By Tim Whalen
Let me first warmly welcome the new president and chief executive officer of the J. Paul Getty Trust, Dr. James Cuno, who joined the Getty on August 1. Jim has had a truly distinguished career leading a number of notable art institutions, including the Harvard University Art Museums, the Courtauld Institute of Art, and, most recently, the Art Institute of Chicago—institutions where conservation and conservation research are prominent and highly valued. Jim brings to the Getty a profound appreciation for cultural heritage and its conservation. We look forward to his leadership and to working with him to advance conservation practice around the world.
Every reader of Conservation Perspectives has been moved and inspired by time spent in historic cities—remarkable places that possess a multitude of things worth preserving. They hold within them social systems, knowledge, memory, and traditions that enrich life. They answer questions about culture, history, art, and technology. But owing to complex and interconnected challenges, the fabric of many of these cities is threatened.
In recent decades the conservation and management of historic cities—the focus of this newsletter edition—has emerged as a critical concern, requiring our involvement as a community of professionals dedicated to heritage conservation. For many years, the GCI has engaged in initiatives related to historic cities, including collaborative projects in the historic center of Quito, Ecuador, in the 1990s, and research conducted from 2001 to 2008 leading to a citywide historic resource survey for the City of Los Angeles. The GCI has also partnered with the Organization of World Heritage Cities in the organization of its biennial World Congress.
This edition of Conservation Perspectives provides a framework for understanding threats facing historic urban places and offers ideas and solutions for sustaining their existence and vitality. Noted preservation architect Francesco Siravo, in his feature article, describes the evolution of thinking with respect to the management of historic urban areas and argues persuasively that integrating these concepts of several generations of planners and thinkers into urban planning "can make essential contributions to the general planning of cities for the benefit of those who call those cities home."
In his article on preservation of urban heritage in Latin America, Eduardo Rojas, a former principal urban development specialist of the Inter-American Development Bank, explores different approaches to urban heritage preservation taken by two cities—alvador de Bahia in Brazil, and Quito—and examines the results of each. Susan Macdonald, head of GCI Field Projects and an architect by training, focuses on one of the more contentious issues in the management of historic cities: the appropriateness of contemporary architectural insertions into historic urban areas. And Françoise Descamps, a senior project specialist with GCI Field Projects and an architect, surveys previous GCI activities in this area of conservation and describes some of our new work in tackling the complexities of preserving historic living places. Finally, in our dialogue section, the former mayor of Budapest, Gábor Demszky, Virginia Polytechnic Institute professor Paul Knox, and conservation architect and Deakin University professor Elizabeth Vines engage in a lively discussion about how to balance continuity and change in historic cities, which constitute such a significant part of our cultural heritage.