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Historic Urban Landscape: Relevance and Application in the Asia-Pacific Context

In the Asia-Pacific region alone, there are over 20 World Heritage towns and cities and another 40 municipalities which host some of the region’s most notable World Heritage landmarks.  These World Heritage towns and many other historic districts, quarters and neighborhoods which are not on the World Heritage List face a multitude of challenges as Asia’s cities continue to grow and modernize at an unprecedented pace. 

In the context of Asia’s rapidly expanding urban population, which will – according to the Asian Development Bank – grow by approximately 70% within the next 20 years, these towns and cities will see major economic and social transformations which will affect all aspects of well-being, including the integrity of the heritage.  As high rise residential and retail buildings replace heritage buildings, the lower-income people who lived there are also displaced (UN HABITAT 2010:194). Globalisation has resulted in major changes to urban life, including an increase of tourism. The Asia-Pacific region is predicted to have the highest region of tourism growth by 2020.

Urbanisation and globalisation – urban growth is transforming what makes urban areas unique, particularly in Asia, where urbanisation and globalisation are occuring at a rapid rate. While globalisation brings economic, social and cultural benefits, if urban growth is not managed effectively the changes that occur can result in loss of community identity, urban fabric integrity and the sense of place (UNESCO 2011). 

Development – effective management of historic urban areas involves services and tourism as a means of maintaining the areas and their cultural heritage. This can be done through the availability of information technology and sustainably planning, building and design practices. If these opportunities are not recognised urban cities can become unsustainable and unviable leading to the loss of heritage assets (UNESCO 2011).

Environment – a changing focus on the environment, especially water and energy consumption, needs new approaches which include natural and cultural heritage (UNESCO 2011). Environmental problems in Asian cities, if left unaddressed, will result in consequences felt across the whole world. 

Reflecting this range of issues that are particularly apparent in Asian cities, urban World Heritage sites in this region have been under scrutiny.  In recent years, a number of Reactive Monitoring Missions have been undertaken by the advisory bodies to the World Heritage Committee in response to problems arising from development and infrastructure issues.  These include missions to as Luang Prabang (Lao PDR), Macao SAR (China), Lijiang (China) and Georgetown (Malaysia).


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