually happens rather than making new rules on paper.