Reproducing ‘Authenticity’: The Politics of Restoration and Preservation

by Jen Turner

Nigel Homer [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A recent BBC News report explained how English Heritage and Bradford Council are offering grants of up to 80% to recreate “lost” historical features along the village of Haworth, West Yorkshire made famous by the Bronte sisters. In 2010, English Heritage claimed Haworth’s traditional character was being eroded by gradual minor changes and invited business owners to suggest ideas to enhance the main street.  Councillor David Green, executive member for regeneration and economy, said Haworth was a “special place”. Bradford Council maintained that “historically accurate” details such as traditional shop fronts and sash windows could be reintroduced.

English Heritage regional director Trevor Mitchell places increased business revenues at the heart of the project, claiming that “A restored shop on Haworth Main Street will be more attractive to customers and tenants”.  For me, Howarth as a place is enchanting.  I grew up with West Yorkshire as my home and a penchant for literature that gave the town a magical appeal for me.  In my view, preserving its integrity is important – both picturesque and meaningful for me, I would hate to see its surroundings degenerate.  However, this raises an important question.  What is the definition of this ‘integrity’; and how should it manifest itself?  What processes (and the repercussions of them) should geographers attend to when considering how regeneration schemes seek to reproduce ‘authenticity’ in the contemporary environment?

It is here that I would like to make reference to a numbers of works that have emerged in recent years surrounding these issues within the discipline. As Mihalis Kavaratzis explains, cities all over the world have been applying marketing techniques and increasingly adopting a marketing philosophy to meet their operational and strategic goals; allowing  City marketing to grow into an established field of research and an academic sub-discipline.  The article outlines the historical episodes of such marketing, highlighting how branding has been influential in shaping future prospects for urban spaces.  In Howarth, the ‘Bronte Brand’ is quintessential in the marketed atmosphere of the town.  This also relates to the work of  Adrian While and Michael Short, which recognises that the built heritage of most cities is heterogeneous, hybrid and multiple.  They highlight how certain heritage objects and meanings are invariably privileged over others in place-making strategies, having impact upon the production of local heritage and the regulation and conversation of changes in the built environment.  For Geography Directions followers with interest in this field, their paper further contributes to conceptual debates about the situated politics of heritage and the institutional work performed by heritage discourse.  In aligning ourselves with these debates, it is easy to question the complex relationship between place-making, capitalism, and the ‘authenticity’ we take for granted in our favourite tourist destinations.

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Mihalis Kavaratzis, 2007, City Marketing: The Past, the Present and Some Unresolved Issues, Geography Compass, 1(3) p. 695-712.

books_icon Aidan While and Michael Short, 2011, Place narratives and heritage management: the modernist legacy in ManchesterArea, 43(1) p. 4-13.

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Effort to return Bronte authenticity to HaworthBBC News Leeds and West Yorkshire, 5 Jan 2013.

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