Encouraging a Broader Lens in Cultural Heritage Conservation: Amplifying Voices and Layering Stories

National Trust Conference 2022
Annie Veilleux

A decade ago, common concerns related to heritage conservation that we were hearing from property owners, developers, or governmental representatives focused on the economic costs and physical building restrictions perceived to be imposed by cultural heritage policies or protective mechanisms such as designation. These concerns are still very much pervasive today but, as practitioners, we are now also working within a very different landscape. We are faced with layered and essential philosophical and political tensions as well as engaging with conflicts and touchpoints relating to equity, diversity, class, race, and privilege. We increasingly, but fundamentally, need to grapple with questions of who benefits, and who loses out, from cultural heritage conservation.

As heritage practitioners, we know that heritage conservation is sometimes perceived, and unfortunately sometimes co-opted, as a tool to stop change and development in well-established and privileged urban neighbourhoods or that it only focuses on the white colonial story at the exclusion of other narratives. We sometimes hear that the industry is out of touch with today’s socio-cultural, economic, and environmental realities. As heritage practitioners, however, we also know that heritage conservation can be used to challenge these perceptions and practices and that it can make much broader contributions beyond the conservation of fabric and the built form. Rather than being a singular goal in and of itself, we believe that heritage conservation can be most meaningful and productive when functioning as a tool or strategy to advance sustainability and spatial, social, and economic inclusion.

This presentation will focus on a few projects and places that highlight ways that heritage can be leveraged as a progressive force to diversify our understanding of dominant narratives, to seek to understand and untangle conflicting narratives, and to, consciously and actively, make space for those voices that are often excluded from the heritage conservation process. This presentation will also explore how heritage can be used to support ecological and environmental stewardship and to create green spaces that encourage physical and mental well-being.

By focusing on these projects and places, our goal is to spark discussion about sustainable and inclusive principles and policies that may guide conservation decisions.