BEING designated a World Heritage Site would cement York’s place as a city of worldwide significance, an expert on the city’s history says.
Former city archaeologist John Oxley says York has a ‘narrative of development’ over 2,000 years that makes it unique in this country – and worthy to stand on the world stage.
Recognition as a world heritage site would give the city’s people a rightful sense of pride – and would also open up opportunities to re-invent ourselves as a tourist city for a modern age, he said.
Mr Oxley, who retired as city archaeologist a few years ago and is now secretary of York’s world heritage steering group, said the aim would NOT be to attract yet more tourists.
York was already enough of a tourist honeypot, with millions of visitors a year, he said. It did not want to become another Venice or Barcelona.
But world heritage status would enable the city to market itself to ‘cultural’ tourists – people who were willing to spend more and stay longer, he said.
It would also help to underpin the city’s economy by making it more attractive to business.
And there would be further opportunities too.
Mr Oxley, who will be giving a talk at the Friargate Centre on October 10 about what world heritage status would mean for York, said it would open up opportunities to develop the city as a ‘net zero carbon’ tourist destination.
That could involve marketing itself to armchair visitors who never left their own homes but visited York virtually, he said.
As a UNESCO city of media arts, York already had the technical knowhow to make that possible, he said.
And through attractions such a Jorvik, it had already proved that it could pioneer new ways of interpreting its history.
“York has always been at the forefront of looking at new ways of looking at its past,” he said. “Jorvik in its day rewrote how people present the story of their past."
Virtual tours, or even ‘whole world’ digital experiences along the lines of computer games but based on different aspects of the city’s past, could potentially create a great experience for ‘people who don’t want to travel or fly’.
Such zero-carbon tourism could even potentially be monetised, he said – maybe through advertising or digital entry tickets.
York was this year placed placed on the UK 'tentative list' of world heritage sites.
It could still be several years before the UK submits it to UNESCO for consideration, Mr Oxley said.
But it is important to start laying the groundwork now. And there’s no question but that York deserves to be a world heritage site.
“For 2,000 years it has has functioned as a major centre for administration and justice," he said.
“It has an almost unique development path from Roman capital to Anglian royal centre in the 7th and 8th centuries. It was a Viking capital of the only Viking kingdom in the land, and an ecclesiastical centre in the medieval period.
“In the medieval period it was the country’s second largest city after only London, and one of the most important places in the country.
"Then when you come into the 19th and 20th centuries you have the railways.
“York has a narrative of development as an urban place over 2,000 years and a story that simply isn’t told by any other world heritage place in the UK.”
Mr Oxley’s talk will be hosted by York Civic Trust at the Friagate Centre at 6.30pm on October 10.
Tickets can be booked here priced £10-£15.