Although most of us rarely consider that architecture, the physical environment, social cohesion and economic performance are intrinsically linked, they are. Buildings can represent success, dominance, cultural longevity or deprivation, neglect and failure. Successful cities offer a unique vibrancy and project a view of the city to the inhabitants and outside world alike.
Long term economic success (as opposed to a medium term oil rush) and cultural development in Basra rests not only on the development of the oil fields but on many other factors. In my recent article on infrastructure (Infrastructure Review) I discussed the need for the provision of basic services such as electricity, water and sewage treatment and healthcare, these are the fundamental building blocks for any successful participatory society. Diversification of the local economy, high standards in educational provision and cultural and leisure services are the type of attributes that are part of the intricate and complex fabric of successful cities and cultural tourist destinations.
The relationship between these factors is something that needs careful and co-ordinated consideration as Iraq slowly rebuilds its cities and towns. The heritage department, tourism and cultural department, the ministry of planning and the individual ministries involved in each project need to develop a constructive dialogue.
Whether Basra intends to reassert its standing as a destination regionally, nationally or internationally, its development of cultural and architectural assets will be key to this ambition. This project has huge potential but much thought still needs to be given to aspects other than the physical renovation of the building. The Museum could potentially be at the heart of Basra’s cultural renaissance and I am therefore delighted to see the continuation of British involvement in this potentially positive manner.
However, any cultural project in Iraq must consider local engagement and its contribution to sustainable economic development. Britain has wealth of knowledge in this field and as recent experiments have shown museums that fail to do this can easily end up as costly warehouses. Cultural projects are an essential part of recognising Iraq’s majestic history and preserving it for future generations, I hope that this project will play a key role in this process.