With its 101 million inhabitants, Punjab is one of the most urbanized provinces of South Asia. The province is experiencing a sustained demographic shift from rural to urban areas, with 40 percent of its population now living in cities.
The cities of Punjab are also endowed with heritage capital of both cultural and economic values, which if properly documented, can be harnessed for generating economic growth and urban development in the province.
Punjab’s urban heritage comprises of a large number of protected and archaeological sites, architectural remains, and historic monuments dating back thousands of years. They are protected under the National Antiquities Act 1975, the Punjab Special Premises (Preservation) Ordinance 1985, and laterally by PEPA etc.
A large number of buildings with unique architectural features and public spaces which define the character of Punjab’s cities are unprotected by law. Currently, urban heritage is protected and conserved by the Archaeology Department, the Auqaf Department and the Evacuee Trust Board with little inter-organization coordination.
Taking a monument centred approach, the state heritage managers rarely factor in the larger historic fabric and the interaction of heritage properties with the cultures and economies which surround them.
The demands of rapid urbanization in Punjab are putting pressure on the natural and cultural heritage which is increasingly under threat from the large scale urban development of cities in Punjab. Moreover, the heritage sites are generally left out of the urban planning process which leads to development projects causing fragmentation and deterioration of historic urban heritage.
Although the potential value of heritage assets to industries such as tourism is understood, heritage economics as a means to integrate and maximize the potential of multi-sector and industrial domains remains untapped. Additionally the GoPb faces the financial challenge of preserving the vast array of heritage assets through public sector funding.
The city development authorities and city district governments have no designated role in the protection or regeneration of urban heritage. Punjab’s building and town planning laws and regulations such as Punjab Development of City Act 2014 hold no special brief on historic urban properties. State laws like the National Antiquities Act (Amendment) 2012, Punjab Special Premises Ordinance 1985, or Punjab Heritage Foundation Act 2005- intended to protect the urban heritage through archaeology dominated approaches- stand in complete isolation within the broader context of urban development of cities.
There is a need to develop a strategy that will integrate the social and economic development of Punjab’s cities. This will allow the GoPb to utilize the potential of urban heritage conservation and management for the benefit of multiple industries that fall inside as well as outside the heritage sphere.
The World Bank stressed the importance of conservation and regeneration of historic city cores and cultural heritage through its flagship publication in 2001, Historic Cities and Sacred Sites: Cultural Roots for Urban Futures. It concurs that the protection and promotion of cultural heritage assets can be important to spur local economic development.
It is vital for policy makers and other stakeholders to appreciate the important role that cultural heritage can play in generating employment and sustainable economic development. This understanding can then be incorporated into urban planning and development policies
The changes brought about by large scale urbanization of historic cities also pushed UNESCO in 2011 to develop new standard setting instruments for urban conservation and development. This was called the Historic Urban Landscape (HUL) Approach which has acquired the status of a soft law that Pakistan may follow in urban planning. It aims to integrate the social and economic development of cities with those of the urban heritage conservation.
Worldwide, institutions acknowledge today the need for a new urban strategy which recognises cultural heritage as an engine of economic growth and sustainable urban development. The World Bank has a strong preference for financing urban development projects which are aimed at conserving and incorporating heritage into development strategies.
It is vital for policy makers and other stakeholders to appreciate the important role that cultural heritage can play in generating employment and sustainable economic development, and then incorporate this understanding into urban planning and development policies. The field of heritage economics captures the ways in which heritage investment contributes to the production of further cultural goods and services, leads to job creation, and promotes tourism and the wellbeing of local communities.
Heritage conservation and management has become a conduit for inviting broad based direct investments and can enable the government to seek funds from international donors for the sustainable development of modern cities.
To realise the double win of urban heritage conservation and economic development, a broad vision and a multi-disciplinary approach is needed. By identifying, conserving and managing historic areas within their broader urban context, the process of urban conservation can be made part of the planning and development of a contemporary city.