Managing Pindi’s historical inner city buildings

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Feb 7, 2014.

Islamabad – Rawalpindi’s historic inner city might gain long-term benefits and deserved recognition for its history and heritage through an ongoing pilot project, which aims to integrate management of historic resources with policies of urban development.

The Rawalpindi Historic Urban Landscape (HUL) pilot project is part of an experimental implementation of international guidelines issued by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 2011.

The guidelines were prepared in the light of new challenges posed to traditional conservation approaches by pressures of globalization, urbanization and development, said Dr Ron Van Oers, the Vice-President of the Vice-Director of UNESCO’s World Heritage Institute of Training and Research for Asia and Pacific (WHITRAP).

Oers was giving an overview of the HUL initiative at a policy dialogue themed around the opportunities and challenges in urban planning and local governance, organised by the Islamabad-based Institute of Social and Policy Sciences on Thursday.

Oers said before the 2011 guidelines, development in cities was increasingly coming in conflict with people’s perception of heritage.

The new UNESCO approach is not focused on traditional conservation per se. Instead it is a management approach that speaks about heritage as a living, dynamic object that needs to be understood within the urban landscape. It also relies on the significance local communities associate with heritage and aims to integrate the management of historic sites in a city’s urban planning process, according to Oers.

An action plan to apply the guidelines consists of six points: mapping the city’s natural, cultural and historic resources, understanding the heritage values to protect, vulnerability assessment of historic resources, create a vision for city development that integrates heritage values, prioritizing policies for conservation and development, and establishing partnerships for management of historic sites.

It is these points that are being implemented in the HUL pilot project in Rawalpindi, which is being undertaken by the National College of Arts (NCA) Rawalpindi, with support from UNESCO and seed money from the Netherlands funds-in-trust at UNESCO.

Dr Ayesha Pamela Rogers, Programme Coordinator project at NCA, said a 10-member team at NCA has been working for almost the past six months to accomplish the first three points of the action plan.

Rogers said the team has looked at a study area that is composed of an important part of the Rawalpindi inner city — bounded by Circular Road in north and Iqbal Road in south.

There, the team has compiled a rapid inventory historical buildings, conducted interviews with locals, collected oral histories of the area and looked at the religious buildings, bazaars and muhalla culture to not only get data but also make sense of it, Rogers said.

The NCA team has also looked at one sub-area to assess the vulnerability of historic buildings to change. Rogers said the three-year pilot will continue with the goal of creating awareness about the historic sites through heritage trails and educational initiatives.

The HUL pilot project will not go for full-scale conservation of historic Rawalpindi buildings.

But Rogers said it will focus on adaptative reuse of the buildings and, most importantly, on creating partnerships with private, public and civic organisations for management of historic sites after the project is over.

Speakers representing the public sector said there are deficiencies in policy, legal and institutional framework for urban planning in Pakistan. They said there should be city development strategies in Pakistan that are supported by legislative framework.

Nadeem Omar Tarar, Director NCA, said the project is intended to lead to better coordination between government authorities, citizens and private organisations to bring deserved spotlight on Rawalpindi’s historical heritage.

Tarar said Pindi has dozens of historic religious and residential buildings and the success of the pilot project could lead to potential interest from donor agencies to finance preservation of these sites. There is also the potential for turning one of these sites in to a museum, he said.

Oers said the project might help de-stigmatize the stereotypical label of garrison city assigned to Rawalpindi and its success could also pave the way for similar HUL projects in other Pakistani cities.

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