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What the ashes of Notre Dame can tell us

The fire at Notre Dame Cathedral on 15th April 2019 was an unfortunate event. Many people around the world watched helplessly as flames ravaged the beloved and famed tourist attraction. Before fire fighters were able to control it, the fire destroyed the cathedral and many priceless historic artefacts.

In addition to being a sad incident, the destruction of Notre Dame serves as a warning. When seen in light of the cathedral’s pull with tourism in Paris, the need for constant care and attention seems like a rather obvious decision. However, many cultural icons are often neglected in the form of regular, planned maintenance. Notre Dame is unfortunately just one example; much damage is caused through major renovation works to historic buildings and icons all over Europe, Scotland and England1.

Statistics show that tourism in Paris is a huge industry, amounting to 7% of their Gross Domestic Product2. Notre Dame itself topped the list of most visitor numbers in Paris in the years 2017 and 20183. It is therefore easy to see how cultural heritage buildings, such as Notre Dame, ought to be assured regular maintenance as a long-term investment to the economy of a city.

The problem, however, lies with viewing maintenance as high-cost. Contemporarily, particularly since the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, budgets are kept trimmed and austere. But such tight budgets mean that when restorations to historical and cultural icons are required, they are either put on hold or done on the cheap, leading to disastrous results.

A lack of small, continual maintenance holds a far greater cost, with wide-reaching ramifications. Planned and regular maintenance to heritage buildings delivers risk-mitigation in minimising potential for future harm, injuries to maintenance workers, and financials.

This comes as no surprise to those within asset management quarters. There is a deep richness to protecting our cultural heritage in terms of asset management. As Notre Dame has demonstrated, such icons bring economic growth as well as a tangible sense of history coming alive through them. It is a shared responsibility between governments, businesses and citizens to ensure that history stays alive for future generations.

A shared history has shared benefits.

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