Accepted Paper:

Heritage by negotiation: the case of old buildings and urban renewal in Reykjavík  


Ólafur Rastrick (University of Iceland)

Paper short abstract:

The ideal of democratic participation in matters of heritage infers a process of negotiation of value. By way of a series of interviews with locals in Reykjavík, offering contrasting perceptions of the built environment, the paper contributes to an interrogation of the idea of heritage community.

Paper long abstract:

A significant factor in exploring how people relate to the urban environment has to do with how the past features in the present, how older buildings and streetscapes figure as tactile medium of layers of history that foster sensations of belonging and charm but also of detriment and shame.

In the current phase of reconstruction and renewal in Reykjavík city centre, fuelled by a sharp increase in tourism, city authorities and investors have capitalized on the appeal of the low-rise timber buildings dating from the 19th and early 20th century. A phase of gentrification has coincided with relocation of old moveable timber buildings and construction of new houses that replicate older designs and styles. The resident community has met this development with mixed feelings, some welcoming greater recognition of the city's built heritage.

The paper offers a case study based on a series of interviews with residents and others locals that go about their every-day life in the city for work or pleasure. The interviews offer testaments of the multifarious and often contradictory relations individuals constitute with the 'haunted places' of the cityspace, based on differing memories and symbolic appraisals. Thus, the interviews reveal the complexities of negotiating shared communal understandings of something as open for different readings as the cityscape. The paper juxtaposes these conflicting everyday perceptions of the built environment to calls for democratic participation and the notion of 'heritage community' as conceptualized in policy documents such as the Faro Convention.

Panel Heri03
Imperatives of participation in the heritage regime: statecraft, crisis, and creative alternatives (Cultural Heritage and Property Working Group)