Conference focuses on the value of heritage resources for towns attempting to recover from recession
“Our drive for uncluttered, zero maintenance buildings is creating sterile, uninteresting towns which are unattractive not only tourists, but for high end multinationals seeking a suitable base for the highly skilled mobile professionals they employ”, according to Liam Mannix, Heritage Council’s Irish Walled Towns Network.
Today, over 100 people are today discussing how the heritage resources of a town can help it recover from the recession. The Conference which is jointly organised by the Heritage Council’s Irish Walled Towns Network and UCC’s Planning school and Department of Geography is being attended by economists, planners, geographers, architects and heritage consultants from both the private and public sector.
Since independence, many Irish towns have entered into a pattern of sacrificing their historic fabric for short-term development gain. The view is often held that with the demolition of old buildings and construction of new ones will create long term prosperity. In reality, this is rarely the case. Nonetheless this pattern is being continually repeated across the country without the realisation that the same mistakes are being made.
“The purpose of the conference is to demonstrate to people that there is another option which works. What needs to change is the local perception of historic structures in towns as inhibitors to long term prosperity, when in reality they are resources that have the potential to aid in the recovery of historic towns across Ireland. The small things that make a place interesting and add to the character of a place, such as painted walls signs, interesting ironwork, old timber windows and other unique fixtures have been slowly and systematically removed from the streetscape. Within the Irish psyche there appears to be a particular trait which makes us want everything to be clean. In our towns this has transcribed to a desire to keep well kept, colourful facades that are easy to maintain but lack the character of the authentic original features. These simple actions are stunting the ability of towns to maintain their distinctiveness which is essential to their viability as retail and entertainment destinations”, added Mannix.
Put simply, people like uniqueness and a sense of discovery. In both Ireland and internationally the most popular tourist districts are the ones that are based on the human scale and have authentic facades and street life. Think of Kilkenny, Petergate in York, or La Ramblas and the medieval core of Barcelona. All of these places have maintained their medieval layouts and this makes them great places to walk around. Fáilte Ireland have also highlighted the desire by tourists to explore and discover for themselves what Ireland is all about.
Despite this, our drive for clean, zero maintenance buildings is creating sterile, uninteresting towns which are unattractive not only for tourists, but for high end multinationals seeking a suitable base for the mobile professionals they employ. This point was made at the recent Heritage Council Conference when speakers from the World Bank and IDA talked about the importance to multinationals of locating in aesthetically pleasing and culturally desirable places.
There is no question that when it comes to maintaining strong retail and entertainment products within historic urban centres there are constraints. However, the best way to deal with these constraints is to convert them to advantages. A good example is McDonagh Junction shopping centre in Kilkenny which utilises a 19C workhouse as a modern food hall and public entertainment space.
“The economic argument for tidying up or getting rid of an old building because it is easy is false. There is clear evidence to show that the reuse of historic structures is more cost effective than the construction of a new one, and that traditional materials have a longer and more cost effective lifespan than many modern products such as PVC windows”, concludes Mannix.
For further media information:
Michelle Tritschler, MKC Communications 01 7038604 / 086 3846630.
The Conference ‘Heritage as an Engine of Economic Growth in mid-sized Towns’ is taking place today (Thursday 26th January) in Wood Quay. The event is jointly organised by the Heritage Council’s Irish Walled Towns Network and UCC’s Planning School and Department of Geography.
The Heritage Council is the statutory body charged with identifying, protecting, preserving and enhancing Ireland’s national heritage. National heritage includes Monuments, Archaeological objects, Heritage objects, Architectural heritage, Flora, Fauna, Wildlife habitats, Landscapes, Seascapes, Wrecks, Geology, Heritage gardens and parks, and Inland waterways.
Established under the Heritage Act 1995, and operating under the aegis of the Department of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht, the Heritage Council provides advice to the Minister, and partners and networks with Local Authorities and a wide range of other organisations and individuals to promote Ireland’s heritage.