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A Nature Culture Journey at the World Conservation Congress in Hawai’i

By Brenda Barrett October 1, 2016
September Sunset Waikiki Beach Honolulu

September Sunset Waikiki Beach Honolulu

The Hawaiian Islands were created by a chain of volcanic hot spots in the Pacific and long settled by voyageurs who travelled thousands of miles across open water. The interrelationship and adaptation of nature and culture on these islands by early settlement and more recently by the arrival of Europeans and others starting in 1778 present lessons for the future of conservation. So it was fitting that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) held its first ever World Conservation Congress  in the United States in Hawai’i. For ten days in September (1-10, 2016) more than 10,000 conservationist leaders from at least 193 countries gathered to advance conservation thinking and strategies around the theme of “Planet at a Crossroads”.  The need to approach conservation at the landscape scale was implicit or explicit in most of the presentations and the importance of looking at nature and cultural in a holistic manner was highlighted at the congress by a track (called a journey) dedicated just to the topic.

IUCN and ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites – the cultural heritage counterpart to IUCN) co-sponsored the Nature-Culture Journey   and a companion World Heritage Journey at the conference. This special track helped bring together a diverse community of international conservationists who are members of indigenous community groups, working with World Heritage Sites, large landscape practioners, and representing the traditional ecological knowledge of working landscapes and seascapes.  Featuring over 50 related sessions, the journey examined the growing evidence that natural and cultural heritage are closely interconnected in many landscapes/seascapes and the need to better integrate both disciples for effective conservation outcomes.  Both natural and cultural heritage experts face similar conservation challenges in places with complex interrelated ecological and cultural networksoften across large landscapes – and each brings a body of complementary knowledge and capacities.

The connections and insights gained during the journey underscored the need to work more closely together to advance good conservation practice. This dialogue produced a statement of commitmentsMālama Honua: to care for our island Earth that was signed by the Nature Culture Journey attendees at the Journey’s closing reception.  This statement (currently being translated into French and Spanish) will soon be on-line and available for additional signatures. Follow up discussions are being planned for the 2017 ICOMOS General Assembly in Delhi, India. Based on the promising work in Hawai’i, strengthening the connections around a shared interest in nature and culture conservation is an idea that is now on the horizon.

Many thanks to Nora Mitchell one of the lead planners of the Nature Culture Journey for her contribution to this article.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jeju Island Korea Hosts International Experts on Cultural Landscapes

By Brenda Barrett November 20, 2015
The World Heritage listed Seongsan Peak at Sunrise

The World Heritage listed Seongsan Peak at Sunrise

Cultural landscapes are often defined as geographic areas of natural and cultural resources with associated historical, cultural and or aesthetic values. One way to sharpen our focus on the components of a landscape is to experience the combination of these resources through a new lens. Jeju Island is a spectacular place to do this. Often referred to as the Hawaii of Korea, Jeju is a volcanic island 56 miles off the coast of the South Korean mainland. Some of the island’s most outstanding natural features have been designated as the country’s only natural world heritage listing, otherwise known as the Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes (2007).

Traditional Volcanic Rock Walls  Jeju Island

Traditional Volcanic Rock Walls Jeju Island

The island’s cultural landscapes, although not yet listed, are also very distinctive. For centuries residents have carved fields out of the rocky soil creating thousands of kilometers of still extant stonewalls. The underlying basalt was also used for clusters of farmhouses in villages around the island and for massive fortifications to protect it’s shores. The sea has always been an important part of the region’s life. Today, Jeju has been discovered as a tourist destination for the beaches, the natural wonders, and more recently the rural landscape. Over 10 million tourists visit Jeju a year, which for an island with a population of 600,000, places a lot of stress on the limited resource base. A recent initiative strives to spread the visitors around through the development of walking trails known as Olles.  These well maintained trails direct visitors both along the coast and also off the beaten path to scenic overlooks and into traditional villages and agricultural areas through the use of signs.

2015 Annual Meeting of the ICOMOS-IFLA International Scientific Committee on Cultural Landscapes Haenyo Museum Jeju Island

2015 Annual Meeting of the ICOMOS-IFLA International Scientific Committee on Cultural Landscapes
Haenyo Museum Jeju Island

This island of scenic beauty, rich heritage and future opportunities, offered a remarkable setting for the November 2015 Annual Meeting of the ICOMOS-IFLA International Scientific Committee on Cultural Landscapes (ISCCL). A meeting at which the conversation centered around the aesthetics of landscapes, connecting the practice of nature and cultural conservation, and an initiative to advance the understanding and conservation of world rural landscapes . The setting for the gathering could not have been more appropriate–it was held overlooking the water at the Haenyo Museum, a facility dedicated to telling the story of the islands’ famous women divers. The mingling of historical, cultural, and natural resources and memories evoked a powerful sense of place and support for conserving more sites such as this.

international Symposium Re-thinking Lifescape: Linking Landscape to Everyday Life Jeju Stone Park

international Symposium Re-thinking Lifescape: Linking Landscape to Everyday Life
Jeju Stone Park

An international Symposium Re-thinking Lifescape: Linking Landscape to Everyday Life followed on the committee meeting and attracted over 200 participants. While many were from the Pacific Rim countries, there were also presenters from all over the globe. It was particularly encouraging to see so many excellent papers on cultural landscapes by graduate students and young professionals. The symposium was held at the famous Jeju Stone Park on the slopes of the island’s huge shield volcano, Mount Hallasan. Attendees were offered a number of tours of the key sites on the island including two of the world heritage sites: the Manjanggul Lava Tubes and Seongsan Peak. Both events were organized by the hard work of ICOMOS-Korea with special thanks to Professor Jongsang Sung the head of the Korean ISCCL, the many sponsors he attracted for the event, and of course, his hard working students.

Does this sound like an amazing opportunity to learn more about cultural landscapes? For those with an interest in placing cultural landscapes in an international context consider these upcoming events in 2016: The World Conservation Congress (WCC) meeting, and the conference Capability Brown: perception and response in a global context. The WCC will be meeting in Hawaii in early September 2016 where congress planners will consider a range of sessions that explore the connection between cultural and natural resources. In the same month, on the other side of the globe, ICOMOS UK will hold the capability conference in Bath. The conference celebrates the tercentenary of Capability Brown’s (Lancelot Brown) birth with an opportunity to reflect on his work in an international context.

If you are in the United States, or even if you are not, consider joining US ICOMOS. Support our international mission and stay informed about cultural landscape work at a global scope. This topic will be a focus of the organization’s new initiative for 2016 known as the Cultural Landscape Knowledge Exchange.

Finally, US ICOMOS is launching a National Committee on Cultural Landscapes. We plan to have gatherings at selected upcoming conferences to share information and build a community of practitioners. If you are interested in getting on the list, please email me at bbarrett@livinglandscapeobserver.net or our US ICOMOS ISCCL voting member Nora Mitchell at norajmitchell@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Compare and Contrast: ICOMOS General Assembly and World Parks Conference

By Brenda Barrett November 30, 2014
Photograph Courtesy of Rolf Diamant

Ponte Vecchio in Florence Italy, site of the recent ICOMOS general assembly. Photo by Rolf Diamant.

Last month (November 2014) was a very busy moment for World Heritage. At almost the same time, but half way around the globe, ICOMOS held their 18th triennial General Assembly in Florence Italy and IUCN held their once in a decade gathering the World Parks Congress in Sydney Australia.* A few enterprising individuals managed to make an appearance at both meetings, but as is often the case the forces of culture and the forces of nature were far, far apart.

The IUCN World Parks Congress 2014 was a landmark global forum on protected areas. The Congress shared knowledge and innovation and helped set the agenda for protected area conservation for the decade to come. Building on the theme “Parks, People, Planet: Inspiring Solutions,” the gathering presented, discussed and created original approaches for conservation and development and focused on how to address the gap in the world’s conservation and sustainable development agenda.

The ICOMOS 18th General Assembly had as its theme “Heritage and Landscapes as Human Values.” The conference presented a series of scientific symposiums, re-examined earlier foundation documents, such as the International Charter for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites (known as the Venice Charter) originally adopted in 1964, and the original 1994 Nara Charter was reconsidered with a new document “Nara + 20: On Heritage Practices, Cultural Value, And The Concept Of Authenticity.”

So what was similar about the two meetings? Well, both were gatherings of experts in the field of culture and nature from around the world with the shared mission of how to best conserve our global heritage. At both meetings, there was recognition of the role of sustainable economic development and of people in any conservation paradigm.

 

Photograph Brenda Barrett

Harbor Bridge in Sydney Australia, site of the recent IUCN Word Parks Congress. Photo by Brenda Barrett.

Both had multiple sessions on the importance of traditional knowledge and specifically on traditional ecological knowledge as the basis for balanced and innovative conservation programs. And finally both meetings recognized the central role of landscape as a framework for both cultural and natural resources.

What was different was scale. Over 6,000 attendees, primarily protected area managers, journeyed to Sydney, while the ICOMOS meeting in Florence only drew about 1,000 registrants. Also different was the level of international attention garnered by the two meetings. While the Florence meeting seemed to have good coverage in the Italian press, the World Parks conference garnered an opinion piece on the front page of the editorial section in the Sunday New York Times written by no less a personage than Thomas Friedman. See Stampeding Black Elephants  from the November 23, 2014 edition.

Is it any wonder that ICOMOS is very enthusiastic about the joint initiative with IUCN titled Connecting Practices. This has been established with the stated purpose of providing an opportunity for exploring how to form a more genuinely integrated consideration of natural and cultural heritage under the World Heritage Convention – ‘bridging the divide’ that is often observed between nature and culture.

With so many areas of common interest, the effort should be off to a good start.

* A quick primer on the two organizations: IUCN, short for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, http://www.iucn.org was established in 1948 to create a communication network for environmental conservationists across the globe. ICOMOS, the International Council of Sites and Museums http://www.icomos.org/en/ was founded in 1965 to work for the conservation and protection of cultural heritage places. It is a global non-government organization dedicated to promoting the application of theory, methodology, and scientific techniques to the conservation of the architectural and archaeological heritage.

Both organizations have a responsibility in an advisory role to UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee (secretariat of UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention) for the evaluation and monitoring of World Heritage Sites.

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Let’s Give a Shout Out to World Heritage

By Brenda Barrett June 27, 2012

Mission San Jose in San Antonio TexasIn most countries inscription on the World Heritage list is highly prized. Designation is seen as bringing honor, recognition, and tourists to a nation’s most outstanding historic and scenic sites.  For this reason, many countries vie to increase the numbers of properties that are imprinted with the World Heritage brand.   This has not been the case in the United States – quick – name three US properties on the world heritage list: Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Monticello, yes, Mount Vernon actually no. To see a list of the 21 World Heritage sites in the US go here.

But perhaps the American perception of the value of World Heritage designation is changing.  Let me tell you what happened earlier in June at the usually staid US/ICOMOS annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas.  US/ICOMOS is one of over 100 National Committees with a formal role in the nomination and protection of World Heritage Sites and as a national committee provides technical advice to UNESCO’s on World Heritage issues.  The purpose of this year’s US/ICOMOS conference was to consider the 40th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention featuring multiple scholarly presentations and behind the scene tours with the curators of the region’s heritage sites.

However, the US/ICOMOS conference dinner in celebration the 40th Anniversary of the World Heritage Convention had a different vibe. Keynote speaker, US Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, brought a Texas crowd to it feet hooting and hollering when he announced his support for designating the San Antonio Missions as a World Heritage sites.  While this might have been a little disconcerting to conference attendees and to the other candidates for World Heritage status also attending the meeting, this extra enthusiastic response might be a sign of the rising cachet of World Heritage designation in this country. Read the press release here.

According to a recent article  in the George Wright Forum, from 1960 through its ratification in 1972, the United States played a leadership role in developing the Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage (the “World Heritage Convention”). Today this document has become one of the most widely recognized international environmental agreements in history and has been ratified by almost every nation on the globe. In the United States, however, the World Heritage Convention has come under increasing attack. During the Reagan Administration, the U.S. withdrew its support from UNESCO, the larger entity that oversees World Heritage designations. Congress also passed legislation requiring 100% owner consent to any world heritage listing, which rules out the designation of large cultural landscapes. And right now, the U.S. has again withdrawn financial support to UNESCO because of the organization’s vote to grant membership to Palestine.

Given this history, it is very heartening to see such a ground swell of interest in the idea of World Heritage and in Texas to boot! Supporters of the designation for the San Antonio Missions report that 80% of the local community is in favor of the nomination. The elected officials, the San Antonio River Authority, and most importantly the venerable San Antonio Conservation Society are all on board with idea. The Spanish ICOMOS National Committee also has offered to help with documentation requirements. Okay, so the number of fans for designating the San Antonio Missions as a World Heritage Site wouldn’t fill Long Horn Stadium, but it is a start.

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