How to Facilitate Rehabilitation of Historical Buildings in Asmara?
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Eritrea was an Italian colony from 1890 to 1941, and was since annexed by Ethiopia in 1956. Eritrea gained their freedom in 1991, after a nearly thirty year long war for independence, and is now one of the poorest countries in the world. The political situation with Ethiopia remains unresolved. During the Italian hegemony, the Eritrean capital Asmara grew to become Africa’s most modern city, peaking in the late 1930s with over 60,000 Italian inhabitants. New architectural styles emerged in the early 20th century, when Asmara was built, and Asmara has one of the highest concentrations of modernist buildings anywhere in the world. Because of the instability in Eritrea since the 1940s, there has been little development in Eritrea since the Italian period, and the urban environment in Asmara is virtually untouched. Due to neglected maintenance, the historical city of Asmara is in dire need of rehabilitation. The government of Eritrea has recognized Asmara’s unique urban qualities, and conservation and rehabilitation of the historic city is an explicit goal. It is wished to keep this part of the city a functioning and active part of Asmara, not conserving it to be a museum area. A project was initiated in the late 1990s working towards conservation (the Cultural Asset and Rehabilitation Project, CARP), which has resulted in a formal delineation of a historical perimeter in Asmara, mapping and categorization of historical buildings, and a temporary building prohibition among other things. This project is now terminated, and the rehabilitation of the historical city is frozen, awaiting completion of long anticipated building regulations and guidelines for the rehabilitation. Asmara also faces many other challenges. Many people live under poor conditions in informal housing areas, and there are needs for further housing, water supply and infrastructure, due to a growing population and an expanding city. The perspective of this thesis is How to facilitate the rehabilitation of historical buildings in Asmara? This paper looks at possibilities for facilitating the rehabilitation through mobilizing private and external funds, relieving the government from the economic strain. This is presented through the proposal of various schemes. The ideology followed is that rehabilitation does not have to be done in a big fix, but can be an incremental process. Enabling smaller repairs will gradually improve the buildings, and perhaps more importantly, will remove some sources of damage that are causing further deterioration, e.g. leakages etc. The historic rehabilitation cannot be seen out of context with the greater challenges of the city. The larger planning challenges are sought combined with the rehabilitation work, through measures such as implementation of rainwater harvesting tanks, groundwater utilization and stimulation of commercial activity, especially related to tourism. Rehabilitation of the HP also has various socio-economic benefits, such as providing jobs (more than new construction), preventing urban sprawl, reusing infrastructure and through having a catalytic effect for further investment. The main proposals towards facilitating the rehabilitation are recapitulated below. These suggestions are not embellished to a detail-level, but are meant suggestions to be considered further.Inscription on the World Heritage List Inscription gives access to certain resources provided by UNESCO, which includes conservation consultancy and assistance. Inscription also creates publicity, which can strengthen Asmara as a tourist destination and also makes Asmara more probable to receive potential funding and assistance from various foundations and NGOs.Micro-finance for repairs and rehabilitation within the historical perimeter This proposal is inspired by the rehabilitation of the old city of Aleppo, Syria, which has implemented such a program to enable private building owners to contribute in the rehabilitation.Tax incentivesMany western countries have tax benefits as their main stimulant for historic rehabilitation. VAT and property tax reduction and income tax benefits are proposed, inspired by western models.Offering technical assistance to private owners The application process can be a hindrance for non-professionals, and simplifying this process and offering technical advice would lower the threshold for undertaking rehabilitation projects for private owners.Custodial Assignments with foreign organizations under the requirement of rehabilitation Applies for selected public buildings. When the rehabilitation is recouped, the organization is expected to pay rent.Utilizing NGOs Different international NGOs can provide assistance through training and education, consultancy and financial aid. Such opportunities should be sought after.These proposals have a long time frame, and results will not be immediate. It is hard to assess the impact of these proposals at this stage. However, similar schemes are implemented in other countries with success, e.g. the micro-finance scheme in Aleppo. Any measure towards rehabilitating the historical perimeter of Asmara must be a long-term commitment, and political support is crucial. There is competence available through NGOs, UNESCO and the African World Heritage Fund (AWHF), that should be utilized in this process. Interviews conducted with several commercial tenants in the historical perimeter revealed a will to contribute in the rehabilitation, which shows promise, and can indicate that a micro-finance scheme could be well received in Asmara. Further work related to this thesis would involve feasibility studies, including financial and technical analyses of the various proposals.The main challenge, also in regard to the historical rehabilitation, is the international perception of Eritrea and the unresolved border dispute with Ethiopia. Tourism is argued for as a potential future industry for Eritrea, and Asmara undoubtedly has potential of attracting many visitors. Investments in tourism and tourist infrastructure may be in vain, if there are other barriers that are preventing the tourists from coming.