Thursday, March 23, 2006

Stewards of Place-Based Assets

I just attended a conference for a movement called “civic tourism.” It’s an umbrella extension of the discussion of eco, geo or cultural and heritage tourism, all of which focus on “place” vs. entertainment-based tourism that has no connection with “place.”

I haven’t regularly attended conferences for some years. There are too many more efficient ways to engage in dialogue that are less redundant or about people “bearing testimony” vs. engaging in true dialogue.

But this one was an exception. I’ve always been considered an “odd duck" in some circles for espousing the importance of place as a context in tourism development.

But at this conference I learned that convention and visitor bureaus are the “stewards for place-based assets.” Not the only stewards, of course, but key because tourism is much more than economic development. Tourism is about preserving buildings and heritage, conserving the ecology and landscape, celebrating ethnicity and art and music, and articulating a community’s sense of place.

Why is this important? Because, in the words of Dr. Scott Russell Sanders:

"[As contrasted to] many American cities and towns, where any sense of character or coherence has been eroded by the forces of development. Uniform highway design, strip malls, cookie-cutter suburbs, manufactured housing, garish franchise architecture, and box stores surrounded by deserts of blacktop have made our settlements less and less distinct from one another….

"A real place feels as though it belongs where it is, as though it has grown there, shaped by weather and geography, rather than being imported from elsewhere and set down like a mail-order kit….

"A real place conveys a sense of temporal depth, a sense that people have been living and laboring here for a long time. The traces of earlier generations are preserved in festivals and folkways and habits of speech; in old buildings that have been restored and kept in service; in landscapes that are still devoted to…traditional uses."

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