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Urban heritage in Norwich

In March 2016, we went to Norwich, a small city in the east of England, to visit the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures. Warmly welcomed by the hosts: Dr. Simon Kaner and his colleagues,We had a great time there.

Norwich is a very peaceful small city. Its glorious history has left Norwich with a large amount of historical buildings. The churches that stand in every corner of the city indicate the supreme power of religion in the city hundreds years ago. The colorful houses along the streets are slightly different from each other, but arranged in order, showing a sense of uniformity.

Owing to the detailed introduction given by Dr. Sam Nixon, we were able to acquire a basic understanding about these heritage sites. I was impressed by how finely they were kept, as well as the creativity in the way they were being displayed, utilized and disseminated to the public.

In Norwich, some of the old buildings have been renovated to meet the social and economic needs, like the restaurant in the Cathedral and the antique store which used to be a church. Among many good cases there, the buildings of the Norwich University of Arts are impressive. The old traces, even some run-down parts are kept and fixed with modern materials like cement and glasses, making them distinct and unconventional. They are successful combinations of old and new. Compared to the condition in China, where old buildings routinely torn down to build modern but featureless architecture, the situation in Norwich is more desirable. Although sometimes renovation will be more expensive than building a new house, it is the good way to keep the style and image of the city and reduce the waste of resources.

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I also appreciate the people’s attitude toward these heritage sites. From the idea of Norwich 12, the related pamphlet and instruction board, I understand that Norwich HEART is a charitable company that promotes Norwich and Norfolk’s heritage, putting great effort into popularizing the value of them, not only to realize its educational value but also to attract tourists and produce economic value. The Norwich Lanes Association, which is a voluntary and community organization dedicated to preserving this area, indicates the local people’s spontaneous passion in preserving heritage.

These heritage sites play an important role in people’s daily life. We can never separate their life, and the heritage which surrounds them. In this city, these physical landmarks and people’s collective memories related to it co-build and enhance the identity of the city. As public spaces, these heritage sites are areas that all residents in the city are entitled to use, revealing the spirit of the city, the culture and people in a tangible and condensed way. They also endow the city with “legibility” (a key concept of Kevin Lynch’ s Image of the City, 1960, The MIT Press). This legibility gives the citizens the important sense of emotional security and the framework for communication. It makes local people stay and continues to attract outsiders.

Since I am doing research on the revitalization of the small and medium-sized city, I think I was very lucky to go to Norwich and get some insight into the preservation and utilization of heritage from it.

(L.M.)

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