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Advantages and Challenges in the Management and Conservation Works in Hoi An Ancient Town

The conservation of urban heritage is a unique activity with many levels, techniques and various stakeholders involved. When it’s placed in the context of sustainable urban development and climate change it becomes even more complex. Hoi An is a city in such a context.

Lying downstream of the Thu Bon River in the coastal plains of the Quang Nam Province, Vietnam, and about 30 km from Da Nang City in the south, Hoi An is an ancient town that was well-known as a thriving international commercial port and the meeting place of merchant ships from Japan, China, and the West in the 17th and 18th centuries. In the 19th century, due to the transportation in the Thu Bon River no longer being convenient, the Hoi An port town gradually recessed and gave up the important role as a commercial port to Da Nang when it was built by the French. Fortunately, Hoi An was not heavily affected by wars and avoided the massive urbanization in the late 20th century. In the early 1980s, scholars and tourists began to pay attention to Hoi An for its architectural and cultural values and made this place become one of the most attractive tourist destinations of Vietnam. Hoi An today is a special case of traditional port markets in Southeast Asia that was well preserved. During the trip to Vietnam from March 1st to March 7th, 2017, my classmete and I from the Cultural Resources Management Program of Kanazawa University had a two-day visit to the Hoi An ancient town to observe the ways of preserving and managing the heritage that was done by local authorities and residents in this area. On the first day, we had attended a lecture from Mr. Pham Phu Ngoc, a vice-director of the Hoi An Center for Cultural Heritage Management and Preservation. On the second day, we had personal time to observe how conservation works at Hoi An. During my stay there, I gained a considerable amount of knowledge about management and how conservation works in Hoi An. It may be divided into 2 points as follows:

First, the management and preservation of the cultural heritage system in Hoi An cityis assigned to the Hoi An Center for Cultural Heritage Management and Preservation. This center is directly under the City Committee of Hoi An. The main function of the center is to directly manage all risks of the conservation works; organize research activities, collect the documents, conduct preservation activities and traditional architecture restorations, directly advise to the City Committee on licensing and supervising the renovation of the monuments in the Old Quarter, and display exhibitions to introduce and promote the values of the cultural heritage. TheHoi Anancient townhas always cooperated withUNESCO, in conjunction withexperts and scientists from domestic and international universities and research institutes to preserve and promote the values of many aspects of the architectural works. Many member-staffs of the center have learning experience and got trained both long-term and short-term abroad. In particular, the center also received volunteers from the DED (Germany) and the JICA (Japan) to work in Hoi An. These are the advantages of management and conservation in Hoi An.

Secondly, there are also challenges of management and conservation works in Hoi An. Along with the urbanization process, the growth of population, as well as the number of tourists, Hoi An is facing many risks in the preservation of heritage. Through observation, I found that most of the old houses on the roads with a large number of tourists in Hoi An are used as souvenir shops. According to the statistics of the Hoi An Center for Cultural Heritage Management and Preservation, 90.3% of the houses are used for tourists, such as hotels, motels, restaurants, souvenir shops etc. 35.1% of those houses were rented by nonlocal people for business, and nearly 64% of the tenants did not have relationships with the old town. Thus, wecan see the phenomenon of originalresidents moving out and renting their old houses to serve tourism and earn income from tourism. This is a situation that does not support the real picture of a living heritage. In addition, the preservation of this legacy has encountered many difficulties and often faces the degradation of old houses. The material used to make houses in Hoi An was wood and the houses were built before the 19th century. Also, due to the naturally harsh conditions of the region, such as hot and rainy weather, and the annual flooding in particular, caused many houses to be severely damaged and in danger of collapsing at any time. Not only that but the funding to restore these buildings is a major problem for the government and local people. To rebuild a structure in accordance with the current regulations on heritage preservation, the funding is often 3 to 4 times higher than building a new house. To create traditional materials used for the restoration work is also difficult. Currently, bricks and tiles that are produced locally are not good enough in terms of both quality and size of the material. The type of wood that was used to build houses in Hoi An is called "Kien Kien". This type of wood is very scarce and very rarely found elsewhere other than in the Quang Nam province. Moreover, the management team of the restoration work and the technical staff do not have enough experience or expertise. The pressure on the tourism development also directly impacts the conservation work. On the other hand, tourism development has brought significant revenue for Residentsand improved livelihoods for local people. However, a large number of tourists have led to an overloaded infrastructure. These are major challenges for conservation work in Hoi An as well as local authorities and related management which has to be faced in the present and the future. (NHN)