Search graduate:

Jannat Sohail

  • Faculty of Architecture
  • Urban Studies
  • ma
  • Conservation-Led Marginalization: Making Heritage in the Walled City of Lahore.
  • Tutor(s): Maroš Krivý

The emerging trajectory of conservation and urban revitalization in the Walled City of Lahore is indicative of its preference for tourism. The shift in the objectives of conservation towards utilizing cultural heritage as a capital resource for negotiating meanings, representations, power, and politics promotes conservation-led marginalization. This is not limited to physical dispossession in the inner- city, but also involuntary social exclusion and the loss of access or restrictions on livelihood opportunities. The pattern of state-sanctioned attempts to render collective ownership of heritage capitalizes on the mediations with national and international institutions to authenticate their decision- making. The role of UNESCO as a status-defined marketing tool in lobbying the local heritage industry, as well as a source of global governance, is understated. The nature and conditions of ‘heritage’ conservation schemas require critical attention, while pivotal questions need to be addressed regarding its rhetorical deployment. The objective of the research is to explore the nature, scope, and effect of the multifaceted national and international institutional framework in the definition, production, consumption, and making of heritage.

Keywords: heritage industry, bureaucracy, international agencies, marginalization.

Making Heritage: A Cause for Marginalization?

The research set out to explore the inner-city as a nexus of identities, and intervening institutional networks complicit in animating processes of place politics, identity construction, and tourism development. The engagement with the on-going conservation practices and the urban revitalization projects has indicated the political complexities that regulate the definition, production, consumption, and regeneration of heritage. The emerging trajectories make visible the growing preference for tourism development, the underpinning national and international imaginaries, and the inter-cultural and intra-cultural conflicts that are otherwise understated. The political framework in play, historically and in the present-day, is not remote from persistently impacting the physicality and the cultural arrangement of the inner-city, enabling conditions for conservation-led marginalization.

The narrative of heritage has been subject to significant degrees of political and cultural sovereignty, and decades of physical alterations, disruptions, and destructions. In the process, it has been constructed, defined, and adjusted as a vessel for transnational neoliberalism. The approaches to conservation, heritage management, and urban revitalization have been learned to adhere to homogenized discourses and the expansive structure of heritage governance, which functions at national and international levels. The inner-city has been comprehended as a host region, hosting several encounters between a network of social and spatial relationships. In dissecting the treatment of the historic inner-city, the research brings to light the constant state of selective inclusion and exclusion prevalent. The making of new cultural territories with a keen focus on tourism development and urban restructuring, conceived and financed outside the host region, has proceeded largely without consistent, cohesive, and complementary approaches.

The research has argued that conservation-led marginalization is not limited to physical dispossession, but is traceable in a multitude of social and political pressures. The reinterpretation of heritage from times of intellectual colonization to neocolonialism has reflected a laborious assemblage of selective memories that have the most capacity for being serviceable to the sub- national, national, and international stewards of heritage. The state of control excludes the urban poor from the task of heritage interpretation, which is presented as an increasingly elitist concern. The lack of available opportunities in education, health, and productive development jeopardizes the role of the marginalized as active or rightful members of the host community, limiting their contribution to consultative tasks. The patterns of a dominant-subordinate relationship make evident the tendency towards fundamental inequality, parallel to the ever-growing expectations and opportunities presented by the foreign investors, international aid agencies and expert bodies.

The fragmentary integration with the market economy and the heightened attraction to the tourism sector also deploys the local users as components of the heritage product. The resulting division of the inner-city between zones of tourist consumption and those of shared function, has made visible power differentials. The cultural homogeneity is manifest in the form and functions of the conventional urban projects. The standardization and commercialization of experiences has also categorized the inner-city population as intermediaries of the mystic and the ‘other’. The primary efforts are directed towards external decision-making and internal persuasion, marketing the megaprojects and masterplans. The gap between the regional realities and the national and international visions is left underdeveloped or overly developed.

The regional realities are filtered and members that do not prove contributory to the externally envisioned developments are justified as obstructions to progress and catalogue modernization. The research presents the case of the informal sector, which is largely contested at institutional levels. While it is recognized that their role has proved determinantal to the physical environment, with ad hoc commercial expansions swallowing sections of the inner-city, it is also brought to light that there are little or no incentives to recognize them. Their origin, as developing out of an imbalance in state efforts, is trivialized and the sector is subjugated to sanitization. The commercial entities are not predominantly representative of the urban poor or the marginalized members. However, the informality is not specific to the inner-city, and carries a vast multiplication effect, if not acknowledged and rightfully dealt with. The implicit focus of conservation efforts heavily relies on the ‘now’ that means approaches to achieve quick and visible results. The rest of the focus is on utilizing the past as a tool to satisfy more future-oriented goals. The present, and with it most of the community aspirations, is lost to the transient objectives.

The encounters and conflicting interests that enable conservation-led marginalization are facing a further expansion, due to the cultural break the city has experienced after the free penetration of global institutes, and capital. The structure of the state and how it is governed, the way the financial system operates, and how development is envisaged, implemented, and managed is not suggestive of the demographic, social, cultural, and economic changes that have been prevalent after independence. The intellectual disparity within the nation-state disconnects the ones making the decisions from the ones bearing those decisions, making heritage a sight of dispute, abuse, and misuse.

The host community is the fundamental characteristic of the inner-city, which cannot be viewed merely as facilitating passive stakeholders or convenient workforces. The historic core cannot also be detached from the host community as an economic resource to realize tourist demands. In the regional reality, there is an inseparable relationship between the host space and the transforming host community. In the regional reality, there is also an inevitable relationship emergent between the heritage places and the tourists. In a fast globalizing world, the desire to travel is not likely to diminish, and the technological and economic means to fulfill the cultural pursuits are also likely to strengthen. In the age of rapidly urbanizing cities, the population is prone to seeking stability and familiarity, which is presented in the places of heritage. However, the rate of urbanization and modernization is also likely to pose physical pressures on the places to remain active and relevant in the global context. In such a scenario of polarity, it is imperative to reorient the treatment of heritage through the vignette of social and cultural aspects, which can curtail conservation-led marginalization; it is not to be treated as an inevitable outcome.

There is a need to dismantle the learned connotations of heritage and to also look into the non-expert views concerning the nature and meaning of heritage. The transforming sense of place and culture is embedded in the evolution of the places of heritage and the regional realities they continually host. The materialistic notion of heritage can encourage passivity and discourage activeness, which makes heritage intangible and one interlinked with changing social values. The risk and fear of being governed and discredited, in the absence of a systemized acknowledgment, can distance the shifting communities from the places they occupy. To teach, and to engage with, can prove to be more productive than to prescribe dominant ideologies attached to heritage, which are not yet fully understood or contested within the prescribing institutions themselves.

However, the question is whether the disproportionate opportunism of the politicians, planners, and their international accomplices will endure the reoriented efforts that do not engage in the economic commodification of material and cultural heritage? There is also a concern if the intelligentsia and researchers can envisage a renegotiated approach to conservation, which is embedded in a cohesive understanding of the marginalized members. The focus of productive restructuring should also be directed towards the informal sector, which is the pivotal source of sustenance in the given state of affairs. In order to perceive heritage as a mirror, which speaks of transformations as much as of the past, the producers and distributors of knowledge, control, and authority must acknowledge the regional realities and the living components enclosed within the realm of heritage. The insight and analysis presented in this research can offer a useful point of departure for understanding the nature and power of heritage. Through the understanding of the consequences of misuse and abuse of heritage, one can understand what it is and how it can be complementary to those attached to it. If the conditions are not readdressed, the disorder is likely to develop more aggressively, leading the nation- state to the stage where heritage will become the least of our anxieties.