Smart Heritage: Teaching an old city new tricks

Thu, 2018-04-05 09:35 -- David Batchelor

Image courtesy of David Hallett

Smart Heritage proves that you can teach old cities new tricks, however, its potential has yet to be realized in policy and practice.

Nested within the smart cities movement, Smart Heritage uses technology to enhance the protection, conservation, and experience of cultural and historical resources. It shares the objectives of the smart cities movement of increasing connectedness, resource and time efficiencies, and liveability.

However, it applies these objectives to cultural and historical objects, buildings, and places which translates to increasing engagement with, improving access to, and enriching people’s lives through cultural and historical resources and experiences.

For cities and the communities within them, Smart Heritage is beneficial as it enables for increased value to be gained from heritage and cultural assets. Smart technology is enabling cultural and historical identities to be further examined, understood, and promoted, which in turn, improves their significance and justification for their ongoing protection and engagement. It has potential to reimagine how heritage and culture is used within our cities by creating new forms and audiences for heritage values.

How Smart Heritage works
Communities are using Smart Heritage to promote their past through new mediums. Smart technology such as virtual and augmented reality, interactive features in urban spaces, and accessible databases; enables storytelling which is not restricted by physicality as a person does not have to be in the asset's location or shown physical objects, buildings, or people. Through Smart Heritage technology people can experience and connect with culture and places without these traditional restrictions. This is especially useful for communities and places that lack or have lost physical heritage fabric such as populations, objects, buildings, and monuments.

Augmented reality is used in Christchurch, New Zealand to retell the stories of the Victorian and Edwardian High Street precinct which lost a significant portion of its buildings during the 2010 and 2011 Canterbury Earthquakes. High Street Stories is an app which virtually recreates the buildings and uses them as prompts for stories about the people and events of the area, such as its bustling trade, murder mysteries, and nightlife. Other examples include the digitization of museum inventory. Online experiences of museums are capturing new audiences and revenues with both free and subscription-restricted databases and collections.

This is a growing market as a 2015 article by Qui, Li, and Sun showed that seven of the top ten museums in the United States of America experienced more online visitors than physical visitors. Digital museums provide convenient and efficient access to culture and heritage which can entice more casual users to engage due to the lower time and financial cost of the experience.

Smart Heritage is also improving how urban professionals, planners, architects, and engineers manage cultural and heritage assets. Technology such as 3D scanning and crowd sensors at popular sites provides unobtrusive methods to measure, document, and monitor sites and their degradation over time. For urban professionals, this improves their engagement with heritage sites as the tangible and objective data enhances their own understandings of the site’s value and dynamics. Through this better understanding can come greater sympathetic heritage management for these assets. In 2017, scanning methods discovered new internal structures in the Great Pyramid of Giza, resulting in improved conservation methods and increasing the site’s historic value and intrigue. 3D scanning can also help in the re-materialization of sites which have been lost or damaged by mass tourism, weathering, and iconoclastic acts.