Values in Cities: Urban Heritage in Twentieth-Century Australia – Book Published

My book Values in Cities: Urban Heritage in Twentieth-Century Australia has been released.

Examining urban heritage in twentieth-century Australia, James Lesh reveals how evolving ideas of value and significance shaped cities and places. Over decades, a growing number of sites and areas were found to be valuable by communities and professionals. Places perceived to have value were often conserved. Places perceived to lack value became subject to modernisation, redevelopment, and renewal. From the 1970s, alongside strengthened activism and legislation, with the innovative Burra Charter (1979), the values-based model emerged for managing the aesthetic, historic, scientific, and social significance of historic environments. Values thus transitioned from an implicit to an overt component of urban, architectural, and planning conservation. The field of conservation became a noted profession and discipline. Conservation also had a broader role in celebrating the Australian nation and in reconciling settler colonialism for the twentieth century. Integrating urban history and heritage studies, this book provides the first longitudinal study of the twentieth-century Australian heritage movement. It advocates for innovative and reflexive modes of heritage practice responsive to urban, social, and environmental imperatives. As the values-based model continues to shape conservation worldwide, this book is an essential reference for researchers, students, and practitioners concerned with the past and future of cities and heritage.

Table of Contents

Foreword: Graeme Davison

1. Introduction: Conservation, Cities and Values

2. Settler-Colonial Foundations, 1900s–30s

3. The Establishment of the National Trust, 1940s–60s

4. The Modern Field, 1950s–60s

5. The Heritage Movement, 1960s–70s

6. National Estate Visions, 1970s

7. Professionalisation and the Burra Charter, 1970s

8. Frameworks, Tools, Criteria, 1980s–90s

9. Changing Cities, Evolving Values, 1980s–90s

10. Conclusion: The Past and Future of Conservation

Afterword: Sharon Veale

About the Author

Dr James Lesh is the founding director of conservation practice Heritage Workshop, which provides boutique heritage strategy and advice. He is a prominent industry thought-leader and has published widely on the practice, theory and history of cultural heritage. He holds a PhD in history and heritage from Melbourne University and has researched and lectured at Melbourne, Sydney and Deakin Universities and King’s College London.



  • Shortlisted for the 2023 National Trust of Australia (NSW) Heritage Awards: Resources and Publications.



  • “The book is an enjoyable and refreshing read. Its narrative is rich with interesting examples that bring Lesh’s analysis within mind’s reach.” – Emma Dortins in Historia.
  • “The book is not only a comprehensive history of heritage conservation in Australia but also a highly engaging read. It will be the benchmark for years to come. Lesh has succeeded magnificently!” – Fiona Gardiner in Fabrications.
  • “Lesh should be commended for his expansive scale and the range of research he brings to the task … a beautifully written and passionately argued book, rich in evidence and illustration.” – Ky Gentry in Australian Historical Studies.
  • “With cities now no longer part of the national conversation — apart from the housing crisis and never-ending traffic jams — it is refreshing to find a book that places them centre stage. … One of the great strengths of Lesh’s book is his attention to First Nations issues.” – Peter Spearritt in Inside Story.
  • “The book is both pleasurable and informative and should be widely read.” – Seamus O’Hanlon in Victorian Historical Journal.
  • “Lesh’s exploration of Australian ways of thinking about, assessing, and managing urban heritage is a rich, thoroughly researched history … that reinforces and explains many of the complexities and debates we continue to tackle at national, state, and local levels.” – Amy Clarke in International Journal of Heritage Studies.
  • “The book offers comprehensive account of the history of heritage conservation in Australian cities from the late 19th to the late 20th century and even up to the complex questions raised in the 21st century.” – Tanja Vahtikari in Urban History Review.
  • “Lesh’s measured and timely history … traces heritage as an exploratory concept, prioritising humane values.” – Chris McConville in Labour History.

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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