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New perspectives to save cultural heritage
Altan, M. Orhan

CIP A 2003 XIX th International Symposium, 30 September - 04 October, 2003, Antalya, Turkey
can contribute to the sustainable, qualitative, economic and
social developments of that society.”
Obviously, the question regarding the authenticity of a restored
building or a re-enacted ceremonial procession cannot be easily
transposed to a historic urban neighborhood that continues to
evolve. Whereas the concern for material authenticity is valid
“for cultural properties which are more static with persistent
materials, they would be insufficient for heritage whose
significance derives from dynamic processes and associated
cultural values as well as physical features. (Stovel,1994;
Larsen, 1995). According to the Nairobi Recommendation,
revitalization should accompany protection and restoration by
allowing new functions that could answer the social, cultural
and economic needs of the inhabitants over the long run.
While the needs of community life, its evolution and technical
development warrants recognition and support (UNESCO,
1962), the continuing history of the place could also lead to
changes in the associated cultural significance (Burra, 1999).
As a result, the question regarding authenticity, as well as the
very significance of the heritage resource at issue has to be
repeated on a continuing basis, related decisions will have to be
made and remade in an on-going process over the long run.
Ultimately, only those aspects and elements that can withstand
the test of time, and their assessors, will continue to bear
witness to and further enrich human development.
3.2 The Use of Multimedia Technology
There is no question that the host community of a heritage place
must join other stakeholders with potentially contesting interests
in making the evaluation, the question is rather how well
prepared all the participants are. In so far as heritage
conservation is concerned, many of the defining factors related
to historic places are subjective in nature, such as feeling, spirit,
and association. The more diverse the contending stakeholders,
or the stronger the contesting interests, the more challenging it
will be to address the issues at hand collectively within an open
and inclusive framework.
It should come as no surprise that, in each of the three
neighborhoods introduced above, the community voice is by no
means in unison. Adding to this are the choruses formed by
outsiders with their own sets of agenda. A fine distinction has
also been made between the cultural community that generates a
heritage and the one that assumes the responsibility of its care in
the Nara Document. “Balancing their own requirements with
those of other cultural communities is, for each community,
highly desirable, provided achieving this balance does not
undermine their fundamental cultural values.”
Here one is reminded that, in a world where more and more
Jihads confront an expanding McWorld, self-determination if
left unchecked will result in a tribalism in which only the local
power elite gets a fair deal. As counter measures, true
citizenship and civic spaces that nourish it have been suggested
(Barber, 1995). Where conservation of a living urban heritage is
concerned, one would venture that part of the antidote is to be
found in an educational and informational infrastructure that
form the base for participation. In this respect, the versatility
and the flexibility of the multimedia technology have yet to
exert its full potentials.
As pointed out in the Cracow Charter, ‘The plurality of heritage
values and diversity of interests necessitates a communication
structure that allows, in addition to specialists and
administrators, an effective participation of inhabitants in the
process.” To that, an open platform enabling interdisciplinary
learning and public education on a continuing basis should be
added. In other words, given the complexities involved, an
understanding of the issues as well as access to information is
the prerequisite to meaningful discourse among the various
stakeholders and contenders. And it is here multimedia
technology in consort with the digital network have a more than
significant role to play. This is particularly true considering the
fact that the conservation of cultural heritages world-wide is no
longer parochial affairs.
For many in Da-Dau-Cheng, the continuing prosperity of the
herb shop that has been run by the family for three generations
lies closer to heart than a building with a exquisite Pseudo
Baroque façade down the street. To long-time Naxi residents of
Lijiang, the occasional reenactment of street washing procedure
for the entertainment of distinguished guests only reminds them
of the lively marketplace now replaced by a tourist bazaar on
the stone-paved central square. In Boston’s Chinatown, to most
residents and merchants alike, neighborhood conservation
means foremost a primo struggle for land and control. In each of
these three cases, a communication system as well as an
information/education platform that takes full advantage of the
versatile multimedia technology and the borderless electronic
network has yet to be constructed.
A brief survey of the web sites related to the three historic
places reveals that, with only few exceptions, the contents are
primarily tourists oriented, and promotional in nature. Typical
of these is “The Ancient Town of Lijiang, a Virtual Tour”.
Among other sites, some provide a rather limited amount of
information on planning and development issues, some function
as a digital databank of historic images. The former category
includes “The Revitalization of the Da-Dau-Cheng District”,
hosted by the City of Taipei and “Window of Lijiang” by the
county government. “Digital Photo Album of Da-Dau-Cheng”,
a site developed by the Academia Sinica in Taipei is an example
of the latter.
Among other sites surveyed here is “The Boston Chinatown
Heritage Trail Demonstration Project” developed by the
Chinese Historical Society of New England. The project covers
the history of Chinese immigration in the New England area as
well as the transformation of Boston’s Chinatown. In addition
to help preserve and record historical materials and artifacts for
the Society, the fully developed interactive archive is intended
to provide an informational as well as educational reference
base for the general public, including but not limited to the
Chinatown community. To date, only phase one of the project
has been completed. It focused on structuring an interactive
databank of still images and texts along three theme lines,
including (1) the neighborhood trail emphasizing the physical
transformation; (2) the community trail emphasizing the cultural
and social aspects; and (3) the historical timeline for Chinese
immigration in New England. A full multimedia presentation
planned for the second phase is yet to be completed.
Except for the “Boston Chinatown Heritage Trail” and the
“Digital Photo Album of Da-Dau-Cheng”, all are basically no
more than the e-versions of traditional texts and images in static
form. Little use has been made of the unique capabilities
presented by the multimedia technology and the internet,
including, but not limited to, visualization, animation and multi
channel communication. The opportunities for stimulating
awareness, making complex issues digestible and enabling self-
directed interactive learning and exchange for the professional