Monday, January 03, 2011

What Value to Attach to Cemetery Restoration?

One positive consequence of Christmas was the chance to spend some time visiting cultural and heritage sites in Dublin. One of the main historical sites in Dublin is Prospect Cemetery, usually known as Glasnevin Cemetery. Founded in 1832 under the Direction of Daniel O'Connell, it has seen well over a million burials including many of the main historical and cultural figures of the last couple of centuries of Irish history.

The cemetery is currently undergoing various phases of restoration. An interesting literature in economics has looked at how to place monetary values on such restoration efforts. One of the main concepts is the idea that people have an existence value for the preservation of cultural and heritage goods that is not captured in market transactions or even in indirect valuation methods such as hedonic pricing or travel costing. Basically, this literature involves asking people directly what they would be willing to pay, for example through taxes, for preserving different cultural and heritage monuments. One of the main reviews of this literature is by Douglas Noonan and worth reading for people interested in how complex cultural and heritage goods might be valued in public valuation.

An example of the types of studies in this field includes the paper linked here by Pollicino and Maddison attempting to value the cleaning of Lincoln Cathedral
This paper summarises a contingent valuation study of willingness to pay forcleaning Lincoln Cathedral. A random sample of the inhabitants of the city of Lincoln and the surrounding area wasquestioned as to their willingness topay for a change in the frequency of a hypothetical cleaning cycle from 40years to 10 years. This change wasillustrated by photographs which showed the same aspects of the Cathedralhalf-way through the two cleaning cycles. Individuals were also asked questions regarding their attitudes towards airpollution in general and its impact on theCathedral in particular. It was found that household willingness to pay isbest predicted by disposable income anda variable indicating distance from the site. Estimates of mean willingnessto pay range from £ 15 to £ 23 perhousehold per annum for those living Lincolnshire. Aggregating these valuesover the number of households inLincolnshire suggests that the annual damage inflicted by air pollution on theappearance of the building so far assoiling is concerned is valued between £ 0.4 m and £ 0.6 m. Different solutions to the problem of starting point biaswere explored and are shown to yield similar estimates of willingness to pay. Copyright Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001

To attempt such an enterprise for a cultural and heritage site like Glasnevin cemetery would be a fascinating exercise. Dave Comerford conducted his masters thesis a few years ago valuing Boland's Mill and there have been various papers in the Irish context, including by myself, using contingent valuation in the context of broadcasting and forestry. In the case of Glasnevin, the potential restoration costs have a very wide range depending on the degree of restoration undertaken. Thus, there are several menus of alternatives with different costings to present to respondents. There are also a very wide and complex array of potential value motivations, including the obvious use value that it is a functioning graveyard where many Irish people visit dead relatives or will themselves end up; option values of having it available to visit and a range of potential existence values linked to its role as the site for the graves of several important historical figures.

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