Hid­den eco­nomic ben­e­fits of restora­tion, con­ser­va­tion

China Daily (Canada) - - BUSINESS - By EM­MAGON­ZA­LEZ

Afew­months ago, I was on a busi­ness trip to the coal-rich north­east­ern Shanxi prov­ince. I was sur­prised to find that lo­cal of­fi­cials think tourism pro­mo­tion could be more ben­e­fi­cial for the prov­ince than the ex­trac­tion of highly pol­lut­ing raw­ma­te­ri­als like ther­mal coal.

In fact, lo­cal of­fi­cials told me tourism is now the en­gine for the prov­ince’s eco­nomic growth.

That change in strat­egy made per­fect sense as the restora­tion and con­ser­va­tion of his­toric sites meant that more in­vest­ments were made in the prov­ince, cre­at­ing lo­cal em­ploy­ment.

Dur­ingmy trip, I had the op­por­tu­nity to visit the an­cient city of Pingyao, one of the best-pre­served an­cient county in China, ac­cord­ing to the­World Her­itage Com­mit­tee.

I wit­nessed lo­cal work­ers’ in­tense restora­tion and con­ser­va­tion works in the city. I no­ticed many of the ma­te­ri­als and com­po­nents used in their work were sourced from lo­cal in­dus­tries.

I feel strongly that eco­nomic ben­e­fits from such work should not be lim­ited to cre­ation of jobs alone. Such work should also en­com­pass re­cy­cling.

In the past, it was wrongly as­sumed that when a his­toric build­ing or its struc­tures no longer met the de­mands of the mar­ket­place, it was bet­ter to tear it down and build a more ef­fi­cient build­ing on the plot.

But de­mol­ish­ing a his­toric build­ing en­tails loss of cul­tural value as well as wastage of ma­te­ri­als that were used to built it.

As rapid ur­ban­iza­tion took hold over the decades, eco­nomic progress and poverty re­duc­tion were of­ten fa­vored over con­ser­va­tion of cul­tural her­itage and en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion.

Like other coun­tries, China faced a key dilemma: Whether to con­tinue pro­mot­ing rapid eco­nomic progress that could hurt its his­toric her­itage, or opt for a sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment that will pro­tect its cul­tural pat­ri­mony.

Sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment and her­itage con­ser­va­tion are still in early stages in China. Yet, at­ti­tudes have started chang­ing. China’s new po­si­tion as an eco­nomic pow­er­house is bring­ing about a grad­ual change in the coun­try’s pri­or­i­ties.

The chal­lenge now is to bal­ance per­fectly a healthy eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment that would in­clude so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity and an en­vi­ron­men­tal con­science.

The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment is in­creas­ingly re­al­iz­ing that adapt­ing and reusing his­toric sites can also in­crease the eco­nomic value of a dis­trict.

The pos­i­tive eco­nomic im­pact of con­ser­va­tion can be eas­ily ob­served in the rise in property prices in his­toric dis­tricts in some of China’s older cities.

Property prices in dis­tricts where sites are des­ig­nated his­toric gen­er­ally ap­pre­ci­ate at rates greater than the lo­cal mar­ket’s, mean­ing they can be eco­nom­i­cally more com­pet­i­tive than non­des­ig­nated ar­eas.

Take the Beijing tra­di­tional hu­tongs as an ex­am­ple. The monthly rent of a re­stored court­yard house can climb to as high as 200,000 yuan ($31,600).

What’s more, some of the newly re­stored hu­tong ar­eas such as the one close to the Lama Tem­ple in Beijing have be­come chic neigh­bor­hoods that are home to many bou­tiques and fash­ion­able restau­rants.

So, it is still pos­si­ble to har­ness the full po­ten­tial of fast-chang­ing cities in an eco­nom­i­cally com­pet­i­tive man­ner while main­tain­ing their cul­tural re­sources.

Al­though there are in­creas­ing ef­forts in China to pro­mote cul­tural con­ser­va­tion, there is still a sig­nif­i­cant lack of aware­ness of the po­ten­tial eco­nomic ben­e­fits of pro­tect­ing and pro­mot­ing her­itage.

Con­tact the writer at em­magon­za­lez@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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