DOMUS, a magazine about cities and culture, has published an infantile essay, “Urbanicide in all good faith,” excoriating UNESCO’s World Heritage program as an assassin of cities. The author, Marco D’Eramo, doesn’t call a spade a spade. Only briefly does his real agenda slip out: He says that if the Marais, in Paris, had been UNESCOed, we would not have the Beaubourg – that is, the piece of junk, the Centre Pompidou, maquerading as a museum that ruins its neighborhood of the Marais.
You see, the author is one of those critics who believes that modernists should be allowed to destroy historic cities because otherwise they are not cities but museums. He regrets that so many historic districts are unaffordable to most people, but fails to acknowledge or understand, that it is modern architecture that has caused beauty to be so rare around the world that, as with any rare commodity, its price is bid up by the wealthy who come to be (because of modern architecture everywhere else) the only people who can afford to live there.
Of course, that is an exaggeration, and the author traffics in exaggeration. He says you can’t find a grocer, butcher or baker in the listed Italian town of San Gimignano – well, you probably can. He says all you can find is gift shops with the same trinkets. In the Plaka, in the shadow of the Acropolis, that may be very close to true, but if it is not true, if you can find shops that sell other things, even other types of trinket, then you have uttered a falsehood. The writer specializes in this.
Indeed, the UNESCO program is not quite as perfectly effective at creating mausoleums worldwide. If it were, we would not have to put up with the New Acropolis Museum, which desecrates the Acropolis and serves as a perfect argument for keeping the Elgin Marbles in London. Where were you, UNESCO?
Does anyone imagine that the authoritarian government of Turkey will demolish three luxury apartment towers because UNESCO warns that they threaten to undermine the historic center of Istanbul? Not bloody likely!
Of course we wouldn’t need to anoint great places as World Heritage Sites if modernism did not make them so rare. So if you don’t like the fact that great places greatly need protection, then go on the warpath against modern architecture. This may seem simplistic. No, it is merely simple. You can dig down and find complexities, but the truth regarding the need for UNESCO is simply as stated.