The Cultural Heritage Committee took many people by surprise last week when it announced that the majority of its members were not in favour of the classification of the shipyards in Coloane.
After all the campaigns on the ground for the protection of the site, and the expression of public support for their preservation during the consultation period, the committee’s position came as a little bit unexpected.
The first reaction from parties directly concerned, and heritage associations, was outrage.
Such a position from a committee which features the word ‘heritage’ in its name could not have been foreseen – we would rather expect it to come from a real estate or developer’s association, which would probably have little concern in stating such a view.
The committee’s position is strange for a couple of reasons. First, because their claim for opposing the classification is based on the high cost that the maintenance of the structures would entail, yet no bill has been presented to the public.
I do not think the committee’s meeting being a closed door one is problematic per se, although some might object to that. We ought to trust that government members and appointees are doing their best to perform functions for which they have been chosen as experts, as well as to correspond to public expectations. But coming out with a partial argument damages the committee’s credibility and creates more public discontent.
Moreover, is it difficult to believe money is really a problem in this city.
The second, and perhaps slyer argument, is the semantic confusion the committee and the government are thereby creating by separating the terms preservation and revitalization, as if the two were mutually exclusive operations.
There may be limits to ‘revitalizing’ classified sites, but they can still be given new life. Usually, such decisions may come under fire and undergo a long process of public debate before they can materialize, but this is the beauty of public debate.
I find it very funny that you can see a place like Senado Square being inundated by mass consumption brands – clearly revitalized – and yet nobody objects to this.
The Ruins of Saint Paul’s have gained a museum. The Pawnshop tower on Avenida Almeida Ribeiro was converted into a museum and, for a while, hosted a shop and a tearoom on its top floor. The late Sun Yat-Sen pharmacy also became a gallery. The Mandarin House hosts exhibitions from time to time.
Classification does not entail the freezing of a heritage property in its original state. It only requires thinking outside of the box.