Sustaining the urban heritage identity of Jammu City

Hemani Badyal
Cultural heritage has multiple forms and is a resource for the construction of the identities of people and communities. Intangible heritage and the meanings and practices woven around built heritage are alive and constantly evolving. They should be integrated into life and society in dynamic ways. Cities can enable process to enhance a sense of belonging with the local heritage through a people-centered approach. (Agenda 21 for culture, UCLG)
Urban identity of cities is a blend of the built heritage, local culture and geographical context, overlaid with perceived memories and experiences. The broad spectrum of the city’s built heritage collectively bear testament to the diverse living heritage and practices of the region. The historic urban fabric plays an important role in enhancing place identity, building memories and associations.
Urban space is shaped by the dwelling patterns of its culture. Every city has its unique and valuable identity. The historic built heritage, sites, streetscapes, traditional neighborhoods are valuable socio-economic endowments. There symbolic reference provides identity of a place and can inspire inclusive urban development patterns. The cultural landscape as a whole is a defining feature of every city and represents a value to be understood. While the built heritage is important, other values related to cultural practices and traditions should not be neglected as they form the essence of a city’s urban identity and engenders sense of belonging.
In the following statement, UN Habitat stresses upon the importance of the cultural heritage in present cities; “planning is being required to preserve and promote cultural heritage, tangible and intangible, of the communities living in cities, since heritage has been recognized to have a role in shaping the city’s identity”. This statement brings about the role of regenerating cultural heritage as a way to reinforce a city’s uniqueness and distinctiveness.
Concepts of heritage are closely interwoven with the construction and maintenance of the ‘identity’ of the cities. It creates considerable positive externalities at local level in terms of the image of the place. The historic fabric of a city and new development can interact and mutually reinforce their role and meaning. Conservation of the built environment therefore has a plurality of meanings:continuity of use and associations, community’s cultural continuum, the valuing of places of cultural significance and increased economic value.
Jammu is liberally endowed with a range of diverse built heritage positioned in its sacred geography. These landmarks, consisting of religious structures, pilgrim routes, palaces, forts, streetscapes, have emerged through a long and chequered narrative. The historical fabric of Jammu city perched on a hill, lying on the right bank of river Tawi with the Shivaliks in the backdrop, and on its left a corresponding one, crowned by Bahu fort which is deeply revered by the locals, forms a harmonious ensemble of natural topography and urban fabric, shaping the identity of the city.
The setting of Mubarak Mandi Palace forms the most dominant and distinctive feature of the cultural landscape of Jammu city as it seems to rise to a monumental height along the hill overlooking river Tawi. But in an era of rapidly changing urban context where their authenticity and meaning has been encroached upon by banal constructions and insensitive approach towards conservation, it becomes difficult to be sanguine about their continued contribution to the urban character and spirit of the place.
What are the issues and challenges?
The role of cultural heritage within the context of sustainable urban development planning and policy remains challenging till date. To create a culturally sensitive urban environment, the role of cultural heritage in sustainable development must be explicitly recognized, supported and integrated into planning and policy in a systematic and comprehensive way. Revitalizing the urban heritage is not only important for safeguarding the cultural significance, but also for its potential to increase the economy of the place. However, today’s rapidly urbanizing cities with uncontrolled growth and informal expansion pose a significant threat for the cultural heritage. Contemporary urban landscapes have led to the loss of local character and the erosion of cultural identity.
Where the cultural heritage resources in Jammu are still unidentified, underutilized, undervalued and the state lacks capacity to effectively manage and protect it; the tourism policy of the state advocates to make tourism one of the principle engines of economic development in the State by positioning it as a leading global destination by 2025. The transformative role of cultural heritage has not yet been fully harnessed by the State Government or local authorities. The Jammu Master Plan- 2032 does not have a constructive vision for developing the Heritage and Tourism in the state. The process of developing a thorough understanding for recognising and conserving our cultural assets and, then translating this understanding to management strategies remains absent in the Master Plan. The Government has been unable to allocate sufficient resources and failed to undertake a sensitive approach towards heritage protection and promotion. Therefore, the operationalising roles of cultural heritage within the context of urban development policy and planning remains challenging.
Relentless efforts are being made by the state to pace up the conservation of Mubarak Mandi and safeguard the most distinctive attribute of Jammu’s cultural identity. Mubarak Mandi’s revitalization holds the potential to serve as a dynamic new medium of cultural and social exchange and strengthen the tourism in Jammu. But, the central challenge remains to secure timely and sufficient funding for ensuring viability of the on-going conservation in order to safeguard the palace’s physical fabric together with the social and cultural meaning attached to it.
Resources for the maintenance of heritage buildings and sites are by no means unlimited. It is undeniable that there are significant economic dimensions to heritage conservation decisions. Local resources tend to be scarce and most municipalities struggle to provide basic infrastructure services, making investment in cultural heritage a low priority. However, a successful partnership between private and public entities in undertaking a joint approach in funding, directing and implementing heritage conservation will herald an important step forward in ensuring the sustainability of conserving our cultural heritage.
Why invest in cultural heritage?
In the contemporary world, a new development paradigm is emerging that links the economy and culture. Studies published by the World Bank point out the importance of heritage in sustainable development and the potential role of heritage assets in contributing to the economic revitalization of historic urban centers.Cultural heritage is used as a lever and catalyst for economic development and urban regeneration, to articulate shared identity and as a source of cultural innovation, and is widely recognized as a key aspect of quality of life and well-being of citizens. Tourism is seen as an important source of revenue, providing an economic payoff to the original investment. A heritage investment project will have economic impacts that parallel the cultural impacts. The stock of tangible cultural capital assets exists in the built heritage structures and sites endowed with cultural significance. These assets give rise to flow of services that may be consumed as private or public goods. Cultural heritage shall not be viewed as cost, but rather as an investment that can yield short-term and long-term economic benefits to a city. Investment in cultural heritage is claimed to be beneficial for the local economy of the state, not only in terms of induced effects i.e. cultural consumption, but also in the form of direct effects that correspond to increased employment opportunities and revenue generation. Long term benefits get reflected in the increased city attractiveness, strengthened tourism and rise of urban creativity. It triggers cultural innovation which can be reinterpreted and generate spillovers in the local economy.
The future we want
It becomes fundamental to identify the opportunities to unlock Jammu city’s vast cultural heritage potential for development as well as the challenges of linking cultural heritage with economic growth. Jammu can use the local cultural resources and creativity to inspire, catalyze, and drive social economic change, enhancing the development potential of the city and boost the tourism. New policies need to be excogitated focusing on trans-disciplinary and multi-stakeholder potential, financing, skilled management systems and innovative business models and services for cultural heritage. If properly managed, cultural heritage can be instrumental in retainingthe unique and distinctive identity of the city, improving the quality of urban environment and enhancing social inclusion, thereby paving the way for future projects both within the same communities and beyond.
(The author is a conservation architect and cultural heritage management practitioner, based in Jammu)