Clean, Green Dreams: Whose Heritage Counts in Urban Revitalization?

Dr. Stephanie Butcher1

1University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia

Nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, Kathmandu Valley is a site of deep cultural heritage. Cross-cutting the city is the mighty Bagmati river, which flows from the mouth of the holy river Ganges. It is lined with many of Kathmandu’s most important temples, shrines, ghats (cremation sites along rivers), and monuments, including Pashupati Temple—a UNESCO World Heritage site. The river is therefore both a deeply holy space, and a significant source of tourism revenue.  However, the Bagmati river cannot be separated from the living functions of the city, and in particular, the growing informal settlements which have sprung up alongside its banks. These neighbourhoods are at odds with broader urban revitalization plans in the city, which are aimed at harnessing the tourism value of these riverside locations. Residents are therefore caught in competing narratives of the river: between its past and future use, as dwelling space or a tourist site, and as its polluters or as its protectors. Interrogating the concept of heritage, this article examines what kinds of urban futures that are imagined from past heritage; and what space exists for the urban poor.


Stephanie Butcher is a Research Fellow at the Connected Cities Lab, University of Melbourne, on the ‘Knowledge in Action for Urban Equality’, programme. As a social development practitioner, she has partnered with grassroots organizations in various cities to support community-led planning processes. Research interests include gender and diversity, participatory methodologies, and urban inequalities.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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