Monday, May 16, 2016

Explaining UNESCO

Over the past three years, off and on, I've spent some time reading and discussing 'World Heritage Site' status.  Germans have been enthusiastic over the concept, and get weepy-eyed when in the hunt to attain such status.

So, to describe the status.....there's this 'club'.....where they identify a place.  This place can be a mountain, a city, a desert, a monument or even a building.  This club....the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is continually on the hunt for some special culture or some special significance....that they could vote (21 members in the group) and give people of some area.....a status.

All of this status relates to either culture or status.  Some have it.....some don't.

There's now a 1,000 such sites listed under UNESCO from around the globe.  Roughly 800 of these relate to culture.  Roughly 200 of them relate to a natural structure....with no-man-status attached.  Note: swamps can make it on the list in case you were interested.

What you can generally say....revolves around three features of the World Heritage Site status.

First, there's paperwork.  We aren't talking about twelve pages of a short summary.  It can take a year or two to encapsulate the request in great detail and demonstrate why some culture or building or bridge should be on the list. Naturally, this usually means that a city, or state has deputized a group of people and they are on the inside of this status.

Intellectual crowd control?  Yes.  No one will deny that.

This paperwork application will be artsy, and offer historical logic why something fits or should be included.

Second, there's visitors and dinners involved.  You wine-and-dine the UNESCO crowd, who are also made up of more intellectuals.  You can imagine the charged up atmosphere.....local intellectuals entertaining visiting intellectuals.  Everyone is hyped up....talking 300-Euro words, sipping fine wine, and discussing things that normal people don't normally talk about.

Third, once all of this is done and UNESCO votes on the business and approves your application.....there's this problem.  You invited the local intellectuals into the middle of your city operation and now.....whatever approved status you have.....the intellectuals believe that they "OWN" that status and you can't readily modify anything unless they approve of the situation.  Their vote counts more.....than the residents of the city or state.

Here in my local area, we have Messel on the list.  Most people would ask.....what's Messel?  Well, it's the fossel pit area that was discovered (outside of the Frankfurt area), and there's serious archaeology efforts underway and probably will continue for another hundred years.  Because Messel is on this UNESCO's a very tight control group over what they do, or how they market themselves.  

Can you lose your UNESCO status?  Well, in the case of the Elbe Valley in Dresden.....the locals fought a battle with the intellectuals.  This was over a river valley that runs along the city of Dresden.  If you've never been's best to describe this as a river plain.....where there's a small river running through.....but an open area along the river where heavy rains will increase the flow occasionally, and there's plenty of plain area for this to occur.  Somehow, the intellectual crowd was able to convince UNESCO that this was a cultural and physical area worth the status.

For a number of years.....things ran OK with the status.  Then one day.....the city identified a need for a bridge. They drafted a design which was a bridge designed to handle a significant amount of traffic but had no real 'pumped-up' look.  It was a plain bridge....built of mortar and stone.  Price-wise, it wasn't a high cost item.

A fight erupted because this bridge was within the zone of the UNESCO application approved.  The intellectuals of Dresden versus the public need for another bridge.

Maybe there was some chance at the beginning of this to design a bridge with a cost factor of 300-percent, with a 'look' that went back to the medieval ages.  But the city planners went around this and designed what is a safe and long-lasting bridge, with low-cost impact.

A fight continued on, and as the bridge was completed.....UNESCO came in and said that they'd have to remove the status for Dresden.....because the bridge spoiled the image of the site.  In some ways, at least by opinions of the locals.....the intellectual crowd of Dresden got involved in this and helped to convince the UNESCO intellectuals to cancel the site status as retribution (so others don't repeat this in the future).  It's hard to say if this were true, but the real question is.....did anything about having a site status really fix or improve anything in Dresden?  I kinda have my doubts.  The bridge built?  Well, it did improve traffic flow across the city.

You end up hand-cuffed as a city when you get this status. The Roman colony in Trier is on the UNESCO site status.  Nothing around the old Roman ruins can be done in an easy fashion, and it'll be a state-funding situation which mandates priority spending when required.

The old city area of Bamberg has this status.  If you want to make any goes to an group of intellectuals who has to look over the change and agree that it doesn't subtract from the image that they want to control.

The old Volklingen iron works got onto the UNESCO status.  It's a closed-down iron-works area.  You can't modify anything about the old industrial area without a fair amount of discussion by intellectuals, and there's state funding for centuries to come over a shut-down iron-works factory.

There's a Jewish cemetery up in Hamburg that is on a "maybe" list of UNESCO sites in Germany.  It'll be interesting to see how the intellectual crowd explains this cemetery and how it meets some status for the requirements.

The Augsburg drinking and water fountains are on a "maybe" list.  As are the Alpine meadows along the drive into Garmisch.  You can imagine any change coming up....if these are approved....and how hard it'd be to modify the territory around these.

A fraud?  Well....why one bridge makes it on the list and another doesn't.....invites intellectual discussion.  Why one castle makes it and another one doesn't.....makes it all a bit hard to imagine the legit nature of the game.

Why a shoe factory from 1910 makes the list from Alfred, Germany.....would be a curious question to ask.

Here's the thing.  If intellectuals weren't involved in these various applications and management of already approved sites.....they'd be messing around with your personal life and situation.  That's something that you probably would prefer them NOT to do.  So, let them have these projects and waste their mental capacity on things like this instead of building forty-million Euro wasted art-statue projects in your city or town.

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