Ever since the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) created its World Heritage Sites program in 1972, countries have vied furiously to appear on the list. The designations, which recognize places for their “outstanding universal value,” enhance a country’s pride, draw hordes of tourists and boost business.

It takes work–documentation, planning and often politicking–to win Heritage status. But it’s worth it, especially for developing countries. In the program’s 37 years, the honor has been granted to 890 cultural treasures around the globe.

Make that 890, this year, minus one. On June 26, the committee stripped Dresden, Germany, of its heritage status, which it gained in 2004. Dresden’s sin was building the four-lane Waldschloesschen Bridge across the Elbe Valley site, a 12-mile cultural landscape that runs along the river and takes in Ubigau Palace, Pillnitz Palace and a raft of parks and monuments that made Dresden worthy in the first place.

I’m sorry for Dresden, but UNESCO deserves applause for taking this action. Often a punching bag for malcontents who blast its bureaucracy and its ineffectiveness, the U.N. agency carries the usual baggage associated with all U.N. arms. But while it sometimes struggles to manage the Heritage program, it has few tools to ride herd on countries after their sites have been designated.


Judith H. Dobrzynski