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The High Line: Urban public park on a historic train freight line in Chelsea, Manhattan

Thinking outside the box

Heritage is far from being rigid and fixed. Let’s discuss how thinking outside the box with heritage has provided great and innovative outcomes.

As previously seen, there are different approaches to heritage:

  • preservation
  • conservation
  • adaptive reuse
  • destruction

Think differently about our heritage places

In many cases, it is not uncommon to discover that thinking outside the box can generate a totally new perception and use of heritage.

For example, you may have seen the lighting at night of some historic buildings and monuments which has given them a new lease of life. They sometimes become city landmarks or new destination points for night-time guided tours.

More recently, the introduction of digital technologies has changed the way we think about refurbishing buildings. Now, a building does not necessarily need to be fully physically reconstructed. There are new tools that can virtually reproduce buildings and show the previous stages of development (Greenhop, 2015).

Chinatowns: Cultural appropriation

At the urban scale, thinking outside the box has also produced some unexpected results. For example, in some cities the growth of some ethnic minorities has often been combined with the export of overseas models of buildings and their adaptation to the local context (Anderson, 1991).

You may be familiar with Chinatowns that are appearing throughout the world. These illustrate this phenomenon, as you can see the cultural appropriation applied to the existing settings and the creation of a new type of heritage, that is not fully 100% Chinese (Sanjuan, 2017). For instance, the New York Chinatown clearly has distinct features that differ from the one in Sydney or Kuala Lumpur. Yet all of them are considered cultural heritage and attract thousands of visitors each year (Santos & Yan, 2008).

Lately, in a recent move towards convenience, some cities have used cultural appropriation and heritage creation to promote employment opportunities and urban renewal. This is the case, for example, in the City of Gold Coast, Australia, which officially created a Chinatown in 2013 to attract Chinese investors and revamp some old streets (Dupre & Xu, 2015). Although the project might still be in too early of a stage to assess its success, similar cases have been noted elsewhere in Australia, such as in Brisbane, with mixed results (Ip, 2005). Yet employment opportunities have definitively increased in the Gold Coast Chinatown as the number of retailers has almost doubled since its creation.

The High Line Project, New York

Another example of thinking outside the box at the urban scale is the High Line project in New York. Residents with passion and drive took action and managed to preserve and reuse old railway tracks (built in the 1930s) which had become severely derelict after the railway’s closure in the 1980s. The genius idea of the neighborhood was to transform this elevated railway track into an open public space. The open ideas competition in 2003 not only multiplied the creative options for the site but also ensured a new type of collaboration between residents, professionals and local authorities.

Today, the High Line is definitely a huge success, both for locals and tourists, as it has became a model of heritage reuse, landscape architecture, furniture design and urban renewal. Indeed, regarding the latter, since its opening in 2009, the full neighborhood has received a facelift, attracting famous architects to build along the High Line. Some might be unhappy about it (Halle & Tiso, 2014), but that is another debate…

Think outside the box

So now we’ve seen that practices and processes around heritage can be diverse and innovative. There are many different ways of approach heritage. Don’t forget that not every success story can be reproduced, and so it is necessary in each case to think outside the box.

Your task

Read through the case studies and consider the following questions:

  • Do you know of any Chinatowns in your country and do you think they have contributed to some form of urban enhancement?
  • Can you identify which milestone in the High Line story sped up the transformation of this heritage site? Do you know of a similar example in your country, that used the same method?

Share your answer in the comments.


Anderson, K. (1991). Vancouver’s Chinatown: Racial discourse in Canada, 1875-1980. Montreal; Buffalo: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Dupre, K. & Xu, B. (2015). The new Gold Coast Chinatown: Stakeholders’ development preferences. International Association of Tourism Studies Association, 1(2), 119-138.

Greenop, K. (2015). Collaborating for heritage at the cutting edge of technology: 3d laser scanning cultural heritage sites in Queensland. In D. K. Brown, M. Manfredini, P. McPherson, A. Pretty, U. Rieger, & M. Southcombe (Eds.), Applied Collaborations: 8th International Conference and Exhibition of the Association of Architecture Schools of Australasia (pp. 158-166). Christchurch, New Zealand: The Association of Architecture Schools of Australasia (AASA).

Halle, D. & Tiso, E. (2014). New York’s new edge: Contemporary art, the High Line and urban megaprojects on the Far West Side. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Ip, D. (2005). Contesting Chinatown: Place-making and the emergence of ‘Ethnoburbia’ in Brisbane, Australia. GeoJournal, 64(1), 63-74.

Sanjuan, T. (2017). Les chinatowns - Trajectoires urbaines de l’identité chinoise à l’heure de la mondialisation. Paris: Grafigeo 36.

Santos, C. A. & Yan, G. (2008). Representational politics in Chinatown: The ethnic other. Annals of Tourism Research, 35, 879-899.

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This article is from the free online course:

Cities of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow: Why Heritage Matters

Griffith University