UNESCO Welcomes City Development Plan

UNESCO Welcomes City Development Plan

Published: June 27, 2012 (Issue # 1715)


Eleonora Mitrofanova, Russia’s permanent representative in UNESCO, pictured at the plenary session of the congress.

UNESCO will review the program for the reconstruction and restoration of the historical center of St. Petersburg after it is finalized, Kishore Rao, the director of UNESCO’s World Heritage Center, said Monday.

Speaking at the 36th session of the World Heritage Committee that is currently being held in St. Petersburg’s Tavrichesky Palace, Rao said UNESCO’s experts would consider contributing their recommendations and judgments to the program in cases that involve the city’s world heritage sites.

The program for the reconstruction and restoration of the historical center of St. Petersburg that is still being formulated will cover the period from 2013 to 2018, and will require up to one trillion rubles ($30.4 billion), according to preliminary estimates.

The city’s historical center has been divided into zones, and open competitions for the reconstruction and development of each zone are now in progress. The results of the competition will be announced this September.

Eleonora Mitrofanova, chairwoman of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee and Russia’s permanent representative in UNESCO, welcomed the idea of the reconstruction plan in general, as its declared goal is improving the quality of life in the city. The plan envisages not only the reconstruction of dilapidated historical buildings, but also the creation of parking spaces, improvement of pedestrian areas and introduction of elements of landscape design.

“In general, I think the reconstruction plan is a good thing because people’s quality of life should always come first,” Mitrofanova said. “It is worth remembering that not every building in the historical center of St. Petersburg is a world heritage site. You really need to distinguish between a situation in which a precious cultural item is being destroyed, and when we are talking about an old building that is beyond repair and needs to be demolished. From the point of view of heritage preservation, these are not comparable.

“The confrontation between the concepts of conservation and development dates back centuries, and it does not have a universal solution,” Mitrofanova added.

During the course of the session, which will end on July 6, experts will review the proposals of more than 35 sites that are being considered for inclusion on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

The proposals include: the Lena Pillars nature reserve in far eastern Siberia (Russia), Western Ghats mountains (India), Lakes of Ounianga (Chad), Mediterranean landscapes in Plasencia-Monfrague-Trujillo (Spain), the Margravial Opera House in Bayreuth (Germany), archeological monuments in Al Zubara (Qatar), the farmhouses of Halsingland (Sweden), the historical center of Rabat (Morocco) and Rajasthan fortress (India).

The World Heritage List currently comprises 936 cultural and natural sites.

This year, UNESCO celebrates the 40th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention that has since been ratified by 189 countries, making it one of the most universally ratified legal instruments worldwide.

“Behind the important document is the simple but revolutionary idea that there are places of ‘outstanding universal value’ we must protect together,” said Irina Bokova, UNESCO director-general, in her opening speech at the session on June 24.

Bokova warned local authorities against viewing the list as a beauty contest or a sports competition.

“As we meet, an ever greater number of sites are threatened. In May, an earthquake in northern Italy struck Ferrara — a vibrant city, one of the birthplaces of the European Renaissance. Violence in Syria is threatening lives and destroying the memory of those who created cultural World Heritage sites there,” she said.

Perhaps even more frustratingly, World Heritage sites are threatened by ill-conceived construction policies, when priceless historical buildings and places fall victim to the interests of deep-pocketed investors. It is for these policies that St. Petersburg’s heritage preservation pressure groups are asking UNESCO experts to watch out.

From June 22 to 24, just before the start of the UNESCO session, the first international forum of non-governmental organizations on the preservation of world heritage sites was held in St. Petersburg. Its participants — more than 100 delegates from pressure groups representing 24 countries from Finland to Australia — issued a warning statement about Russia’s industrial policies, which threaten dozens of world heritage sites across the country.

According to Oksana Karavaiko, spokeswoman for the Russian branch of the international environmental organization Greenpeace, the list of hotspots includes the Virgin Komi Forests, where a large open-cast gold mine is being planned and illegal logging is rampant; Lake Baikal, where the Baikal Pulp and Paper Mill continues to operate and dump industrial waste into the water, and where metals mining is planned to be launched; the Western Caucasus nature reserve, in particular the Lago-Naki plateau, where a ski resort is due to be built, as well as an important highway leading to the “Moonlight Valley” government residence; and the Kronotsky nature reserve on the Kamchatka peninsula, where two hydro-electric power stations are being planned.

This is not to mention Gazprom’s preparations to build a pipeline from its Arctic Yamal gas fields through the Sacred Lands territory in the Altai mountains.

“Importantly, these are cases in which large financial interests clash with a lack of transparency,” Karavaiko added.

“It is extremely difficult to get any information about them, which makes it very difficult to give publicity to them and encourage a public discussion.”

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