Chair on Heritage Futures

Embracing Change


I presented a keynote lecture entitled “Embracing Change: Cultural Heritage and Regeneration” for the 2024 International Forum on Cultural Heritage: Sustainability and Resilience hosted by the Asian Network of Industrial Heritage in Taiwan.

The event was part of the 2024 International Day of Monuments and Sites on 18 April, this year dedicated to the theme “Disasters and Conflicts through the Lens of the Venice Charter”. The forum aimed to explore sustainable practices and the resilience and adaptability of cultural heritage in the face of contemporary challenges.

The audience comprised 55 participants on site and additional 70 participating online via Facebook on Youtube.

My talk in the session on Sustainability and Futures focused on the following issues:

“Disasters and conflicts are the outcome of societal failures to take sufficient precautions, respond adequately to emerging events, or behave appropriately peacefully towards each other. Their impact is perceived as worse if acceptance of change is low. I argue that all this can be improved by an updated perception of (world) cultural heritage that is based on concepts of renewal and regeneration rather than conservation and restoration, as it is, for example, still advocated in the 1964 Venice Charter. Narratives of change over time, exemplified by ever-changing cultural heritage, are likely able to improve resilience and preparedness for transformations in future societies. They can also facilitate a new more pan-human or indeed post-human understanding of our shared world. As Tim Ingold (2024) wrote recently, cultural heritage should not be seen as an inheritance to be transmitted from one generation to the next but as a living and perduring process of continuous renewal generating social life under varying circumstances over time.“

Ever-living trees


Coastal sequoias represent a particular variety of long-term thinking. These redwood trees are not only very tall (100+ m) but also very long-living (up to 2,000+ years). 

The Humboldt Redwoods California State Park is the largest expanse of ancient redwoods left on Earth. They inspire throughout the park to a variety of references to the distant past and future: 

  • “Time immemorial”
  • “Ambassadors from another time”, (…) “can you imagine dinosaurs rubbing elbows against the ancient redwoods’ ancestors?”
  • “Relics of the Past”, “In a sense, this redwood forest is a window to the past—a place to glimpse a distant world that existed long ago.”
  • “These towering survivors will grace this land for centuries to come”
  • The Park “protects a story that will continue unfolding far into the future!”
  • “The enduring splendor of these magnificent trees”
  • “When you walk among the redwoods, time seems to stand still. Like our own lives, though, this forest is constant changing.”
  • “Redwoods,  now and forever”; “in memory of Travis Brian Percival. My forever love”
  • “The redwoods, once seen, create a vision that stays with you always…”
  • “Immortal tree”
  • “Eternal”, “ever-living” [the trees’ botanical name is Sequoia sempervirens]

Having said all that, it is intriguing that each redwood’s enormous weight rests on the external layers of the trunk. Their inner core decays first, and they have rather shallow and thin roots. — Is this nature’s inspiration for sustainability and long-term futures??

Long Now at Long Last


Last night, I finally visited The Interval – home of The Long Now Foundation in San Francisco. A wonderful location and initiative, promoting long-term thinking since 01996:

The Interval is a bar, café, museum, and the home of The Long Now Foundation. Featuring a floor-to-ceiling library of the books you might need to rebuild civilization, mechanical prototypes for a clock meant to last for 10,000 years, art that continually evolves in real time, and a time-inspired menu of artisan drinks.

The ‘long now’ and futures-thinking are as worth promoting today as they were back in 2006, when Michael Chabon wrote for Details:

I don’t know what happened to the Future. It’s as if we lost our ability, or our will, to envision anything beyond the next hundred years or so, as if we lacked the fundamental faith that there will in fact be any future at all beyond that not-too-distant date. Or maybe we stopped talking about the Future around the time that, with its microchips and its twenty-four-hour news cycles, it arrived. […] The Future was represented so often and for so long, in the terms and characteristic styles of so many historical periods from, say, Jules Verne forward, that at some point the idea of the Future—along with the cultural appetite for it—came itself to feel like something historical, outmoded, no longer viable or attainable.

On my visit to The Interval, I also noted two things that I had not previously thought about regarding the work of The Long Now Foundation.

  • Firstly, its thinking is most prominently focussed on technology rather than, say, social or cultural issues. But is the long-term future really a question that is best advanced by technological innovations like the Foundations famous “Clock of the Long Now”?
  • Secondly, while they certainly champion long-term thinking in terms of millennia rather than decades, they developed this thinking before the emergence of the concept of “futures literacy” at UNESCO. The latter emphasizes the skills of becoming aware of your assumptions of the future and of imagining multiple alternative futures.

I can’t help wondering about the future of the Long Now Foundation. In other words, how LONG is it until its focus is going to be adapted to one or more new futures?