Machu Picchu BBC March 31 and Sustainable Development

At the heart of the BBC article this morning hailing Machu Pichu opening again to tourists is a story driven by economy and climate sensitivity which calls our attention to the need for sustainable development in the heritage industry.

It is not new information that heritage sites make up a significant proportion of national economies. What are less frequently discussed are the dangers tourism poses to sites. Large numbers of visitors put strain on a country’s infrastructure.*  Nations welcoming, nay encouraging, tourism must locate themselves in a sustainable development plan. It is a matter of great pride that countries can offer their heritage to generations living currently but they must at the same time have the foresight to preserve that heritage for future generations.

Sustainable Development in Albania

When I wrote my masters dissertation on southern Albania, sustainable development was at the forefront of everyone’s mind I worked with gathering data. There was attention paid to preserving the artefacts, landscape, ecological system, and flora and fauna which made the site of Butrint so special. There was also attention to sustainable development in terms of man power and training Albanians. It was the goal of the Butrint Foundation to make their own foundation extinct within a certain time frame. They trained native Albanians in the work and the administration, the oversight and the planning of the project, etc. Multiple types of sustainable development need to occur to prepare for the future.

Heritage Threatened in Cambodia

During my studies at Stanford, a visiting scholar presented the dire straights experienced in Cambodia consequent of mass tourist influxes. She described that as more visitors came and required more hotels, transportation, and amenities the local communities were building and developing in ways to accommodate their new sources of income. Forests were felled and luxury hotels were made. In the end the delicate eco, and particularly water, system which existed in the communities was undermined because tree roots were no longer there to hold the water in place. New drainage systems along roads and building sites were also eroding the natural landscape to the point where the heritage was in danger itself. The land was crumbling under the ancient temples. This example impressed on me the great importance of developing safely and conscientiously so heritage can move our children’s children.

Gro Harlem Bruntland

These thoughts inspired me last weekend when I had a remarkable opportunity. Quite coincidentally, last weekend I had the pleasure to moderate Gro Harlem Bruntland speaking on sustainable development at the Young Professionals Summit of the German Marshall Fund’s Transatlantic Security Conference: the Brussels Forum. I did not have the opportunity to ask her while sitting on the stage together about the need for sustainable development vis a vis heritage. However, I know she would have answered my query by saying that this is a vital part of the political and economic puzzle which must go on in our governments. After reading her speeches and the Bruntland Report, I think she would have added that the left hand and right hand need to learn to communicate with each other if we are to preserve our world for our children. It was an inspiring meeting because in 1987 after being elected Norway’s youngest and first ever female prime minister, Dr. Bruntland was asked to head the UN Commission which wrote the report Our Common Future introducing the concept of sustainable development. The report is commonly called the Bruntland Report in her honour.

At the risk of being crass, over-quoted, cheesy (or perhaps simply sounding like a commercial for contraceptives): the future is in our hands.

* Some would even say masses of tourists ruin the experience of visiting a site which should be explored reverently and not in large packs of screaming tourists with cameras. However, this is unavoidably the way the world works and particularly in light of the opening-up we are seeing of Asia which is leading to extensive travelling. Some would say that specialists should be grateful that there is so much interest in sites instead of complaining of the overburden of visitors. Both sides of the argument would be right.


About projectpatrimonio

Helena Boyden Lamb, born 1985 in New York, has studied and worked in Politics, Heritage Ethics and Politics, and Opera Singing. Most recently, she is working in Brussels where she started in a European Think Tank and is now the Executive Office of a NGO which facilitates Youth Politics across the EU. She has a Bachelor with Honors from Stanford University, California in Classics: Politics and Heritage and a Masters with Honors from the London School of Economics and Political Science, UK in European Identity. She has conducted academic or independent grant-funded research in the UK, France, Italy, Greece, Russia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, and Albania. She was, previously, an archaeologist and an opera singer. Cynthia Querio is a Museum Educator currently living and working in Los Angeles. She is interested in heritage and identity politics and the role of museum education departments in the trajectory of this debate. She moved to Los Angeles to pursue a 9 month graduate internship at the Getty Villa's education department and has continued to work in many museums in Los Angeles including LACMA and the Autry National Center. Her academic background is in the Classics, which was her major at Stanford University and which she continued to pursue with a Masters in the History of Classical Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art.
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One Response to Machu Picchu BBC March 31 and Sustainable Development

  1. The pitfalls of sustainable development are not reserved to developing countries which are just discovering the profits in their cultural heritage. Countries which have long been capitalizing on their resources (see above entry on Venice) are facing the massive financial realities of sustaining these sites for future generations and the complications of using current corporate sponsorships and marketing.

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