Historic preservation and cultural heritage
Preserving culturally and scientifically important resources has always been an issue of global importance. When the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was created in 1945, part of its mission was to develop intercultural understanding through the preservation of culturally and historically significant sites. To date, UNESCO has designated 1,031 properties as World Heritage sites including sites such as Grand Canyon National Park, the Statue of Liberty, Machu Picchu, and Stonehenge.
In 2015, the San Antonio Missions were added to the list of 802 UNESCO World Heritage Cultural sites. This is a tremendous achievement for our community. It is the result of over nine years of coordinated effort and we should be proud of this great honor and distinction.
The Missions (see details on page 15.11) are recognized based on their cultural importance (Cultural Criteria ii) and outstanding universal value to the world. They demonstrate an interweaving of Spanish, Coahuiltecan and other indigenous peoples in the San Antonio River Basin area. They also demonstrate such characteristics as the integration of indigenous natural art with decorative elements of the Catholic Church and provide post-secularization evidence and a shared value system that transcends the church’s rule.
Our community takes very seriously the protection of these sites and our mission to address appropriate development around the Missions to preserve their character and enhance their economic prosperity. In 2013, Bexar County commissioned a study of the economic impacts of World Heritage designation for the San Antonio Missions, concluding that the designation would result in a range of 11 to 26% higher economic impacts. The City and its partners must make continued investments with these goals in mind. The recognition of the Missions as a UNESCO World Heritage site, while culturally significant for our area, does present challenges and long term maintenance requirements. These challenges and requirements affect multiple parties involved in management of the Missions including the City, State of Texas (owns the Alamo property), the Archdiocese of San Antonio (owns and operates the 4 remaining missions) and the US National Park Service (manages all property within the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park). These entities must work together to continually update management plans for the Missions, set up and maintain an accurate reporting system on the state of conservation, and work to increase the public’s awareness of the Missions and the greater conservation effort. The established coordinating committee will continue to implement and strengthen its work plan for the Missions, addressing issues such as land use, infrastructure and marketing.
The long-term sustainability of the San Antonio Missions is an issue of cultural importance not only for San Antonio but for the world. The City will continue to work with both the community and the Missions to create a sense of shared responsibility and pride thereby ensuring future support and sustainability of the various sites. Additionally, continued discussions and partnerships between the US National Park Service, the Archdiocese of San Antonio, the State of Texas and other local and regional organizations is critical to maintaining the Missions and attracting and educating the one million plus visitors to the Missions annually.