NEWS BEAT: Global threats to a ”monumental” city

It turns out New Orleans and Iraq have more in common than just the prevalence of Army National Guard Humvees cruising their streets. The storm-ravaged city and the war-ravaged Middle Eastern country now share high profile billing on a list of the world’s most endangered sites compiled by the World Monuments Fund (WMF).

Every two years, the WMF, a New York-based nonprofit preservation and advocacy group, issues its World Monuments Watch List, which it describes as a call to action for buildings, neighborhoods and other heritage sites threatened by political conflict or unchecked development. For the first time, this year’s list also includes sites put in peril by global climate change.

“On this list, man is indeed the real enemy,” says WMF president Bonnie Burnham. “But, just as we caused the damage in the first place, we have the power to repair it, by taking our responsibility as caretakers of the world’s cultural heritage seriously.”
While Iraq made the group’s list for the ongoing war there and the destruction combatants have dealt to some of the world’s oldest cultural sites, New Orleans achieved its dubious spot for the risk that climate change presents to its future. Many forecasters say the Gulf Coast region can expect more intense tropical storms if global warming conditions persist, while coastal erosion has left the city and its historic neighborhoods more susceptible to storm surges and flooding. New Orleans was lauded by the WMF as “one of the most intact historic cities in the U.S.,” and the group says it hopes inclusion on its global list will both call attention to the threats the city faces and recognize the efforts of the people working to protect the community.

Among other sites supposedly threatened by global climate change are historic whaling towns in coastal Canada, cities in Bangladesh and India and the Chinguetti Mosque in Mauritania.

The prospects for New Orleans and threats to the city’s cultural assets post-Katrina have proved a rallying point for other prominent organizations. Last year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the country’s largest private, nonprofit preservation organization, collectively placed the historic neighborhoods of New Orleans on its own list of the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. However, the Trust has also praised New Orleans for promoting heritage tourism – travel and economic development based on historic assets and cultural traditions – included the city on its 2007 list of America’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations. – I.M.

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