My Heritage 5. Dec 19

HUL: Historical Urban Landscape

A Landscape Of A Historical City: Conservation and Sustainable Development Going Hand In Hand

Professor Elizabeth Vine, former Chair of International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) in Australia, an experienced architect and expert in conservation of historical buildings has initiated the conservation and development of an old town Beechworth in Vicotry, Broken Hill in New South Wales and old buildings in Melbourne. She has been involved in conservation efforts of many historical buildings in Asia including Ohel Leah in Hong Kong, groups of buildings in Penang and Malacca, Malaysia as well as Yangon, Myanmar.


Professor Vine has also authored the Streetwise Book Series which are considered a handbook which focuses on an understanding in how to conserve historical areas amidst waves of modernization which destroys the values of architecture and ways of life.

At Chiang Mai International Conference: Integration of Historic Cities and their Natural Settings for Sustainable Development) held at UNISERVE, Chiang Mai University, September 12, 2018, the Working Group for Chiang Mai World Heritage Initiative Project (CMWHIP), Professor Vine gave a lecture on “ Recommendation for Historical Urban Landscape: HUL” and pointed out UNESCO recommendation was one of the most important tools used for development of modern cities around the world without disturbing roots, architectural features and traditional ways of life despite some change.

“We must face the fact that in Asia where several old areas can be found, urban development efforts lack an understanding in conservation of heritage. This results in the loss of original architectural beauty, traditional lifestyle and conventional wisdoms which are the key to sustainable development” said Professor Vines.

Professor Vine cited a clear example seen in the modification or construction of modern buildings without consideration for environment from their designs, materials, colors, proportion, height and environmental context of the area. Such constructions have destroyed attractive landscapes and created an eyesore for the city. By establishing a mutual understanding in Historical Urban Landscape among concerning parties, public and government sectors, people will share the same perspective, appreciate the values of the city from the same angle and have the same conscience in conservation and development.

Recommendation for HUL is considered a conservation handbook certified by UNESCO in 2011. It combines  policies with practice for environment and historical areas with an emphasis on urban development with high regards to the values of natural and cultural heritage in a city landscape. UNESCO has recommended associate members to apply, directly and indirectly, the policies and the practice in ways that suits the characteristics of their countries.

“There is a misconception about the policies which seem like a top down approach. The very heart of HUL is the awareness that the people in the community must be included. HUL, therefore, should start from a cultural map to establish an understanding among community members – let them know that their community is a valuable property and allow them to participate in the development plan. So it is in fact a bottom up process”

Professor Vine provided a step-by-step process for development plan with regards to HUL as follows;
1. Explore and establish physical features and values of the city: This includes human resources in the area and involvement of community members in cultural mapping to guarantee mutual appreciation. Community engagement will allow for identifying the needs of the people in the community.

2. Reach a consensus with the people in the area: By using an engagement process, both residents and business owners take part of decision-making of development direction.

3. Evaluate weak points and social and economic impact: Impacts from changing climate and how it will affect conservation and development plans must also be conducted. Social impact can be investigated through cultures, ways of life and environment as they directly influence the quality of life of the people in the community.

4. Integrate the values and weakness of conservation and incorporate them in urban development plan: With the goal of livability in mind, the ideal city must have all necessary public utilities, infrastructure, comfortable surroundings – all combined to offer  good quality of life while maintaining authentic cultural identities as seen in Melbourne (Australia), Vancouver and Montreal (Canada). A city can become more livable by adding more public space filled with creative ideas like, for example, New York’s linear High Line Park which was renovated from an unused elevated railroad. Other examples are; the park at Paddington in Sydney recreated from an old industrial area, and Boston’s Lowenthal Park transformed from a car park.

5. Encourage all to set an equal priority for conservation and development: This concept is also included in the United Nation’s sustainable urban development framework for 2030.

6. Set up a network of alliance and local action plans: In addition to public awareness in each community, an inter-community network and a network linking community members with business operators and government sectors can create an effective tool for development cooperation. The important goal for HUL is not the conservation of the city’s significant historical area but rather the promotion of quality of life for people in various areas which corresponds with UN’s sustainable urban development concept.

HUL is not a newly launched tool. In 2014, Chiang Mai Municipality incorporated HUL in Chiang Mai City Development Plan in recognition of many historical sites and cultural identities. At that time, the Development Plan referred to; maneuvering the Municipal Ordinance with restrictions for new and renovated buildings inside the old city moats (designs, height, proportion, colors), adding more options in mass transport services, expansion of bicycle tracks, installation of CCTV for security and reorganization of powerline poles. Almost 4 years have passed and the question about Chiang Mai being a livable city still remains.  Can livability be sensed or seen at all around Chiang Mai?  Do we have a road without powerline poles?

In hindsight, the effectiveness does not come from HUL being a tool alone. But the aimed result comes from the process that began with having people in the communities participate in decision-making and allowing them to examine the work and the outcome. Conservation and development efforts, if drafted and exercised solely by state authority without public participation from the beginning, will end up being worthless.

Many challenges await our beloved Chiang Mai.  Many factors should be re-evaluated while some should be pushed forward together. City livability does not depend on various projects initiated by the government. But it should come from the satisfaction of the people.