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A Journey of Ahmedabad becoming the first UNESCO World Heritage City of India

Debashish Nayak, Founder and Director, Centre for Heritage Management, Ahmedabad University Member Sec. Heritage Conservation Committee, Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation     

Communities live and work in towns and cities; as society changes so does urban form, responding to accommodate change and growth. In today’s pace of economic development, such historic resources are often perceived as inefficient, unproductive and even inconvenient. They are often replaced with buildings that appear contemporary and more efficient. This neglect has led to decay, depressed economic conditions and dilapidation leading to migration of the population to newer areas.

Most Indian cities with a long history, have to their core, areas of strong architectural and urban character. These areas have been places of life, vitality, wealth, power, enlightenment and culture. The personality and character of a city are not formed in a day or even in a decade. These, in fact, are the result of centuries of growth in the course of which new elements are constantly juxtaposed with older ones.

Familiarity breeds contempt. The citizens get accustomed to their environment and gradually become less aware of it. The city becomes a habit. Herein lies the need to make the citizens aware of the importance of their built environment and to help them develop a harmonious and contemporary relationship with it. In a sense, urban renewal does not just rebuild the city; it rebuilds people’s relationship with the city. There lies a need that the old buildings and older areas of the city should be looked upon as assets rather than as liabilities because they represent the history of communities, embodying their tradition, heritage and culture through architecture and the urban form.

Over several years, Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) has undertaken several strategic interventions towards heritage conservation and development of built heritage in the Walled City of Ahmedabad. As a result of these initiatives, Ahmedabad has now become the first UNESCO World Heritage City of India. AMC is now in a position to articulate and share the methodology of these initiatives, which can be replicated in many old city centres to conserve our cultural and architectural heritage. This is also an alternative way of connecting conservation and community participation for a sustainable process of revival for historic cities in Asia.

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