By Ashley Chappo, Columnist on April 29, 2011 (University of Virginia)
COLLEGE years pass us by quickly. No one knows this better than the graduating Class of 2011. Therefore, as we enjoy our remaining days here, we should take time to reflect on the qualities that make the University truly distinct.
One is the University’s designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Our University, along with Jefferson’s Monticello, shares a place among the world’s most remarkable and valuable treasures, including the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Barrier Reef and the Grand Canyon.
In the United States, there are 21 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 17 of which are national parks. The University is the only college in the nation that enjoys the rare honor of World Heritage status. It became a World Heritage site in 1987 thanks to the efforts of the National Park Service.
As University students, we are privileged to live within the shadow of history. Every day for four years, we are able to walk beneath the marble columns of one of our nation’s most important cultural landmarks. Its architectural and educational designs embody the ideals of the American republic and emphasize a spirit of democracy, only achievable by one of the world’s principal constitutional experimenters.
Jefferson’s Academical Village was a revolutionary educational plan — its 10 pavilions “serve as an encyclopaedia of classical and neoclassical architectural designs” and its Rotunda stands as a “half-scale copy of the Pantheon in Rome.” United beneath the colonnades, we all learn within one of our nation’s most beautiful and enthralling landmarks.
As residents of Charlottesville and University students, we are subjects to an extraordinary heritage. We owe our thanks to those who preserve and maintain this national legacy. Before we leave the University, we should take advantage of the history around us and the cultural heritage to which we are heirs. We should learn what our status as a “World Heritage site” means, and why it is important.
The United States always has stood at the front of the conservation and preservation movements. Yellowstone became the world’s first national park in 1872, sparking a national park idea that would forever change the world. The idea of a nationally administered public land was a new concept; it had significant implications for the modern conservation movement. A national park was at its core democratic — all individuals of a nation would share in the collective treasures of their environment.
Not surprisingly, a movement also emerged to establish the national park idea at an international level. In 1965, the idea of a “World Heritage Trust” was put forward during a White House Conference. The purpose of this trust would be to look after and preserve “the world’s superb natural and scenic areas and historic sites for the present and the future of the entire world citizenry.”
In 1972, the World Heritage Convention — also known as the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage — was adopted by UNESCO. UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. In accordance with the World Heritage Convention, preservation and conservation became not only national, but international interests. The Convention maintained a two part goal: the conservation of nature and the preservation of culture.
Of the 911 World Heritage sites, 704 are designated as cultural, 180 as natural and 27 as mixed properties. All potential new World Heritage sites are recommended by member nations of the World Heritage Convention. Each member state may voluntarily nominate its own national sites to be selected based on a strict set of criteria.
In Charlottesville, we are lucky to live close to two other historic sites, which currently sit on the Tentative List to be considered for UNESCO World Heritage site status — Jefferson’s Poplar Forest and the Virginia State Capitol Building in Richmond. Along with our own university and Jefferson’s Monticello, these sites encompass our most precious cultural heritage.
To be accepted onto the World Heritage List, a site must be of “outstanding universal value” and “meet at least one out of ten selection criteria.” All nominations of new American sites are overseen by the Secretary of the Interior. To be considered, a site already must be designated a federal property, a national historic landmark or a national natural landmark. Nominations then are assessed by a smaller, elected body of 21 member nations, known as the World Heritage Committee. The committee selects new World Heritage Sites and through the World Heritage Fund provides assistance, guidance and training to member nations.
Once a new site is designated, direct authority remains in the hands of the member nation to continue to protect and preserve the property. Most sites are maintained either by the national, state or local government, or by a tribal or private authority. In the United States, the majority of our World Heritage Sites are managed and maintained by the National Park Service.
Today, the University maintains a deep connection with the National Park Service and the UNESCO World Heritage Convention. We should understand this connection — it can teach us a lot about the importance of conservation and preservation in the modern age. We are truly lucky to attend the University, and we must remember that we gain our education not only in the classroom, but also in our presence among the colonnades.
Ashley Chappo’s column usually appeared Wednesdays in The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.