|In danger: New constructions are fading old features of the ancient Duong Lam village. Conservation experts have emphasised the need to balance conservation with development. — Photo thethaovanhoa.vn
HA NOI (VNS) — When architect Le Thanh Vinh returned to Cu Da, an old village located 30km away from Ha Noi's centre, he was shocked to say the least.
Rapid changes from urbanisation had almost completely erased the ancient features of the village compared with photos he had taken nine years ago. Once a fusion of French architectural style and rustic Vietnamese living and the home of traditional soybean sauce; the town is but a shadow of its former self.
"Anyone who knows about the village would feel the same way. It's so sad to see modern structures spoiling the authenticity of the village," Vinh told a workshop dedicated to the preservation of ancient villages in Ha Noi.
"With the rapid pace of urbanisation, the preservation of ancient villages is difficult to achieve, especially when we need to balance preservation with development," said the head of the Institute for Relics Conservation which hosted the conference on Friday.
Statistics collected this year indicate that Cu Da is among 60 villages in Ha Noi recognised as having unique historical, architectural, spiritual and cultural value and eligible for national heritage status.
However, conservation experts are concerned that such a "long list" poses a challenge for policy makers. Many have cited the case of Duong Lam Village, the only village recognised as a national historical site, currently facing obstacles with conservation efforts.
After gaining official recognition as a heritage site, households in Duong Lam signed a joint letter offering to revoke the village's heritage status, citing the decision prohibiting residents from building houses or requiring approval to conduct home repairs.
Professor Hoang Dao Kinh from the National Cultural Heritage Council recognised there were challenges in preserving Ha Noi's ancient villages.
"It's always a challenge for Ha Noi to maintain ancient villages and traditional values; the challenge between preservation and development. A feasible preservation requires that the quintessence and the subjects of the villages be cared for the most."
However, Kinh argued that conservation efforts should focus on what he describes as ‘real heritage', saying: "We must be careful in recognising them as a piece of heritage. We have so many relics but fail to preserve our essential sites," he said.
Dr Dang Van Bai from the council agreed that Ha Noi failed to preserve ancient villages by neglecting the subject of heritage - people.
"Preservation must ensure better living conditions for local residents. Human beings and their need must be the focal point of this process," Bai said.
Professor Pham Dinh Viet agreed preserving the villages meant balancing conservations efforts with the needs of residential areas.
"The community needs to play a vital role because they are owners of the heritage", said Viet.
For now, it appears progress is on the horison. In a bid to strengthen future conservation efforts, participants at the conference discussed a potential criteria for ancient villages eligible for heritage status.
In further progress, participants also agreed that the daily life and functioning of local communities was an essential criteria in preventing future conflicts seen with Duong Lam Village.
"They need to benefit from the heritage but at the same time be accountable for its existence," said Viet.
Importantly, it appeared that everyone had their eye on the prize to preserve valuable pieces of Vietnamese culture, says Professor Kinh.
"Ha Noi is home to many ancient villages that preserve the roots of the nation," he said. "The biggest contribution Viet Nam can make to a global culture is our village culture." — VNS