The Maritime Mercantile City of Liverpool gained World Heritage status in 2004, due to its development into one of the world’s largest trading hubs in the 18th and 19th centuries. The city played a key role in the growth of the British Empire, with Liverpool’s port enabling movement from Europe to America (UNESCO, 2018). However, despite Liverpool’s crucial role during this period of British history, the city has been added to the list of World Heritage in danger. This was issued in 2012 by the World Heritage Committee due to the launch of a regeneration project known as Liverpool Waters, which potentially undermines the key reasons for Liverpool’s World Heritage status being granted (UNESCO, 2018). This opens a debate for either heritage conservation or economic development in Liverpool.
Why Preserve Heritage?
Heritage is defined by Hall (2011) as ‘something handed down from the past which has value in the present’. One of the main purposes of UNESCO World Heritage is to preserve areas with cultural value and meaning, such as Liverpool’s maritime heritage. The World Heritage Committee claim the Liverpool Waters project will ‘alter the skyline and profile of the site’. They warn that Liverpool could subsequently lose its World Heritage status of outstanding universal value, with the impact of the development on the aesthetics and overall character of the area (UNESCO, 2018). Heritage such as Liverpool’s maritime heritage can give a place ‘identity’ and ‘validation’, with local communities having pride in the previous functions of their area (Graham et al, 2000). One would argue that heritage should therefore be celebrated in the form of UNESCO World Heritage.
The Case for Economic Development
However, preserving heritage through World Heritage status could potentially restrict an area’s growth potential. Poor countries tend to feel trapped by heritage conservation, with an incapability of marketing their cultural heritage through a lack of development (Meskell and Brumann, 2015). This potentially applies to Liverpool, an area that has suffered from high poverty and deprivation levels in recent history. Economic development with the potential of improving opportunities for people within the city, such as employment, improved amenities and a better living environment, should arguably be encouraged regardless of the local heritage (Webb, 2015).
Figure 1- Liverpool Waters development plans
Combination of Development and Heritage
However, one would argue economic development can be initiated through heritage conservation. Cultural geographer Thomas Schmitt provides an economic argument for heritage conservation under UNESCO, claiming there is a clear relationship between GDP levels and the number of World Heritage sites within participating countries. However, success of World Heritage sites is arguably dependant on factors such as pre-existing GDP levels and the size of the local tourism industry (Meskell and Brumann, 2015). Additionally World Heritage status, according to Italian writer Marco D’Eramo, is the ‘kiss of death’ for cities due to commercialisation of conservation, taking away the true meaning of cultural heritage (Rossi, 2017).
Figure 2- Victoria Clock Tower, known locally as ‘Dockers Clock’
Overall, the idea of heritage conservation is widely contested. Referring back to Hall’s (2011) definition of heritage, Liverpool must consider the extent to which its World Heritage status will benefit the city currently and in the future. The city should subsequently consider what is best holistically moving forward; heritage conservation or economic development.
Graham, B., Ashworth, G. and Tunbridge, J. (2000). The Uses and Abuses of Heritage. In: A Geography of Heritage. 1st ed. London: Arnold.
Hall, M. (2011). Introduction: Towards World Heritage. In: Towards World Heritage. 1st ed. London: Ashgate Publishing Company.
Meskell, L. and Brumann, C. (2015). UNESCO and New World Orders. In: Meskell, L. (2015). Global heritage: A Reader. 1st ed. Chichester: John Wiley and Sons.
Rossi, U. (2017). Neoliberalism. In: Jayne, M. and Ward, K. (2017). Urban Theory: New Critical Perspectives. London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.
UNESCO. (2018). Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City. [online] Whc.unesco.org. Available at: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1150/ [Accessed 10 Oct. 2018].
UNESCO. (2018). World Heritage Committee places Liverpool on List of World Heritage in Danger. [online] Whc.unesco.org. Available at: https://whc.unesco.org/en/news/890/ [Accessed 10 Oct. 2018].
Webb, D. (2015). Urban policies and Regeneration. In: Town and Country Planning in the UK. London and New York: Routledge.
Featured Image: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1150/gallery/
Figure 1: https://www.liverpoolwaters.co.uk/construction-updates/
Figure 2: https://www.liverpoolwaters.co.uk/the-project/heritage/