Managing urban pressures in Luang Prabang

Le jan 01, 2012 dans la categorie Initiatives par Emmanuelle Robert | 0 Commentaire »

The World Heritage site of Luang Prabang, situated at the meeting of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers in northern Laos, is at an important crossroads in its history.

Sixteen years after its inclusion on the World Heritage list, and following an active policy of restoration, the town today faces numerous urban pressures, which threaten to undermine its integrity and values. The site’s growing prestige has fuelled an exponential growth in tourism over the past decade, especially among Asian travel-seekers. The resultant economic boom has however placed great strain on the relatively small town, which derives its value from its unique layout and the relationship between its urban and natural landscapes. Factors such as urban consolidation in the historic city centre, infrastructure development (including airport enlargement and railway projects) and urban encroachment on agricultural land, riverbanks and wetlands pose major risks to the site, leading the World Heritage Committee to express its concern.

French partners, whose early contributions to the site’s preservation and restoration predates the France-UNESCO Cooperation Agreement, continue to provide their support at this sensitive but crucial stage to ensure the area’s sustainable development. At the request of the Laotian government, a technical assistance mission was deployed in November 2011, comprising Yves Dauge, Michel Brodovitch, Cathy Savourey, Felipe Delmont and Aude Sivigny, and funded by the French Development Agency (AFD).

Increased urban density and the mild enforcement of building regulations threaten the site’s uniqueness . While the Luang Prabang Heritage Office (DPL) has handled the administration of building permits efficiently, the enforcement of the Heritage Protection and Development Plan (PSMV) has been increasingly lax. The replacement of regulatory “light” or temporary structures with permanent buildings, the extension of existing buildings into public property, and damage to the environment are but a few examples of slackening attitudes.

In order to preserve the integrity of the historical landscape and agricultural base, a revision of zoning rights has been initiated by the DPL and the urban planning department, with expert assistance. At the request of the World Heritage Committee, the idea of a buffer zone within the drainage basin has been advanced. New building regulations have been drawn up to prohibit construction on embankments, in natural areas, selected rice paddies and market gardens, and to harmonize the height of urban structures with the surrounding landscape.

The creation of a buffer zone forms part of wider considerations around the town’s development strategy . Two key principles have been set out: focus on developing two high-density zones (the historic city at the centre and the gateway city to the north of the alluvial plains), and promote traditional Laotian urban planning (in harmony with the natural environment and the river).

Efforts are under way to develop a targeted tourism strategy . The AFD and the town of Chinon (within its framework of decentralised cooperation with Luang Prabang province) have advocated the implementation of a sustainable tourism initiative, by promoting the site’s world heritage status, assisting in the implementation of a seasonal (tourism) tax, and training tourist guides (in conjunction with Luang Prabang/Souphanouvong University).

(translated from French by Wolf Draeger)