8th World Conference of Historical Cities
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Day 1 — Monday October 6, 2003

Monday’s workshops covered virtually the entire gamut of challenges and hurdles that stand in the way of truly meaningful heritage preservation and its integration into cities’ ongoing development. (See full program.)



Workshop 1: A Heritage Feeling in New Orleans: Preservation Associations Versus the Business Community

Martine Geronimi, who holds a PhD in Cultural Geography from Université Laval and teaches at Université du Québec à Montréal, examined the close but often conflictual relationship between the heritage awareness of residents of the Vieux-Carré (French Quarter) district of New Orleans and the enthusiasm surrounding the emergence of mass tourism (which simultaneously confirms and compromises the area’s heritage wealth). Martine Geronimi

A jewel of French and Spanish colonial heritage and a cradle of Creole culture lost to poverty, the Vieux-Carré was first revived in the 1930s by businessmen who, banking on the nostalgic appeal of a mythic past, saw it as ripe for commercial development. “Social cleansing” and expropriations followed; historical properties were demolished and new hotels built (more than 40 of them, not including clandestine operations and bed & breakfasts, within a 1.3-hectare area), all strongly opposed by citizens’ commissions. A plan to run a highway through the area was narrowly averted in 1970, but growing tourism, parades, festivals, Mardi Gras and various carnavals and voodoo celebrations brought higher crime rates and insecurity. Access to housing and property in the district was seriously compromised by the expropriation of key sites and the demolition of buildings deemed unprofitable by promoters. Caught between political responsibility and financial profitability, the municipality must often give in to the pressures of mercantile interests that “perpetuate the myth” while paying precious little attention to authentic heritage concerns.

The ensuing discussions pointed to the risks of excessively tourism-oriented development, where the danger is that historic neighbourhoods will be stripped of their very substance, both in the name of, and as a result of, promotion of their heritage assets.


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Workshop 2: Redevelopment Perspectives of Historical Places: A Case Study of Hanoi (Vietnam)

Dr Nam-Son Ngo-Viet Dr Nam-Son Ngo-Viet, an urban planning and historical conservation consultant, spoke about the controversy opposing advocates of thorough preservation of the original character of Old Hanoi (which would guarantee tourism income and prosperity) and those who support modernizing this disadvantaged neighbourhood (which would improve health conditions and quality of life for its 200,000 residents, among other benefits).

The Vietnamese government supports preservation of the neighbourhood, also known as Ba-Muoi-Sau Pho-Phuong, but lacks the financial means to do so and is actively seeking Unesco funding in this regard.

At the same time, researchers and experts are engaged in efforts to raise awareness among Hanoi’s citizens of the urgent need to protect this millennial heritage site for its historical, cultural and identifying value (not to mention the tourism and economic benefits). They also hope to convince the business community — which is skeptical of a restoration project that has no immediately tangible benefit — of the importance of investing in such preservation.

The strategy of Old Hanoi’s defenders is to promote participation by citizens and international bodies; to identify, restore and preserve historic sites, including their various levels of historical reference; to preserve the character of the streets while enhancing the surrounding areas as well as quality of life; to reduce the pressure to develop; and to reconcile pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

As discussions near the end of the workshop emphasized, the high demographic density of Old Hanoi and the central government’s prioritizing of economic and social development make the task of the champions of integral heritage preservation singularly difficult.


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Workshop 3: Heritage for Today: Cultural Institutions in Old Montréal and Their Experience

Sylvie Dufresne, Director of Exhibits and Research at Pointe-à-Callière, the Montréal Museum of Archaeology and History, and Jean-François Leclerc, Director of the Montréal History Centre, noted the many efforts by an association of Old Montréal museums and cultural bodies to find new ways of communicating information and holding public activities, and the considerable impact they have had on the neighbourhood’s recent emergence as a living space into which the heritage dimension is harmoniously integrated.

Sylvie Dufresne and Jean-François Leclerc

In the past 10 years or so, museums, archaeological societies and cultural groups in this historical neighbourhood have successfully explored new approaches to dissemination of information and knowledge in a bid to infuse Old Montréal’s past with new life and meaning, while avoiding the dangers of “museumification” of heritage neighbourhoods.

Exploiting to the fullest the natural connections between the museum institutions and the surrounding heritage district, the association views the consolidation of true neighbourhood life — involving citizens, commercial interests, and multifunctionality — as an indispensable component of a “sustainable urban ecosystem.”

A representative of City of Dijon was delighted to hear of this involvement by cultural institutions in public awareness of historical neighbourhoods, remarking that more often than not, a commercial, tourism-driven vision predominates.

This workshop highlighted the determination of residents and experts, the political will of government bodies, the openness of merchants and promoters and, especially, the commitment of Montréal’s cultural and museum institutions to showcasing not only Old Montréal’s tangible heritage, but also its enduring soul.


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Workshop 4: Globalization and New Opportunities for Historical Cities

Razieh H. S. Rezazadeh Razieh H. S. Rezazadeh, who has a PhD in Urban Planning and is an associate professor at Iran University of Science and Technology, described the often beneficial effects of so-called globalization, which, although mostly associated with the spread of U.S.A.-style “modernity,” is also nurturing international networking efforts allowing historical cities to bring their culture- and heritage-related struggles to the public forum par excellence that is the global village.

In Prof. Rezazadeh’s view, it is because their cultural singularity is now under threat from globalization that the world’s cities are becoming more conscious of their heritage and refusing to stand by and watch it be vandalized or trivialized. To counter the adverse effects of globalization, she said, it is in the interest of cities to fully exploit the tools for research and exchange that globalization itself makes available to them.

Taking advantage of the ease of communication, transportation and networking now made possible by globalization, Ms. Rezazadeh came to Montréal for the express purpose of blocking the planned construction of a modern, New York City-style office tower in the very heart of the old neighbourhood of the city of Esfahan. She planned to use the prestigious forum provided by this international conference to raise world awareness of this issue and, more important, discuss it directly with the Mayor of Esfahan, Sayed Mortaza Saghaian Nejad Esfahani, who was also attending the Conference. And yet their meeting — which, according to the protagonists themselves would have been unthinkable in Iran — was, much like the skyscraper project at issue, a fruit of the current process of globalization.

In response to a question from the floor, Ms. Rezazadeh expressed her regret that, for economic as well as political reasons, Iran’s rich heritage remains inaccessible to international tourism — for that factor alone would drive the investments so sorely needed to preserve that heritage.


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Workshop 5: Protecting and Showcasing Heritage Assets: The National Capital Commission in Ottawa

Lynda Villeneuve, holder of a PhD in Historical Geography and manager of the Heritage Program at the National Capital Commission in Ottawa, pointed to the urgent need to develop new policies aimed at preserving heritage landscapes, as centuries-old testimonials to the ongoing interaction between citizens and their urban ecosystem. Lynda Villeneuve

Pointing to the development work already accomplished on the LeBreton Flats, Canadian War Museum, and Chaudière Islands sites, Ms. Villeneuve emphasized the importance of timely definition of guidelines and principles for action, analytical parameters and methods, as well as classification of so-called blue, green and landscape heritage zones.

The LeBreton Flats, a neighbourhood that was wiped out by a huge fire at the turn of the 20th century, has gradually yielded an impressive number of archeological evidence going back to the earliest human settlements there, from which more than 80,000 artefacts have so far been recovered. The War Museum site has benefited from decontamination and soil remediation as well as infrastructure improvements to the surrounding parkland and roads network. The Chaudière and Victoria Islands Planning Initiative, meanwhile, will result in a harmonious blend of Aboriginal and Victorian traditions, bearing witness to more than 4,000 years of habitation.


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Workshop 6: Montréal’s “Operation Local Heritage”

Jean-François Gravel

Architect Jean-François Gravel, Head of the Heritage and Toponymy Division of the City of Montréal’s Economic and Urban Development Department, is the initiator of a wide-ranging program to raise public awareness of Montréal’s built heritage, and the sense of shared identity that may be derived from it.

The program, dubbed Opération patrimoine architectural de Montréal, aims to improve the quality of the maintenance and restoration of privately owned residential and commercial heritage buildings, and in so doing increase their owners’ pride in them. To this effect, every year a committee of professionals selects exemplary building in each of the City of Montréal’s boroughs, ensuring representation by the different types of architecture that give Montréal its distinctive character.

Because the quality of the work is dependent upon the expertise of skilled craftspersons, Opération patrimoine architectural acknowledges the excellence of their work in all fields, including woodworking and metalworking. By drawing public attention to these artisans, the City encourages property owners to be careful about choosing their suppliers, while motivating craftspersons to constantly improve and maintain the quality of their work.

For two weeks in September each year, municipal departments, boroughs, the media and sponsors, along with several partners including museums, libraries and historical societies, join forces to publicly promote this campaign to raise awareness of Montréal’s built heritage.


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Workshop 7: Montréal, a North American Hub

Geographer and Université du Québec à Montréal professor David B. Hanna spoke about the particular geographical situation of Montréal, which for centuries has made it a continental and Atlantic hub. As a “crossroads city,” after the fashion of New York, Boston, New Orleans and Baltimore, Montréal has been, and remains, a significant locus of international trade, a financial centre, and a nerve centre for transportation organization.

David B. Hanna

The old city centre, Old Port, and railway station district together form an exceptional heritage ensemble that is unique in North America, well preserved, and displays a rare cohesion of architecture and urban planning that merits international recognition. Such was the conclusion reached by a committee of urban planning and historical experts formed to study Montréal’s potential candidacy as a World Heritage City.

While acknowledging that the proposal was well founded, delegates suggested that the designated area be extended to include the Lachine Canal, Mount Royal and the lower part of Saint Lawrence Boulevard — a commercial and cultural axis that is a vital part of “Montreality.”


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Workshop 8: Restoring the Historical District of Old Montréal: Principles and Values

Suzanne Provost Suzanne Provost, an advisor with Québec’s Ministry of Culture and Communications, explored the highly complex issues surrounding some 25 years of efforts to preserve, restore and remediate the historic borough of Old Montréal. Today, the area can be described as a superimposition of eras, in which certain spaces stem from a specific period, while others appear as a synthesis of multiple periods. From this fusion of historical eras in the crucible that is Old Montréal, an overall cohesion has emerged to form the basis of the neighbourhood’s historical identity. That same identity has dictated the values and principles of the governmental and municipal actions taken in the district, as well as directed all forms of interpretation, promotion and development in Old Montréal.

To illustrate her thesis, Ms. Provost described the many public interventions aimed at revitalizing, preserving and remediating the neighbourhood, including the work to restore and bring up to standards many older buildings that have shaped Old Montréal’s identity (e.g., the Bonsecours Market, Château Ramezay, the Centre d’histoire de Montréal [once a fire station], and the Old Customs House), along with development projects undertaken in Place Jacques-Cartier as well as on Gosford and Saint-Claude streets. In each case, new contemporary needs had to be taken into account while respecting the existing street grid and public spaces.

Conference-goers agreed that the current state of the historical borough of Old Montréal and its planned evolution are eloquent testimonials to the success of this joint approach that has been years in the making.

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January 28, 2004