Few would disagree that art and architecture are indispensable aspects of the collective human experiences. But can there be “too much” of it? How much is “too much?” Could art and cultural heritage be a hindrance to progress, urbanization, and sustainability? Which art is worth saving? A growing question is how to balance and reconcile expanding urban needs with efforts to preserve cultural heritage. Many cities across the global face this fresh moral dilemma. Cities like Istanbul, Rome, and Cairo––heirs to great empires, with history and art cursing through every alley, are still modern-day metropolises, with ever-burgeoning populations and social needs. The demand for more transportation and development is competing against desires and abstract moral obligations to preserve cultural and artistic heritage, often in countries that are struggling financially. Building a city’s future will, inevitably it seems, destroy its past.
As cities expand and seek to accommodate their living populations while trying to accommodate the moral and legal obligation to preserve cultural heritage, the decision faced is often no longer “should we preserve this art” but “which ones should we preserve?” Often, the choice is difficult. Determining the proper metrics is even more difficult. The invariable need to grow and compete in the worldwide free market and an obligation to protect the past for the present and the future have come into legal contention in several countries, and this paper aims to explore national and international law regarding how artistic heritage is managed in an exponentially-modernizing world.
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