GPA’s Zabeth Teelucksingh Presents at World Heritage UK Annual Conference

As the cultural backbone of human history, UNESCO World Heritage Sites are too often lost within the United States’ diverse treasure trove of heritage and preservation efforts. But this is not an inherently American problem; countries across the world are struggling to spotlight the legacy of World Heritage sites and to surround them with a sense of collective ownership and pride. The United Kingdom is spearheading the movement to enhance this outlook.

Zabeth Teelucksingh, Executive Director of Global Philadelphia Association (GPA), travelled to Wales on October 7-8 for the fifth World Heritage UK Annual Conference and Annual General Meeting, where she learned about global initiatives to elevate the world heritage platform and she shared Philadelphia’s own progress towards this effort. 

The World Heritage UK Annual Conference and Annual General Meeting facilitates collaboration among global preservation leaders by providing a forum for strategic discussions about World Heritage positioning and initiatives. This year’s conference was hosted by the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site at the Llangollen Pavilion near Wrexham in North Wales. 

Prior to the start of the conference, World Heritage UK published the State of UK World Heritage Sites Review, which reported on the strengths, weaknesses, and solutions in the UK’s approach to promoting its 32 World Heritage Sites. Carried out during 2018 and early 2019, the review focused on the then 27 UK mainland World Heritage Sites (prior to the inscription of Jodrell Bank Observatory as the 28th mainland UK World Heritage Site). The UK’s World Heritage Collection includes a wide variety of historical sites of outstanding universal value, including prehistoric sites, palaces and everything in between.

Tourism is the fastest growing industry in the UK. The UK Government could potentially use the innate diversity of their World Heritage Collection to maximize the potential of their tourism industry, which would elevate their soft power strategy to an unprecedented degree of growth. To accomplish this, it is crucial for the UK to develop a statewide World Heritage Site strategy to consistently and sustainably address the challenges faced by the Collection, including low awareness of “outstanding universal value,” management capacity, governance models, consistent funding and tourism integration.

The sites review report concludes with an eight-step plan to increase the value of the UK World Heritage Collection by driving more sustainable resources towards the world heritage sector, which will in turn boost the UK’s local government wellbeing and cultural, tourism and international agendas and status. Click here to learn more.

The World Heritage UK used this year's conference as a laboratory to experiment with new ways of elevating the status of World Heritage Sites acros the global community. Over the course of two days, the conference spotlighted the themes of financing sites and governance models; heritage, soft power and diplomacy; and the impacts and benefits of tourism.

The conference raised the conversation to the global stage by providing attendees with the opportunity to hear presentations and ask questions to a panel of international heritage experts, including Teelucksingh, who was joined by author Dr. Bailey Ashton Adie; Chris Blandford, President World Heritage UK; and Henry Own-John, Head of World Heritage at Historic England. In addition to the panel discussoin, Teelucksingh also gave a presentation on Philadelphia’s World Heritage City Project, which can serve as a model for the World Heritage UK and the world through its unique public-private partnership. It was well-received, with many conference attendees complimenting Philadelphia’s World Heritage City Celebration Dinner and planning to host similar events. 

This dialogue presented conference attendees with the chance to explore the multifaceted nature of heritage by listening to one another’s diverse experiences in confronting the same universal challenges. The conference was attended by 130 participants who represented 27 World Heritage Sites from across the globe, including the Chief Archeologist of Ireland and a party of five delegates representing the China Grand Canal (which received a World Heritage Site designation for its legacy in carrying grains from the north part of the country to the south).

Teelucksingh took advantage of the conference’s networking opportunities by teaching her fellow attendees about the Greater Philadelphia region’s unique heritage. In particular, she met with the Minister for Tourism of Wales to speak about the history of Welsh immigration in the suburbs of Philadelphia. According to tradition, Welsh Quakers settled what is now the Philadelphia Main Line to escape religious persecution at the hands of the British government. Many of the modern town names in this area are inspired by these settlers, including Merion and Bala Cynwyd. Teelucksingh was pleased to discuss this piece of history with the Minister, and presented him with a Philadelphia World Heritage paperweight.

By sharing her city’s stories, experience and progress with the conference, Teelucksingh unearthed new connections between Philadelphia and the global world heritage community, including the following:

  • Birkenhead Park, England: Opened by Lord Morpeth on East Monday, April 5, 1847, Birkenhead Park is the world’s first publicly funded municipal park, created for the public. The park has been celebrated over centuries as a masterpiece of landscape design, and has innovatively served as inspiration for the development of many other global urban projects. In particular, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux were heavily influenced by Birkenhead Park as they were drawing the blueprints for Central Park in New York City. Olmsted would later go on to design Philadelphia’s own Fairmount Park. Birkenhead Park is currently in the process of applying for World Heritage Site designation in recognition of this legacy of design excellence. 

  • New Lanark, Scotland: A small eighteenth-century village in Scotland, New Lanark is the site where philanthropist and utopian idealist Robert Owen established a model industrial community in the early nineteenth century. Despite the value of this achievement, some Philadelphians still hold a grudge against Owens and his colleague, William Maclure. Maclure served as the second president of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. However, in the winter of 1825, Owen and Maclure led a group of Philadelphia’s most progressive educators and academics down the icy Ohio River to establish a new settlement in Mount Vernon, Indiana, which they called New Harmony. Although the Academy has never forgiven them, their New Harmony settlement produced a range of scientific, cultural and socioeconomic benefits for the U.S. Midwest. 

  • The Slate Landscape of Gwynedd, Wales: Welsh slate has literally supported human history by strengthening the structure of some of the world’s greatest architectural masterpieces. It’s estimated that, between 1800 and 1940, Gwynedd’s slate industry exported enough slate to roof around 14 million terrace houses. In addition to this, slate produced in this region of the world has been used on iconic buildings like the U.S.’s White House, France’s Hôtel de Ville and the UK’s Sandhurst Royal Military Academy, as well as on World Heritage Sites like the UK’s Westminster Hall, Australia’s Melbourne Exhibition Hall and Jamaica’s Port Royal. Some of the slate miners from this region journeyed to Philadelphia, where they continued to mine slate for years to come. 

World Heritage UK is an independent charitable body that represents the UK’s Collection of World Heritage Sites. Next year’s conference will revolve around the theme of "Climate Change and Heritage." Click here for more information. 


Article written by Amelia Winger on behalf of Global Philadelphia Association