World Heritage: Notre-Dame and Yosemite

"Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations."

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

The recent fire at Notre-Dame in Paris drew worldwide attention, along with impressively swift commitments to restore the cathedral to its former glory. International interest comes as no surprise. After all, Paris is the most visited city in the world, and Notre-Dame is one of its most famous landmarks. The cathedral is also a spectacular example of gothic architecture, was the venue for Napoleon's coronation and once housed Quasimodo, history's most beloved hunchback.

For these and other reasons, Notre Dame is one of 1092 places designated by UNESCO as one of its "World Heritage" sites, which are defined as being "irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration."

Most World Heritage sites are designated "cultural". 209 are designated "natural". Twelve of the these are in the United States - all but one of which is part of our National park system.

 

 

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When we think of America's national parks, many of us immediately conjure images of Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon etc. Our national park system, however, includes a great many cultural and historic sites as well.

Yosemite National Park is a World Heritage site, and Restore Hetch Hetchy is committed to its restoration. It's hard not to be a little envious of the outpouring of sentiment for rebuilding Notre-Dame and the quick commitment of funds to make it happen.

Not everybody, however, believes rebuilding Notre-Dame is a priority. Some have said it should be the sole responsibility of the Catholic Church, while others note that the Church should in fact not be amassing wealth, but rather should distribute it among people in need, including so many of its own parishioners.

And, in reference to the Notre-Dame fire, the Costa Rica Times published, "The Earth Is Our Cathedral, and We’re Destroying It". Author Martin LeFevre expresses sympathy for the Notre-Dame fire but took the occasion to express greater concern for the world's environmental problems and cites Hetch Hetchy as a case in point while doing so

The Hetch Hetchy situation is wholly different from Notre-Dame. One site is natural, the other is cultural. Notre-Dame was damaged by an accidental (we think) fire; Hetch Hetchy was damaged by development for the City of San Francisco and sanctioned by the United States Congress.

 

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Muir, Hetch Hetchy and religion

"These temple-destroyers, devotees of ravaging commercialism, seem to have a perfect contempt for Nature, and instead of lifting their eyes to the God of the mountains, lift them to the Almighty Dollar. Dam Hetch Hetchy! As well dam for water-tanks the people's cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man."

 

We understand that not everyone supports restoration of Hetch Hetchy, just as not everyone cares about Notre-Dame.

Much of our opposition, however, is from those who worry where San Francisco would get its water or how much it might cost. And many of these folks, we believe, do not understand that water supply improvements are available - things that other California water agencies have successfully done in recent decades.

Restore Hetch Hetchy has long sought a real public discussion about these water system improvements. So far San Francisco has consistently declined to engage - something we plan to change.