chapter  1
12 Pages

Introduction: Heritage everywhere

It is Monday lunchtime in Chelsea Market, New York City, and the office workers, locals and tourists buy their sandwiches, browse for produce, and promenade through the ruined shell of the former National Biscuit Company complex, strolling amongst the rusted fans, exposed air vents and partially demolished brickwork (Figure 1.1). An example of an ‘adaptive re-use’ heritage project, like many others we have become used to in contemporary cosmopolitan cities, this physical experience of being, working and dwelling amongst the old and the new, of living with the polished patina of the past, has become familiar to most of us in the late-modern world. As its website notes, ‘a visit to the market offers ghostly evocations of the site’s history’ (Chelsea Market 2011). Such ‘ghostly evocations’ are no longer spontaneous incidents, but frequently staged experiences that are an increasingly common part of our everyday urban and suburban landscapes. Walking down any major street in just about any city in the world will reveal dozens of monuments, memorials, listed buildings, ecological conservation zones, sites of memory and the heterogeneous piling up of the traces of the past in the present. To persist with our example of the Chelsea Market, a short walk across town to Broadway finds us on one of the busiest urban thoroughfares in Manhattan. A walk down this street north to south reveals dozens of listed buildings, a number of memorials and commemorative plaques, parks, gardens and several museums within a single block on either side of this road, which dissects the city. This is not atypical, and any other major world city would reveal similar numbers of heritage sites, monuments to the past amongst thriving metropolises. Heritage, and the formally staged experience of encountering the physical traces of the past in the present, has become an all-pervasive aspect of contemporary life, a series of components that act as building blocks for the design of contemporary urban and suburban spaces. The first theme of this book is what we might term the abundance of heritage in our late-modern world, and its social, economic and political function in contemporary global societies.