Adrian Arias | Valladolid (EFE).- What does it mean to be a World Heritage Site? Is mass tourism degrading our heritage? These are some of the questions that experts and organizations such as UNESCO ask themselves when faced with the need to reconcile development and heritage conservation.
Fifteen cities and a total of 49 assets -cultural (43), natural (4) and mixed (2)-, plus four border ones, is the patrimonial contribution that Spain bequeaths to humanity and that it is entrusted with protecting through multiple mechanisms, which are not exempt from risks that also mark the electoral agenda these days, such as housing, tourism or climate change.
A heritage that is not only made up of the historic centers of 15 cities and cultural assets such as the Alhambra -the most visited monument in Spain-, the Aqueduct of Segovia, the Altamira cave or the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba and its patios, but also also for natural heritage such as Doñana and for the intangible (19), such as flamenco, the Fallas, the manual ringing of bells and, predictably, the jota when it is recognized by UNESCO.
CITIES AND HERITAGE: LIVING SPACES
If there is one thing that UNESCO and the Group of World Heritage Cities of Spain are clear about, it is that heritage is not something alien to the development of a city, which is why both organizations have, as a maximum, the task of making the protection of the property compatible and the normalization of life in the cities that host them.
“Heritage cities are not entities anchored in time, they are living, changing spaces that have to develop and evolve over time,” said the current president of the Group of World Heritage Cities in Spain and mayor in an interview with EFE. from San Cristóbal de la Laguna (Tenerife), Luis Yeray Gutiérrez.
In fact, according to Gutiérrez, perhaps the main challenge for these cities is “knowing how to manage the tension that occurs between the conservation of built heritage and the development of the activity typical of contemporary cities”.
Something with which UNESCO precisely agrees, which considers that the “integration of populations” is the main challenge.
“The sites are not untouchable sanctuaries, nor should they be turned into amusement parks: they house communities that have their way of life in them and the inhabitants have a common history with these sites and are often the best protectors of this heritage,” he explains in An interview with EFE a spokesperson for the UNESCO World Heritage Center.
THE CHALLENGES: MASSIFICATION AND HOUSING
The international projection of the declaration in 1994 of the unique Granada neighborhood of the Albaicín as World Heritage resulted in the arrival of new inhabitants attracted by this recognition, which has also brought problems for the residents of a neighborhood “unable to withstand the pressure of the apartments tourist”.
This is a practice that is causing the loss of a large part of the housing stock: “Where a family used to live, there are now three tourist apartments,” denounces Lola Boloix, a resident of the Albaicín for 50 years and an active member of the neighborhood association for two decades. of the neighborhood, who regrets, in statements to EFE, the lack of access and public transport, the loss of traditional businesses and the flight of neighbors.
The increase in prices for the rental and sale of homes, driven on many occasions by the growing supply of tourist apartments, is another of the challenges recognized by the group of cities declared World Heritage Sites, which hope that with the approval of the The new Housing Law opens an opportunity for regulation through the declaration of stressed areas where it is possible to limit the uncontrolled increase in prices.
TOLEDO REGULATES ITS TOURIST APARTMENTS
As an example, the Toledo City Council has recently modified its General Urban Planning Plan (PGOU) to include the regulation of tourist apartments in the Historic Center, so that the number of these accommodations cannot exceed 20% of the homes in each neighborhood and may only be installed on the ground floor (except if there is a business) and first floor.
In addition to the housing problem, the concentration of a large number of visitors in a few enclaves of the city often causes problems for neighborhood coexistence, threatens the sustainability of the development of the municipality and can even cause damage to the destinations, as warned by the Unesco.
Thus, as the heritage expert and doctor in Architecture Juan Luis de las Rivas points out to EFE, one of the keys to alleviating this overcrowding is to offer quality “urban information” and other offers different from the traditional ones, and even use new technologies to guide visitors effectively.
CLIMATE CHANGE: THE SILENT PROBLEM
Like the previous ones, climate change is, in the opinion of UNESCO, another of the great challenges linked to heritage protection, which is why one of its spokespersons shows concern about climate denial and its consequences.
Precisely, UNESCO warns in this interview that at the moment the Spanish site that worries them the most is the Doñana National Park and, in particular, “the possible evolution of local regulations”, so that, according to this international organization, “It is urgent that Doñana implement the safeguard plan that provides for the closure of illegal wells, as the World Heritage Committee has repeatedly pointed out.”
A problem, climate change, which also worries the group of World Heritage Cities in Spain, which regrets that “certain political currents not only neglect, but also minimize their threats”, hence they are committed to a “basic consensus on conservation and patrimonial protection that is inalienable, regardless of who is in charge of public institutions” from 28M.
BUT… HOW IS HERITAGE PROTECTED?
Like the terrestrial layers, the protection of a patrimonial asset is made up of several layers. The most external and that encompasses all the others is the World Heritage Convention which, as UNESCO explains, is “a legal treaty of a binding nature” in which the signatories undertake to “protect the outstanding universal value of all sites so that they can be passed on to future generations.
Already at the State level, each country has its own regulation, such as the Historical Heritage Law of Spain (1985) or the Natural Heritage Law (2007), although each community has also been developing its own and each property may even have its own law, like Doñana (1978), since it is also a National Park.
Finally, the layer of protection closest to the property is developed by the municipalities themselves, with the Special Protection Plans, which set the guidelines for intervention in these environments under the previous guidelines, such as the one recently approved in Segovia, which includes fines of between 750 and 3,000 euros for anyone who may cause damage to the Aqueduct. EFE