World Heritage and other architectural monuments have long been forgotten in the debate on sustainable societal development. In an increasingly urbanized world, building antiquarian Cherilyn Widell reminds us why we should care about preserving old buildings.
- It's not just an "old building", it's something much, much bigger, says Cherilyn Widell who calls me via video call from her home a few miles east of Washington DC.
American Cherilyn Widell has worked with conservation of historic buildings for 40 years and today runs its own consulting company in the area. She enthusiastically talks about the purpose of preserving - not just world heritage in the big cities of the western world - but old buildings around all corners of the world. She illustrates this by explaining how we humans present ourselves to each other: We like to start by telling about where we were born and raised and show pictures of people and places in our lives. The same goes for a country. We tell first and foremost about a country's cultural heritage.
- It's like a country's soul, that's what I think cultural heritage is. It is very important to protect the soul of each country, because each place contributes something important in the conversation about the world, says Widell.
In addition to the inherent value, World Heritage is also an important resource for the environment. Reusing old buildings has less of an impact on the climate than smashing new modern buildings, Widell says. New buildings involve large carbon dioxide emissions and a lot of energy is required to extract materials from the ground, create building materials, transport the materials to the construction site and then erect the building.
Cherilyn Widell sees the preservation of cultural heritage as an important economic tool for low-income countries. The low-income countries that can not produce building materials domestically, imports materials from other countries, for example from China. New building materials are put together as a kit on the construction site and do not require much manpower in the construction process. This generates more money the countries that export the building materials and not to one's own country. If you instead repair an existing building, more jobs will be created and the money will remain within the country.
- It contributes to the welfare of those who live there and helps other business activities. Because if you live there and make a living there, you spend the money there, says Widell.
When restoring old buildings in smaller communities, the population's knowledge and experience are also utilized, which is also passed on between generations. The younger generation is dependent on the older generation's knowledge in the work of restoration. This creates relationships between young and old.
- You understand why I think my job is so exciting. I see how it creates community wherever I go in the world, says Cherilyn Widell.