The National Seminar on the Preservation of Urban Heritage ended on Tuesday, with participants agreeing on recommendations that were seen as a first step toward legal protection of Cambodia’s more recent historical legacy.
Participants suggested public-private partnerships and new legislation, as well as revisiting current planning and housing policies, and developing criteria to identify and inventory heritage sites.
At stake is Cambodia’s recent heritage-from Wat Phnom and the National Museum to colonial mansions, tree-lined boulevards and Vann Molyvann’s 1960s structures- which have been disappearing at an alarming rate over the last 10 years, according to architects and conservationists.
A building does not have to be 100 years old to be considered part of an urban heritage, said Teruo Jinnai, country representative for the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. “It may be 20 years old, and have the specific form to represent a particular group of people, a society, cultural values and social values,” he said.
Organized by the municipality and Unesco, the two-day seminar closed with relative consensus among government officials and conservationists on how to proceed.
One point of contention was whether heritage policies should become part of development master plans, which are underway for Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
Conservationists saw urban preservation as inseparable from urban planning, but some government officials suggested that the two should remain separate.
Deputy Prime Minister Sok An said in his closing remarks that the Phnom Penh master plan is already complete, but that the plan for Siem Reap is still being refined.
He stressed that urban planning required a careful balance between development and preservation.
“We have to make owners of buildings understand the value of heritage in their ownership, and then they will help to preserve it,” Sok An said.
“Being the owner of [heritage buildings] may cost you,” Jinnai said. “Is there any assistance, any subsidies?” he asked, adding that there must be incentives as well as guidelines in place for owners.