A review of books on the dynamics of urban development of heritage in Asia

Gabriel Victor Caballero (ICOMOS Philippines, Quezon City, Philippines AND Grant Associates, Singapore)

Journal of Cultural Heritage Management and Sustainable Development

ISSN: 2044-1266

Article publication date: 16 May 2016



Caballero, G.V. (2016), "A review of books on the dynamics of urban development of heritage in Asia", Journal of Cultural Heritage Management and Sustainable Development, Vol. 6 No. 1. https://doi.org/10.1108/JCHMSD-03-2016-0021



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

A review of books on the dynamics of urban development of heritage in Asia

Article Type: Book review From: Journal of Cultural Heritage Management and Sustainable Development, Volume 6, Issue 1.

UNESCO in Southeast Asia: World Heritage Sites in Comparative Perspective

Edited by Victor T. King

NIAS Press



ISBN 978087-7694-174-1

Urban China's Rural Fringe: Actors, Dimensions and Management Challenges

Edited by GiulioVerdini, Yiwen Wang and Xiaonan Zhang

Ashgate Publishing Limited



ISBN 978-1-4724-4357-1

Preserving the Ifugao Terraces: A Literature Review

Edited by Fernando N. Zialcita

UNESCO National Commission

Pasay City



ISBN 978-971-8520-22-2

Keywords: Historic cities, Management of world heritage sites, Urban conservation

A review of books on the dynamics of urban development and heritage in Asia

The three edited volumes covered in this comparative review, tackle several issues and prospects of urban and rural areas which grapple with the dynamics of urbanisation and preserving heritage in Asia. This is an especially pertinent theme in the context of Asian cities, as they are experiencing rapid growth. In 2014, the Population Division of the United Nations identified that 13 of the 28 global megacities are located in Asia. With current trends of migration and urban development, it is predicted that by 2030, the region will host 22 of the 41 megacities, which will predominantly be located in China and India (United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, 2014). Quite a few of those, e.g. Delhi, Tianjin, Mumbai, Beijing and Manila have, or will have the added pressure of protecting heritage sites inscribed under the UNESCO World Heritage List (UNESCO, 2016).

The books reviewed here discuss such topics on different levels of scale. One book captures the issues of several built and natural heritage sites spread around Southeast Asia. Another book documents the dynamics of peri-urban areas spread across the fringes of Chinese cities, while the third book comprehensively gathers different literature discussing a world heritage site in the Philippines. All three books provide insights into how historic areas are valued amidst the rapid changes brought about by urban development. Such critical observations are important in Asia, as the degradation of heritage sites is expected to affect the quality of life of millions of individuals (Caballero and Pereira Roders, 2014).

UNESCO in Southeast Asia: World Heritage Sites in Comparative Perspectives (King, 2016), looks at the issues of urbanisation using the lens of world heritage studies. Such a compilation is important. A continuation of the debate on what heritage means in the Southeast Asian society is very much needed, in light of the onset of ASEAN Community in 2015. Its citizens will need to come to terms with the cultural diversity, amidst racial tensions and political differences. In this process, heritage can be used as a platform for cultural tolerance, as well as one of conflict and contestation. King (2016) provides the backgrounds and issues of 21 World Heritage Sites located in seven countries in Southeast Asia. This book is one of the most comprehensive regional studies of the topic. King and the other contributing authors have tackled diverse issues such as the construction of heritage, the manipulation of heritage as a tool for national identity, tourism and development pressures, lives of people living in heritage sites and the catalysts of change and its effect within the community. Aside from the case studies presented by different authors, the book also revisits the regional issues raised by previous works of Miksic et al. (2011) on cultural resource management, Chapman (2013) on conservation history, Black and Wall (2001) on local involvement and meanings and Hitchcock et al. (2010) on heritage tourism.

Urban China’s Rural Fringe (Verdini et al., 2016) tackles the complex issues of peri-urban areas located at the edges of China’s major cities, in which heritage is only one of the issues at stake. It provides an overview and contextualisation of various issues that these places experience due to rural industrialisation such as uncontrolled impacts of pollution, forceful displacement of farmers, chaotic land use and destruction of traditional rural villages in the context of a socialist market system. The book highlights the dynamics in the rural fringe wherein there is an increasing amount of “floating population” of rural migrants looking for cheap housing options near urban centres. At the same time, these spaces also cater to the demands of the growing middle class who prefer low-density housing (Chapter 3) and local tourism and leisure options to experience the countryside (Chapter 5). The book provides compelling arguments that challenge current urban development strategies of industrial-scale urban expansion to rural areas in China. Chapter 7 in particular, discusses a promising case study that utilises the heritage resources of Dayuwan Village in Wuhan. While providing economic benefits to its residents, their built heritage is preserved and the cultural and intangible heritage are kept alive. Chapter 2 looks at the possibility of collaborative planning approaches, which empower rural communities and encourage communication among villagers about land rights. Such topics highlight the role of different stakeholders in achieving an equitable urban development process.

Preserving the Ifugao Terraces: A Literature Review (Zialcita, 2015), looks at a specific heritage site that is experiencing the challenges of local inhabitants emigrating to more urbanised areas away from traditional farming lands. The book compiles relevant scholarly works on the centuries-old cultural landscape of the Ifugao rice terraces written during the twentieth century. This covered different types of literature from ethnographies, personal accounts, technical reports and a dictionary. Based on this, the book identifies gaps and possible research directions for those who would like to contribute to the preservation of the tangible and intangible aspects of the ancient cultural landscape. Zialcita (2015) rightly identifies that many landowners still do not fully appreciate the importance of preserving the cultural landscape they live in. Moreover, he points out that, younger people emigrate out of the heritage site to study and look for job opportunities in the city. What is not covered in the literature is the symbolic role of heritage in cultural politics, situating indigenous peoples in relation to the national identity as discussed by in the book by King (2016). Noting that the heritage of the Cordilleras has been recognised as globally significant in several UNESCO instruments, such as World Heritage (Rice Terraces), Intangible Cultural Heritage (Hudhud Chants and Tugging Rituals) and Memory of the World (included in the Jose Maceda Collection), the Cordillera’s rich traditions and culture could be reviewed as part of the discourse of the national narrative and the country’s international image. Such understanding may give light to the perception of value, protection strategies, outward migration and economic challenges of local people.

The three books have a common thread of thought – that the movement of people, through migration and tourism, is the primary driver for change in the areas discussed. This affects traditional settlements and heritage sites in complex ways. On the one hand, emigration is changing the spatial structures of both the settlements left behind and the areas people move towards. This leaves areas and buildings neglected, or in need of retrofitting, while others are demolished to create new and modern developments. On the other hand, the increasing amount of tourists are flocking different parts of Asia. They are creating benefits and problems that heritage sites deal within different ways. All three books point out a similar need of looking at Asian urbanisation and heritage conservation as intertwined concerns that require a broader perspective, such as what was discussed by Bandarin and Van Oers (2012) in the book, The Historic Urban Landscape: Managing Heritage in an Urban Century.

The transformation of China is not just changing the character of its major cities (Van Oers et al., 2013) but it is also reshaping the rural fringe, eradicating traditional agricultural settlements and changing the lifestyles of people living in those areas. To sustainably accommodate for this change, Verdini et al. (2016) reflect on the need for multidisciplinary thinking in developing new strategies for the development of peri-urban areas. He proposes the use of non-conventional tools for urban planning that are deeper influenced by social sciences. Zialcita (2015) approaches it from another perspective. He suggests that research should focus on understanding possible motivations for villagers and the youth to keep traditional land practices alive, especially in the light of the intensive labour requirements and low financial returns. The book raises the idea of differentiating several villages by creating niche cultural offerings special to each place. This will benefit villagers both culturally (self-identity) and economically (tourism potential). King (2016) problematizes mainly World Heritage sites, and provides insight into the issues of balancing tourism management, conservation and regional development. The question is, are they isolated cases of a specific type of heritage, or are they actually representing a wider trend? Either way, world heritage sites are only a snippet of many other heritage sites in the region needing intervention. The presented examples all show the need for heritage conservation to be part of the bigger process of managing change in historic urban landscapes.

The editors have taken different levels of engagement with local scholars from Asia in the authorship of the book chapters. Verdini et al. (2016) and Zialcita (2015) have intensively integrated literature written by scholars from China and the Philippines, providing local views to address rapid changes within the society. The research being done by Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University and the goal of the Philippine National Commission for UNESCO to look for long-term solutions are great motivations for the publication of the books. While King (2016) recognises the role of local involvement in a “true atmosphere of stewardship” of heritage sites (pp. 12-13), the book provides a European, (primarily British) perspective in crafting its chapters. Future research in Southeast Asian heritage should emphasise collaborative authorship so that local perspectives and concerns can be integrated in the international discourse of heritage, similar to the efforts of Miksic et al. (2011).

Overall, the books reviewed are excellent additions to the increasing body of knowledge that aims to navigate the issues of heritage conservation amidst the urbanisation of Asia. The goal of investigating the rapid growth of cities needs to challenge traditional urban planning methods and provide avenues for collaborative discourse. Hopefully more effective solutions are created in Asia to enhance the sustainability of its urban development.

Gabriel Victor Caballero - ICOMOS Philippines, Quezon City, Philippines and Grant Associates, Singapore


Bandarin, F. and Van Oers, R. (2012), The Historic Urban Landscape: Managing Heritage in an Urban Century, Wiley-Blackwell, West Sussex

Black, H. and Wall, G. (2001), “Global-local inter-relationships in UNESCO world heritage sites”, in Teo, P., Chang, T.C. and Ho, K.C. (Eds), Interconnected Worlds: Tourism in Southeast Asia, Elsevier Science, Pergamon, Oxford, pp. 121-136

Caballero, G. and Pereira Roders, A. (2014), “Understanding trends on Urban heritage research in Asia”, 12th International Conference on Urban History: Cities in Europe, Cities in the World, Lisbon, 3-6 September

Chapman, W. (2013), Heritage of Ruins. The Ancient Sites of Southeast Asia and their Conservation, University of Hawai’i Press, Honolulu

Hitchcock, M., King, V. and Parnwell, M. (Eds) (2010), Heritage Tourism in Southeast Asia, NIAS Press and Honolulu, University of Hawai’i Press, Copenhagen

King, V.T. (Ed.) (2016), UNESCO in Southeast Asia: World Heritage Sites in Comparative Perspective, NIAS Press, Oxfordshire

Miksic, J., Goh, G.Y. and O’Connor, S. (Eds) (2011), Rethinking Cultural Resource Management in Southeast Asia: Preservation, Development and Neglect, Anthem Press, Anthem Southeast Asian Studies, London, New York, NY and Delhi

United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2014), “World urbanization prospects: the 2014 revision”, Highlights (ST/ESA/SER.A/352), ISBN 978-92-1-151517-6, New York, NY

UNESCO (2016), “World heritage list”, available at: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/ (accessed 20 February 2016)

Van Oers, R. and Pereira Roders, A. (2013), “Road map for application of the HUL approach in China”, Journal of Cultural Heritage Management and Sustainable Development, Vol. 3 No. 1, pp. 4-17

Verdini, G., Wang, Y. and Zhang, X. (Eds) (2016), Urban China’s Rural Fringe: Actors, Dimensions and Management Challenges, Ashgate Publishing Limited, Surrey

Zialcita, F. (Ed.) (2015), Preserving the Ifugao Terraces: A Literature Review, UNESCO National Commission, Pasay City