ROCEEDINGS OF THE
OMMITTEE OF THE
ONUMENTS ET DES
Success in Heritage Tourism
James W. Rhodes, FAIA
Historic patrimony, like holy matrimony is best savored when it is shared graciously. Hereby the fabricof history is embraced by the present and sustained for future generations. Where certain historictreasures are endangered from exposure they wisely must be conserved in isolation. Archaeologicalremains are often left buried, or reburied; cave paintings, manuscripts and early photographs must beexperienced in their surrogate form. And much fine art resides in private quarters. But most of the builtand natural environment must truly be experienced in situ. This brings visitors into contact, and all tooften into conflict, with locals. I experienced the conflict of the rational with the seemingly irrationalin my own home town.
Not all communities welcome heritage tourism. Reasons can be rational and informed, as for thosecommunities of individuals who dont want street congestion, dont want their privacy invaded, dontwant their secret places revealed or run down, etc. etc. etc. Some reasons are not so rational, moreemotional, but just as compelling. About ten years ago, my suburban New York village of Croton-on-Hudson was considering an ordinance for historic preservation. The Mayor asked me, with a smallboard of experts, to write a law that would provide protections for the special historic resources of thiscommunity of approximately 7,000 persons. After several months of analysis of other laws, andconsultation with local, state and national advisors, we drafted what I thought was a model law,providing concise and parallel language addressing buildings, districts, objects and archaeological sites.The draft law was generally well appreciated, except for two sentences containing the wordsmandatory compliance rather than merely advisory in nature. I felt that the then current advisoryVisual Environment Board on which I served did not receive the respect and impact it needed, and thatthe benefits of a new Landmarks Board with regulatory powers was appropriate. Wellalong came anew Mayor, a fired-up church-lead opposition and a critical public hearing where I was shocked by thefollowing impassioned protest: We dont want historic preservation in Croton. We want Croton to staythe way it is! Result: no ordnance, no Board, no protections. Even the VEB withered. In later yearswhen the subject of tourism was raised, similar opposition halted most efforts at its accommodation.
As an Architect engaged in preservation of historic sites I consider myself an interpreter of the story of the resource as well as the story of my own time---striving to engage and to reveal the life-givingessence of the site and stories it embodies . My personal success is measured in how well I understandand relate those stories.
I regard five factors critical to the overall success of cultural heritage tourism. Real success is foundwhere these five factors are kept in balance. Miss any one factor, and success may be weakened,fleeting or totally unachievable. Think of it as five fully overlapping rings of influence. You want to be inthe middle where all five rings overlap.