A Chinese site on the UNESCO World Heritage tentative list. © Our Place
There is a growing argument that there are now too many World Heritage sites. Critics say that the current total of 981 is so large that the WH list is losing any claim to exclusivity. Also as we climb closer to 1000 sites on the UNESCO list, too many of the recently inscribed sites are being included for geo-political reasons and to address perceived regional imbalance and historical prejudices.
Anyone who has attended the annual UNESCO World Heritage Committee meetings where countries representatives debate the merits or otherwise of sites applying for inscription, will have noticed the seemly undue haste and political machinations which lead to some sites being added to the list. Often they are inscribed against the advice and counsel of the expert bodies who have visited the locations and prepared detailed dossiers on the sites positive (and negative) points.
The counter argument to the “too many sites - too soon” is that any site that gets onto the list is at least profiled in the global public arena that affords it some protection and recognition, which in turn, can help with its conservation for the future.
This debate re the number (and quality) of sites will only increase as more sites on the World Heritage Tentative list come up for inscription as State Parties (countries) strive to increase the number of their officially recognised sites. The Tentative List is a list that the UNESCO World Heritage Centre has compiled from information provided by member countries on the sites that they intend to eventually submit for inscription.
There are currently 1562 sites identified on this list and the numbers are expected to increase as countries argue that their places of national significance also have “outstanding universal value” (OUV), the criteria needed to gain official World Heritage status. They argue that as well as local significance they have global significance.
OUR PLACE has recently been assisting some of these significant national locations that are planning to seek WH inscription by visually documenting their important features for both promotional purposes and use in their inscription documents. As we have visited numerous World Heritage sites around the world we have also been able to discuss issues of tourist promotion and supporting infrastructure that could help future proof these locations. Capacity building and suitable infrastructure is particularly important should the increased tourist numbers that many sites want from WH inscription, eventuate.
Are there too many sites and is the World Heritage “brand” being devalued? Probably not when you consider the huge number and diversity of significant cultural and natural sites spread around the globe. Do they all have outstanding universal value? That will be an ongoing debate.
Have some sites been inscribed too hastily and for the wrong reason? Definitely yes…
The sites on the tentative list will face their inscription assessment in the context of this growing debate and consequently the need for well presented and reasoned arguments will become more important. But, as we have argued before, even if a site is inscribed for the wrong reason, it still can have a right result. At least those responsible for its management and preservation must do so under the scrutiny of a global public gaze. This is to the good.
As the number of inscribed sites increase, brand World Heritage might become less defined and lose some of its exclusivity (but we hope not its credibility). Conversely, as more sites are given World Heritage status, the wider public’s acceptance and understanding of the values embodied in the convention on World Heritage will be spread and this has to be a good thing.
CEO; Our Place World Heritage