Much of Macau’s history can be inferred from its urban fabric. The way streets are designed and named, the way and the time buildings were implanted in the city, the way they survived political and economic changes and the hazards from nature – all tell part of what makes Macau a city of unrivalled features.
Amongst the buildings and sites here we call historic, some are heritage-protected. Although we could not properly call such ensembles monumental, they are broad and diverse.
The work of heritage agencies aside, they are part of people’s own personal histories and present realities. They are part of the city just as the city is part of the people, so citizens and heritage watchdogs occasionally express their concerns about the current state of affairs of some of Macau’s most iconic buildings.
The Guia Lighthouse is emblematic in that regard, embattled in a contentious case for over ten years now, as the New Macau Association highlighted last week in an address to public authorities and UNESCO.
The local government is poised to guarantee that the view of the Lighthouse from different points of the city is maintained. This was one of the most controversial points UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee raised last year in its annual meeting.
By year-end, relevant authorities should present to UNESCO a reasonable plan for controlling height limits both in the surroundings areas of the hill where the Lighthouse sits, and nearby areas pending development, such as the new landfill Zone A, west of the Outer Harbour.
To such a simple demand, the response has, however, been slow. It is no piece of cake to reason with real estate investors willing to push developments higher every time. But it should not be that complicated either to guarantee that heritage-linked properties be protected.
For one, if the question is that of having the authority necessary to legitimize local claims, approval has been granted by China, the State Party on heritage matters regarding Macau, from the onset. Protecting Macau’s ‘Historic Centre’ as World Heritage has been presented as a political project by China since the beginning – regardless of technical and cultural support by previous Portuguese authorities and experts.
Hence, at times of ‘One country’ politics, there is no stronger message than this, that China endorses Macau’s heritage in the first place. The rest is bullying from local developers or, likely, ill-equipped management by the government departments involved.