Heritage slash Development:Don’t make me choose!

The rapid growth witnessed in many parts of Asia and the isolated developments in Africa are often considered a major threat to the heritage of these regions. Many countries are thus faced with the contradictory needs to conserve their heritage and to strengthen their infrastructure and economic development. [Webber Ndoro]

How to deal with heritage in developing countries?

Metro Line construction in-front of the Chuburji Monument Lahore, Pakistan

Being a national of developing Asian country (Pakistan) with rich tangible and intangible heritage, this question has always been on my mind. What does the local public prefer? and Why? and to be honest, the answer is very simple and straight. Of course the better infrastructure over “centuries” old building. And believe me, there is no rocket science hidden in this straightforward answer. I do not blame locals for not owning their heritage because, since decades, it’s only the provincial or federal government who has been involved in heritage-related policies so such public response is not an unexpected ordeal. I am setting up this whole scenario to give you an insight of how it looks like to run a social media campaign (with almost zero public interest) against a metro line project because its construction is a major threat to heritage.

Shalamar Garden, Lahore

Cutting a long story short, Pakistan’s cultural capital Lahore is about to acquire its first ever metro line but the sad part is due to the reckless planning of rapid transit system, the three major heritage sites are under major threat- sites like Chauburji, Shalamar Gardens and the General Post Office (GPO) building are at critical risk.

Chauburji Bagh Monument, Lahore

To protect what is left (because these buildings are already suffering a lot due to no proper care) the civil society of Lahore with some heritage professionals launched a campaign named as “LAHORE BACHAO Tehreek/Lahore conservation Movement”. The interesting part of this campaign was adopting the new hashtag trend #LahoreBachao while realizing the power of social media. Well, the success of this campaign is another story but the fierce debate raged over this topic is something I really want to reflect upon.

It actually helped me to find the answer to the question which I asked at the start of this blog post-How to deal with heritage in developing countries? Setting aside the political aspect which is though strongly related to this issue, I want to highlight the following aspect only.

  • Heritage slash Development

Let’s talk about heritage with a commoner’s perspective? What happens when the heritage policies lack local public involvement? The ultimate level of disinterest! We need to address the root cause first. A common being would not be able to own his heritage IF he really does not know what this heritage actually mean for a society. To conserve the heritage either its tangible or intangible, one must know what he is actually conserving? The centuries old building is just not a building, it’s a legacy which is being conserved. Giving a future with recognizable past is very important. To move forward, we must celebrate the past behind with pride. A bunch of starry-eyed do-gooders, under the banner of the Lahore Bachao Tehreek, are trying to raise their voice against the heritage vandalism due to Metro Line construction. But to make this movement successful, we must first bring awareness among locals.Teach them to embrace their glorious past with pride and save it for the future generations. Development is important but If it the Metro Line can adopt an alternative route then why not? By putting pressure on government through locals’ voice is the best solution. But before that we must start the campaigns for the public awareness.Its critically important to involve the indigenous people.Communities which were settled in the surrounding areas from centuries are now forced to evacuate their places. This forced evacuation is also critical for the cultural heritage. The government has shown an utter lack of consideration for citizens and does not realise the importance of community bonds and histories. What else you expect then?

However, my advice to the Bachao Tehreek…. you won’t get anywhere (I know it sounds pessimistic but a reality check is must) and no one’s going to listen to you, especially the relevant government officials. And the reason is this: you can fight physical abuse but cultural vandalism is a condition of the mind. To fight with this mental condition, we must try to change the mindset by bringing awareness among locals and I personally believe that this hashtag trend was to the point but how many of the locals in these areas have access to the internet and social media?  Lahore is not an ordinary city; this city has always been home to Art&Culture since ages. Some places have this profound value in them, they do not feel like places; they feel like home and same is the case with Lahore. Its tenants have a spiritual connection with this city.  I honestly believe that only a push is needed to let the storm begin. Though this movement has caused some stir on the social media but there is a long way to go. By including A-list names in a movement might make it appealing for the elites but locals will still remain preculded. And as far as the government is concerned, when someone in a position of authority is convinced that concrete, and erecting monuments to concrete such as needless roads and flyover, is what amounts to progress, and civic institutions are weak and the culture of local public protest is not very strong, it doesn’t take much to figure out that you are fighting a losing battle.

Works consulted:

Heritage Management and Conservation: From Colonization to Globalization Webber Ndoro and Gamini Wijesuriya

Veldpaus, L. (2015). Historic urban landscapes: framing the integration of urban and heritage planning in multilevel governance Eindhoven: Technische Universiteit Eindhoven

Images courtesy:

Featured image: Author

Metro line construction photo: E-tribune photo archives

Shalamar Garden- Lahore World

Chauburji Monument- Lahore World

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