April 15, 2010

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SINGAPORE - Cambodia has Angkor Wat, Malaysia boasts the town of Malacca
as one and the Great Wall of China is one of the best well known - so
why can't Singapore have a world heritage site too?

According to a tender that closes today, the Government is on the search
for possible United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organisation (Unesco) World Heritage Sites. It is looking to engage a
contractor to undertake "a comprehensive study to assess the feasibility
of selected heritage sites ... as possible World Heritage Sites and to
recommend a suitable tentative list".

There are 890 sites around the world, but Singapore has none.
Neighbouring countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia have
three, five and seven sites, respectively.

Ministry of Communication, Information and the Arts (Mica) deputy
secretary Sim Gim Guan said the study is aimed at exploring whether
Singapore has potential sites and if there were benefits of nominating
one for listing. If feasible, this would help develop a process for
nomination, evaluation and selection of suitable cultural landmarks and
districts of historical significance for a listing.

"The entire nomination process is rigorous, and we envisage the entire
process, should we proceed, will take three to five years, based on the
experience of some countries that have succeeded in World Heritage Site
listing," said Mr Sim.

The move has been lauded by observers and conservation advocates who in
turn, have suggested the Singapore Botanic Gardens (picture) - founded
in 1859 - as the sole candidate that would meet Unesco's criteria.

The Botanic Gardens has strong connections with the history of global
colonial economy in the past, given its links to Britain's Kew Gardens,
said Associate Professor Johannes Widodo, a jury member of the Unesco
Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Culture Heritage Conservation. "In
addition, the Gardens have very important ecological value at present
and in the future, not just for Singapore but also globally."

Singapore Heritage Society president Kevin Tan said that if the Gardens
succeeded in being listed, perceptions of Singapore "being a very young
city with no history and large green spaces, a bit of a concrete
jungle," will change. Listing it "will showcase a very significant jewel
in our midst".

But observers warned that the benefits of having a site need to be
balanced against potential pitfalls, such as a surge in mass tourism,
over-commercialisat ion, and erosion of dignity. Mr Tan Wee Cheng, who
has visited 247 sites worldwide, launched a Facebook group to canvass
support and raise awareness. Such pitfalls can be avoided with careful
planning, and it is important "not to be overly ambitious," he said.

For the study, Mica requires that the contractor identify potential
threats and evaluate the implications of future re-development plans
within and in proximity to the heritage sites.

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On the World Heritage List are 689 cultural, 176 natural and 25 mixed
properties. Sites must be of "outstanding universal value" and meet at
least one of the 10 selection criteria, which include:

- To represent a masterpiece of human creative genius

- To exhibit an important interchange of human values on developments in
architecture or technology, monumental arts, town planning or landscape

- To bear exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or civilisation

- To contain the most significant natural habitats for the conservation
of biological diversity at its original site

The sites' authenticity and integrity, and how they are protected and
managed, will also be considered by committee, according to its website.

Are there places in Singapore you think should become a World Heritage
? Write to voices@mediacorp.