As urban accolades go, becoming one of Unesco’s 250-odd World Heritage Cities seems like a pretty good deal. What it means is that the country’s government has agreed to preserve and protect certain historic or cultural sites; in exchange, under the Geneva Convention, invading forces have to do the same.
However, in the most recent issue of the architecture and design magazine Domus, Italian journalist Marco D’Eramo argues that awarding the status to cities stunts their development. He writes:
“Whenever the UNESCO hallmark is applied to a city, the city dies out, becoming the stuff of taxidermy. This veritable urbanicide…is not deliberately perpetuated. On the contrary, it is committed in all good faith and with the loftiest intentions….but, as the word says, to preserve means to embalm, or freeze…. it means to halt time and fix it in a snapshot, to prevent it from changing and evolving.”
This tension between cities’ development and the preservation of its cultural sites has not come about by accident. Previously, the heritage stamp applied only to specific sites or groups of buildings within the cities. In 2011, though, the UN agency introduced a new recommendation for countries to expand the status to what they call the “broader urban context” in World Heritage cities.