Heritage – Economic Significance

In the normal order of things, when heritage architects and consultants undertake heritage assessments and impact statements, they generally only consider five aspects of significance as follows;

• historical significance
• associational significance
• aesthetic significance
• technical significance and
• social significance

But why not ‘economic significance’ as well? Surely, if a proposed development will have a positive economic benefit for a heritage place, a heritage town or a heritage precinct, why not consider that too?Heritage Significance

Economic benefits accrue in various ways. They create jobs for the people working on the heritage projects (builders, suppliers, designers, consultants, councils etc.). They generate local spending for people working and living in and around the area of the project. They improve the amenity of the place thus appealing to a greater and wider segment of the housing/ office/ industrial market. They increase the value of the asset and they promote local and foreign tourism for people wanting to be in and around or enjoying the atmosphere of a heritage precinct and therefore spending more money in the area (shops, restaurants, hotels as well as the short-term stay accommodation market).

If such projects have the ability to improve things economically, why avoid factoring that into an assessment of heritage significance? Given that cultural built heritage is so threatened by rampant development and that so little of it is understood by the general public, it is time to strongly advance the economic benefits of it.

This is not to say that every heritage project will be justifiable on economic grounds because some projects will generate negative impacts and if that is the case, the economic benefit argument should not be used to justify poor work or unsympathetic solutions. There is always that danger and we need to be aware of that too.

Thus, in future, the list should look something like this;
• historical significance
• associational significance
• aesthetic significance
• technical significance and
• social significance
• economic significance (benefits)

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