In keeping with my theme of late, I am going to share some of my observations on a recent article in the Canadian Geographer and pose some questions that we may want to consider for rural areas with respect to tourism development.
I just finished reading Claire Halpern and Clare Mitchell's article "Can a preservationist ideology halt the process of creative destruction? Evidence from Saltspring Island, BC" which was published in the Canadian Geographer (2011). I found this to be an informative, detailed article on the evolution of the island, which is also an area I am very familiar with (my cousins started Garry Oak Vineyards). The authors describe, using historical and current literature and some supporting interviews, how the island has been transforming as a heritage-scape and pondering its future given some externalities such as provincial tourism plans. Of particular interest, the authors explored to what extent a preservationist ideology exists on the island and its role in the creation and maintenance of the heritage scape.
I am planning to take a group of graduate students on a study tour of the Southern Gulf Islands in October with Dr. Patrick Maher from UNBC where we will focus on developing a series of papers on amenity based rural development. Using this more holistic umbrella, we aim to explore how the island region is balancing the promotion and protection of natural and cultural amenities. We intend to highlight the presence of innovative strategies being used to manage these mandates. I will have the students read this aforementioned article as one of our preparatory pieces as it is one of the few out there that focus on the role of heritage and culture in rural development and preservation.
While I enjoyed the article and encourage its read, I have to, by nature of my role as a researcher - wade in with a few reservations on the methods and findings.
First, the use of a linear model that starts with a new concept and finishes with destruction is problematic for me (see last post for my reservations of these lifecycle model approaches and inevitable decline). In reality, Saltspring and many other rural communities go through a more complex evolutionary cycle in response to the external forces that are present in the day as well as the ideological make up of their "current residents". I say current here because one of the assumptions we make as researchers is that "residents" are a homogeneous group. Research studies have highlighted that residents are in fact very diverse and that while variable such as length of residence, attitudes towards preservation, link to tourism etc have all been used to explore differences - the results are often contradictory in different case study regions. Saltspring Island, like other high amenity rural regions, is exposed to visitors on an ongoing basis, many of whom find the area so attractive that they seek to move there. That these can be called negative impacts of tourism is problematic - in fact, people moving to a new location is a phenomena called amenity migration - not tourism. We need to begin to separate these variables out more clearly in future studies.
Finally, the researchers make some assumptions that the old tourism plan (vs. the more recent tourism strategy - 2011) was about increasing numbers of visitors (as opposed to higher spending). While I agree with the authors findings and have found consistent responses in other rural BC contexts that the goal of doubling was a goal coming from Victoria, not the communities, the goal was not about doubling numbers of tourists (same number spending more arrives at the same outcome). And, to assume that a provincial strategy is likely to influence the destruction of an island's heritage-scape was to me, a bit of a stretch as a potential consequence. Maybe provincial policy documents have a further reaching effect in Ontario, but in BC - I have yet to see this level of impact created. That is not intended as a dig to my colleagues in the Ministry who do important and valuable work, it is just that the realities of the take up of any Ministry on the ground floor of any province is limited in its impact due to the dynamic and grassroots nature of development practice.
For those grad students out there - we have lots of work to do. Here are a few questions I'd pose for further investigation. What does the evolution of amenity based rural development where heritage-scapes exist look like in different case study regions? Which stakeholders are involved in that evolution and what role do they play? What external forces, over time, are responded to at the community level, by whom and with what effect? To what extent do preservationist ideologies maintain over time and through successive additions of new amenity migrants? Do different types of residents preserve or promote natural and cultural amenities over time and to what effect?
Halpern, C., and C.J.A. Mitchell. (2011). Can a preservationist ideology halt the process of creative descruction? Evidence from Salt Spring Island, BC. The Canadian Geographer. 55(2): 208-225.
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