Community based conservation for sustainable development

By Mugdha Yelkar  – This blog has been featured before at ICCROM FORUM BLOG 2013

The first thought that comes to our mind when we say ‘heritage conservation’ is that of unusable abandoned structures which a minor population of experts is looking into. It is hardly being acknowledged as community responsibility of local neighbourhoods. One of the major challenges in community based heritage conservation activities is as simple as lack of interest from local communities. It is taken for granted as so much a thing of the past that hardly anyone would give it priority in our daily life. Caught up in the routine of family, work, social life the neglected remnants of our history are dissolved into oblivion without any of us even realizing what we have lost. Like every other great thing in life which we take granted for, we realize the importance, only when we lose it.

For broader understanding, conceptually ‘Heritage’ largely accounts for outlook of the people, local customs and traditions passed on through generations. These are reflected in overall streetscape as well as buildings; and give a unique sense of belonging to the natives of a particular region. Initiatives which aim to safeguard the existence and continuity of these resources fall under conservation science. Few of the methods popularly adopted under conservation activities are heritage walks, lectures, workshops, talks happening on a regular basis. Many a times, people who have been a part of these walks go a step ahead and volunteer to undertake conservation activities like spreading knowledge about their significance, plantation and cleanliness drives etc. It results in bringing together citizens to give a sense of shared belonging between them, increasing the life – span of historic monuments also.

Essentially, conservation plays a range of functions in the urban context – it generates economic growth via tourism presenting an opportunity for making places self – sufficient. It facilitates institutional growth through the setting up of numerous bodies within local population for supporting activities within their region. It reduces threats to environment pollution by encouraging eco-friendly practices through rehabilitation of historic built environment. Last but not the least, it boosts a sense of pride among the every-day users of these heritage resources and also unites them on a positive platform which make possible a holistic social growth of the region as well as their people. Thus, conservation practices in themselves fall within the parameters of sustainable development, adoption of which motivates economic, social, institutional and environmental growth.

There is a need for a common platform to support the local bodies willing to undertake conservation activities in their regions. The crux of facilitating successful heritage conservation lies in ‘community participation’.  Local communities should be introduced to their heritage from the perspective of it being a resource for sustainable development. The core of such community-led initiatives lies in achieving a workable strategy of identifying the nature of these resources, documenting & assessing them, and having a sensitive approach to utilize them in development initiatives. It is advocated that local authorities and any other local bodies should recognize this potential and voluntarily set up a management plan for their regions based on basics of heritage management practices. At the same time, it must be kept in mind that the two processes of conservation and development have to go hand in hand and not work against each other.

Winners of treasure hunt.jpg

Generating interest among local communities in their own heritage resources, educating them about the multitude of benefits without demolishing or ignoring historic assets for development is a essential technique that can serve to narrow the disconnect between conservation and development. It also offers a first step towards tapping on to the potential of community – led development programs. Connecting numerous such community bodies with each other can develop a network that facilitates interactions and formulation of overall development strategies at regional level. These resources, when utilized constructively, can contribute to find long term solutions for the challenges faced by sustainable development.



B.Arch (Pune University, 2007 graduate)

Masters in Heritage Management (Newcastle University, UK, 2008 graduate)

PhD Candidate, School of Planning and Architecture – New Delhi (Oct 2014 – Present)

Mugdha Yelkar completed her graduation in Architecture in 2007 from Pune University. She pursued a master’s degree in Heritage Management in 2008 from Newcastle University and presently is pursuing her doctorate studies in participatory approach towards rural heritage management from School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi. She is based in Pune and undertakes heritage outreach, education and documentation projects as the Director of Symbiotic Infracons. In professional past, she has been an Assistant Professor in Pune for three years, community resource associate to develop rural tourism in Raigad, heritage interpretation consultant to Janwani, MMCIA and an expert consultant to IIT Delhi for rural ethnographic studies. She is also a freelance writer having published newspaper articles and research papers on Community oriented Heritage Management in India.


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