Role of community in heritage conservation

Duo recount experience of preserving past in Pondicherry and Chandernagore

By Our Special Correspondent in Calcutta
  • Published 30.05.18
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Raphael Gastebois explains a point as Aishwarya Tipnis listens at the Alliance Francaise du Bengale on Tuesday. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta

Calcutta: An expert in urban development and a conservation architect, one working in Chandernagore and another in Pondicherry, spoke of the importance of community in heritage conservation in the context of the two former French colonies at the Alliance Francaise du Bengale on Tuesday.

While a top-down approach is being taken in Pondicherry, selected as one of the 100 cities in the government's urban renewal and retrofitting project called Smart Cities Mission, in Chandernagore it is a bottoms-up effort to mobilise the community to take ownership of the town's rich but neglected heritage.

Raphael Gastebois, who has been appointed by the French government to help with the Smart Cities project in Pondicherry, drew a parallel between the Indian initiative and the renovation of Paris undertaken by Georges Haussman in the reign of Napoleon III. "His brief was to transform the city without destroying it," Gastebois said.

The initial approach taken in Pondicherry was flawed as it was "too dependent on smartphones, which 10 per cent residents had".

"Usage can be a strategic point of development. A pier jutting into the Bay of Bengal where visitors earlier disembarked is no longer there. Still tourists start exploring the city from where the pier used to be on the Strand. So our proposal has to address what to do with their cars as there is no parking lot in the area," Gastebois explained.

Conservation architect Aishwarya Tipnis traced her eight years of work in Chandernagore starting from the time she walked door to door with six students to prepare a list of heritage buildings in the town to the House of Moon project which she anchored during the French festival, Bonjour India earlier this year. "Heritage is not just about old buildings. It is about people who live. The point is to give them a chance to be part of a project involving the city's future," she said.