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Friday, November 18, 2011

UNESCO visits Liverpool Port: Heritage versus Industry

I was with a group of Marine Option Program students in Maui and we passed through a scenic valley and there, in the middle of it, was an abandoned industrial building. The smokestacks were stark outlines in the sky and barren of smoke. It had a sort of beauty to it. A leftover image of an era gone by. The MOP Director stated that it was too bad that this building was ruining the beauty of the valley. I shared my thoughts and was dismissed by Director Hunt, who was a marine biologist. I briefly argued with the van full of marine biologists before giving it up. I wish I could have portrayed my awe and amazement at the progress of mankind! At the beauty of the industry and busy lives of men!

As an industrious people, it is often efficient to take down the old to make way for the new. This causes a crazy sort of balancing act for heritage issues. How much history do we try to preserve? It's generally recognized that we can't save it all. So the next question-how do we determine what is valuable enough to save? Is there ever a case where preservation actually prevents forward progress? How do we reconcile preserving industry with carrying forward industry?

UNESCO World Heritage Centre representatives arrived in Liverpool on November 14 to examine proposed port development in Liverpool, England. A report should be generated by December. Liverpool was designated a World Heritage Site in 2004. Media seemed to grab hold of the fact that Liverpool might lose its World Heritage Site status. There is concern that the proposed development would cause damage to the Three Graces, or rather, interfere with the view of the Three Graces. It seems apparent that no harm will come to the actual physical buildings from development. However, how will development affect the iconic beauty of the port?

This is actually a growing concern in numerous places. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has recently been attempting to define viewsheds through GIS mapping with the goal of preserving historic trails. Some states have enacted viewshed protection acts (IN, NH) and several cities have enacted viewshed protection codes and acts (Approaches to Viewshed Protection Around the Country). Cities and states seem to define viewsheds differently. Heights, view corridors, radii of viewsheds, are frequently included in viewshed protection. I think the BLM GIS studies are unique in that angles, viewer perspective, target height and natural obstructions are taken into account. The goals of these viewshed studies are to separate and allow development (like cell phone towers or pipelines) while preserving historic properties. 

Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City © English Heritage/National Monuments Record

The goal of Liverpool's proposed development is to regenerate the northern docklands. Pam Wiltshire stated "It's just a matter of balance between the needs of the World Heritage Site and the need to continue to regenerate and develop our economy." The last two decades have led to an increased understanding of preservation and conservation of artifacts, buildings, and monuments. Add to this the new development of viewshed protection and I think a balance between development and preservation can be achieved. As that understanding continues to grow. I think that as long as all of the issues are carefully considered and that the needs of the people are a priority, then heritage and industry can be balanced. The picture above captures the beauty of the Three Graces, while the picture below is also beautiful, in my opinion. It captures a blending of times and the industry of man, with the Great Western Railway building dating to the nineteenth century, the Three Graces dating to the twentieth century, and construction today in the twenty-first. I'm looking forward to reading the report and seeing if the Liverpool viewshed is considered during review of the proposed development.

The Three Graces
The Three Graces, with cranes at work on the nearby waterfront construction site Photograph: David Sillitoe for the Guardian

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Maritime Culture by Whitney Rose Petrey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License