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Heritage Challenges in Cities

Societies and vision for humanity is a heritage challenge all around the world. Watch Karine & Caryl explain using Kinkabool as a case study.
Welcome. Today, we are on the Gold Coast, one of the fastest-growing cities in Australia. Gold Coast is renowned for its natural assets such as the great oceans and very long beaches. But as well, for its entertainment features that include casinos, games, theme parks, and so on. These features combined have led Gold Coast’s reputation to be the major city of high-rise beach holiday destinations. The building behind us is a great example of local contested heritage. Built in the 60s it was the first building to have 10 stories with an internal lift and it contrasted very much to the very low scale all around it. Today, it is still in contrast with the city landscape.
But now, because it is so small in comparison with the newer high-rise buildings all around. In terms of heritage, Kinkabool looks quite insignificant, without strong architectural merit. Many people dismiss its heritage significance, just talking about it as if I like it or I hate it. But this is the very point. Heritage is contested, and it’s not just a question of taste. It’s about the relationship people have to that place, and the memories that people have of that place. Memories and people’s relation to a place is important to our cultural heritage, our sense of who we are as people. Kinkabool was an icon in its day. It served as a marker in the city.
Visitors would identify with the building as a way of negotiating their way around the city. People would see the building and know that they were on the Gold Coast and were on holiday. Memories of their holiday are tied up with the image of Kinkabool. With the example of Kinkabool, the challenge we face is maintaining the balance between urban changes and the preservation that will allow people to retain a connection with the place. The Gold Coast is an urban area undergoing large-scale redevelopment to keep pace with the growing demand for jobs, housing, and tourism. While modernisation can’t be stopped, it shouldn’t be at the expense of our heritage.
Kinkabool has been added to the Heritage Register because it is recognised as being a significant component of people’s heritage and how people relate to the place. Part of Kinkabool’s significance is that it marked a point in time where trends changed from low-scale development to high-rise development. All around the Gold Coast now, buildings are soaring up above Kinkabool. Heritage is also about being representative of a certain period in time, as this building is. Noticeably, this is the only remaining building of its type on the Gold Coast. Glimpsing Kinkabool can take many a Gold Coast resident or holidaymaker for a trip down memory lane.
Another thing that is very important to consider when looking at heritage is how the context might have changed both around and inside the buildings. Here, for example, 40 years ago, this place was just a big parking lot for direct access to the beach. Since then, pedestrian walkways, traffic management, and a promenade have been built to ensure a people-friendly landscape. The place has been adapted to accommodate modern change in how people use the space. Adaptive reuse is one way of preserving buildings into the future and ensuring their viability in the urban landscape. In the case of Kinkabool, it is not the building itself that has undergone adaptive reuse.
Rather, it is the context in which the building sits that has changed to reflect modern times and everyday uses. Another Gold Coast example of adaptive reuse of the inside of a building is in Southport. Here, the old ambulance building close to the city hall is now an office building with a little cafe sitting on the street. The old ambulance building now serves a modern purpose, fostering progress and modernisation, and is also a reminder of people’s connection to the past. This is important because the story of the heritage place is essential to society and humanity.
There are a number of common heritage challenges that present in different local contexts from around the world. Let’s take a look at the concept of societies and vision for humanity.

The importance of recognising culture

In talking about how urban fabric can produce place values and meanings it is necessary to discuss the role of culture in that construction.
Have you ever had an attachment to a building or place, somewhere which has great value and meaning to you? This attachment comes about in many cases through cultural learning. People learn to value a place and associate the built environment with that place. So, a building or a part of a landscape is not only ‘the place’, rather it is a part of how and why people feel attachment to a place.
If planners do not have knowledge of this culture and instead are part of a more dominant culture, place values can be missed in redevelopment projects. The marginalization of less dominant cultures is particularly relevant in the current neoliberal climate of governance, be that in Australia, China or elsewhere in the world.

A connection to places

“We all have our own stories about the places that matter to us, and about the ways in which our lives have been affected, and even shaped, by the places in which we live.”
(Malphas, 2008, p. 325)
A connection to place is an essential ingredient of human development because it is integral to what it means to be human (Malphas, 2008, p. 326).
Authentic places then are places which are ‘humanised and ‘humanising’ (Malphas [following Wordsworth] 2008, p.325). This means that the fabric of a place is seen as having living objects which, simultaneously, influence the daily lives of those who interact with them.
In considering authenticity, we can look to the Nara Document. This document offers guidance on what constitutes cultural heritage in a global setting. It speaks about authenticity and the need to assess heritage in each cultural context. Cultures vary and so the approach or means of identifying and assessing heritage will be different for different cultures.

Example: China’s planning system

If we look at China’s planning system as an example, we see that it:
  • was set up based upon socialist principles
  • is characterized as being top-down
  • lacks transparency and forms of public engagement
  • has “domination by local discretionary power” (Chung & Zhou, 2011, p. 333)
China is a country with spatial and social diversity and under this planning system, the needs of many minority communities have been largely overlooked.
It is true that economic reforms are having an impact and changing the fabric of China, and opening up opportunities for large scale reinvention of the built fabric of many cities and rural areas. However, this new development, in many ways threatens and further diminishes the connections and relations some people have to place. As a result, the sense of belonging of local residents wears down and barriers to human development are created. As is the case elsewhere in the world, the Chinese planning system is tied into the political system and development processes and heritage concerns are linked to this system.

Example: Kinkabool building – Gold Coast, Australia

The Kinkabool building on the Gold Coast (Australia) illustrates another type of contemporary challenge. It is a listed heritage building, yet today a large majority of people think it would be better to destroy it due to its derelict condition, and make way for a more modern building in its place. The main issue in this case is private ownership, where the owner’s individual interest works against the good of the community. In the long term, heritage is associated with the worst living conditions and people therefore lose its meaningfulness.

Successful adaptive reuse

Yet, there are plenty of examples of successful adaptive reuse, which is the ‘process by which structurally sound older buildings are developed for economically viable new uses’ (Austin, 1988). This was first developed as a method of protecting historically significant buildings from demolition. Today, it is also a major means of tourism.
You may have heard of buildings being transformed into famous attractions (Versailles castle in France, Sigiriya Rock Fortress in Sri Lanka, Taj Mahal in India, etc.) but did you know that full territories/communities have also benefited from this approach to heritage. The Ruhr Valley in Germany or the urban redevelopment of Bilbao in Spain are just some of them.
Many societies and communities have a common vision and understand that heritage is a base to transmit culture, yet good critical distance is needed not to be blinded by short term perspectives or economic interests. In the long term, it is important to make sure the next generations can benefit from what we have left them.


Austin, R. L., Woodcock, D. G., Steward, W. C., & Forrester, R. A. (1988). Adaptive reuse: Issues and case studies in building preservation. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.
Chung, H., & Zhou, S. (2011). Planning for plural groups? villages-in-the-city redevelopment in Guangzhou city, China. International Planning Studies, 16(4), 333-353.
Malpas, J. (2008). Place and human being. In F. M. Vanclay, M. Higgins, & A. Blackshaw (Eds.), Making sense of place: Exploring concepts and expressions of place through different senses and lenses (pp. 325-331). Canberra: National Museum of Australia Press.


The Gold Coast City Libraries Local Studies Collection and the Queensland State Archives have kindly provided some images used in the step video.
Reproduced with permission from the City Libraries Local Studies Collection:
Images from the Queensland State Archives licensed under CC BY 3.0:
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Cities of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow: Why Heritage Matters

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