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Heritage impact assessment lah

Wednesday 8 May 2013

Here’s a sequel to my post about heritage impact reports. Dr Lee Lik Meng, Associate Professor of planning at the Universiti Sains Malaysia, took part in Donald Ellsmore’s workshop and wrote about the experience on his blog.

In my opinion, we failed miserably in our effort to protect the “cultural significance” of George Town, according the standards and protocol approved by UNESCO. The fac­il­i­ta­tor/in­struc­tor did at the very beginning say that it is a diffi­cult task (“not easy”), this [heritage impact assessment] thing.

Was the facilitator too harsh in his grading? After all, among the 20 or so participants were quite a number of heritage consultants (architecture-based pro­fes­sion­als) from George Town and Melaka who had restored nu­mer­ous buildings to their past glory. Harsh or not, I can say for sure that all those heritage experts in the workshop have very high skills and knowledge about the architecture, the tangible part of the “cultural significance”. The stumbling block is the intangibles. Make no mistake about it. It isn’t that the local experts are not aware of the issues (as was obvious in the follow-up discussion) but I sense that they “know” the local situation very well (especially the politics of development) and it is not something they have a lot of influence over.

Ah yes, those intangible values can be slippery. And who has the wisdom to sort the possible from the impossible? Dr Lee’s yarn suggests to me that I should visit George Town​—​a thought that is also stirred whenever I read a couple of other blogs.

Penang: Victoria Pier, anonymous painting reproduced on a Raphael Tuck & Sons “Oilette” postcard, no 8962 in the wide-wide-world series II, published around 1920.

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