After losing out to Coventry in the contest to become UK City of Culture 2021, Swansea City Council were understandably devastated but a light has appeared at the end of the tunnel from an unexpected source. The city’s ever-changing road layout has made it onto the UNESCO World Heritage List as a cultural site. The surprise ruling comes in the wake of the recent announcement of a scheme to ensure the road works in the city centre never achieve completion.
The scheme qualifies for the list under the first three selection criteria. In order to make the list a site needs:
(i) to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius;
The never-ending roadworks concept has been deemed to be a work of counter-intuitive genius by a panel of conceptual artists including Damien Hirst, Damien Hirst’s neighbour, (who became a conceptual artist when Damien Hirst said he was) and Marcel Duchamp, who said he would still be an artist after he was dead, so he is.
(ii) to exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design;
Town-planning obviously. The interchange of human values over a span of time is demonstrated by the fact that until the concept of never-ending road works was developed people used to think roads were for cars to drive on in order for them to go from one place to another.
(iii) to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared;
The unique stature of roadworks as an end in themselves is a cultural tradition which exists only in Swansea and which UNESCO has deemed in need of preservation.
Being on the list gives Swansea access to the UNESCO World Heritage Fund which provides about US$4 million annually to support activities requested by States Parties in need of international assistance. It includes compulsory and voluntary contributions from the States Parties, as well as from private donations. This funding should enable Swansea City Council to continue road works well into the next century and beyond, making it a tourist Mecca. The cash injection should also enable it to expand the roadworks outside the city centre, possibly as far as the M4.