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100 Most Endangered Sites

The 2008 Watch List from the World Monuments Fund includes endangered cultural and historical sites in 59 countries.


The United States tops the World Monuments Fund's (WMF) 2008 list of 100 most endangered sites with seven locations, followed by Peru and Turkey with six each and Mexico and Italy with four each. Founded in 1965, the New York City-based WMF launched the Watch List in 1995. It is published every two years as a call to action, drawing attention to the threatened cultural sites so they can be preserved for future generations.

The 2008 list shows that human activity has become the greatest threat to the world's cultural heritage. Pollution, tourism, the rapid growth of cities and suburbs, political discord and armed conflict are destroying buildings and communities and endangering the world's cultural sites. In addition, the destructive effects of global climate change have become even more apparent in the past two years, prompting the WMF to note this category in its 2008 report.

"The World Monuments Watch List is our best indicator of the pressures that face the field of heritage preservation," said WMF president Bonnie Burnham at a presentation announcing the 2008 report. "On this list, man is indeed the real enemy. But, just as we caused the damage in the first place, we have the power to repair it."

Global climate change is seen as a particular threat to historical sites as the world becomes more crowded and industrialized. In the U.S., New Orleans is one of the 2008 sites affected by climate change. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina pummeled the city, creating the largest natural disaster in the history of this country. More than 80 percent of the city was flooded when the levees broke, displacing as many as 450,000 residents. Following the storm, New Orleans and the Gulf Coast were added to the 2006 Watch List as the 101st site.

Other areas cited as threatened by global warming include Leh Old Town in Ladakh, India, Scott's Hut in Antarctica, Herschel Island in Canada, Sonargaon-Panam City in Bangladesh and the Chinguetti Mosque in Mauritania.

Conflict has also been a major factor in the destruction of historic sites. The new WMF list notes that the ongoing conflict in Iraq has led to catastrophic loss in some of the world's oldest and most important sites. Known as the cradle of civilization, the country is home to more than 10,000 cultural heritage sites, ranging from the 5,500-year-old cities of Sumer to archaeological remains, Ottoman palaces and public buildings. Many have suffered as a result of the conflict and widespread looting.

Economic and developmental pressures are also leading to the destruction of many historic places. The 2008 Watch List includes a number of historic cities, such as St. Petersburg in Russia and Tara Hill in Ireland, that are affected adversely by growth. The proposed Gazprom skyscraper would dramatically change the historic skyline in St. Petersburg, according to the WMF, a city that is often called the "Venice of the North." If built, the new tower would ruin the low skyline and integrity of the city and could set a precedent of putting inappropriate towers in historic areas.

In Ireland, not far from Dublin, Tara Hill is the center of a large archaeological landscape with hundreds of significant sites. Because of a booming economy and development, it is threatened by a proposed highway that would destroy historic material, while the noise and pollution would forever change the landscape.

Citing threats to modern buildings, the WMF has placed a number of U.S. sites on the 2008 list. For example, it notes that the post-World War II civic buildings found in many American cities are threatened either by demolition or inappropriate renovations. A number of specific buildings were noted, namely Paul Rudolph's 1957 Riverview High School in Sarasota, FL, and Marcel Breuer's 1953 Grosse Pointe Public Library in Grosse Pointe Farms, MI.

Also threatened is the Florida Southern campus in Lakeland, FL, which has the largest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in the world. He specified that these were to be built using a technique he developed and called textile-block technology. Water damage and deferred maintenance have taken their toll on these buildings.

In Queens, NY, a remnant from the 1964 World's Fair, the Philip Johnson/Richard Foster New York State Pavilion complex, is now in danger of collapsing. It consists of an open-air elliptical structure called the Tent of Tomorrow, a theater in the round and three towers topped with circular platforms. A suspended roof of translucent, colored plastic panels tops the "tent" and large works by artists such as Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg appear on the exterior of the theater. On the West Coast, the 1959 Salk Institute in La Jolla, CA, considered one of Louis Kahn's greatest buildings, is threatened by a proposal for new construction that would block the courtyard view. The courtyard is one of the most significant features of the property.

And those thinking of taking a sentimental journey on the famous Route 66, a symbolic image of American culture, might want to hurry. The road, along with its motels, gas stations, cafes and trading posts, is threatened by decay and development in urban areas.

Burnham noted that sites that appear on the WMF's 100 Most Endangered lists often receive some sort of aid. "The Watch really does work," she said. "It calls attention to the projects." She pointed out that the WMF has given more than 500 grants to 214 Watch sites in 74 counties, totaling $47 million, and these funds have leveraged more than $124 million from other sources. Of the more than 450 sites that have appeared on the Watch List since 1996, 75 percent have been saved or are now out of danger.  



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