Florens 2012: Cultural and Environmental Heritage Week

Florens is a biannual international cultural forum aimed at sharing and debating cultural and environmental heritage and its economic implications. The forum features international speakers, seminars, plenary and breakout sessions covering the broad issues around culture and the environment. Terry Garcia, executive vice president for Mission Programs for the National Geographic Society, is on the Florens Advisory Board. National Geographic is proud to be presenting on several panels at Florens 2012, and screening the Italian premiere of “Birds of Paradise.”

This week in Florence, Italy, an innovative conference emphasizing the importance of culture for quality of life and economic progress, Florens 2012: International Biennial of Cultural and Landscape Heritage, is taking place. Included are more than forty roundtables and conferences, exhibitions, installations, musical events, and evening cultural aperitifs, all of which are free to the public. The main message of these events is to promote the need for the revitalization of culture for long-term economic growth. As one presenter put it, “culture is the engine of growth of countries.” Such a topic is timely not just in Italy, but also around the world, as countries struggle economically and globalization threatens the preservation of unique cultural and landscape heritage.

What are some of the challenges that countries face in terms of cultural and landscape preservation? One session highlighted the problem of tourism in Italy, with, as one presenter described, the lagoon of Venice being navigated no longer by gondolas, but instead by cruise ships. Another group discussed the challenges to preserving Pompeii, including the need for regular maintenance and preservation of other important archaeological sites in Italy. Others mentioned the recent problems of garbage in Naples and the ever-increasing numbers of tourists pouring into the Sistine Chapel, resulting in air that slowly ruins the frescoes over time.

What might “revitalization of culture” look like? One recurring theme is the need for countries to promote their unique culture, including the products for which they are known and their particular landscape. Creating or restoring cultural attractions, such as opera houses and high-quality museum exhibits, creates local jobs and attracts more tourism, as evidenced in the last 20 years in Germany where a major project to revitalize culture has been successful. But in the case of Italy, more tourism is not needed. Instead, tourism should be spread out; Italy must promote the less-known areas so that the culture and landscape of the entire country, not just three or four main sights, is valued.

Clearly, culture is an integral part of human existence, and having discussions such as these is vital. As the world’s population grows and becomes more mobile, countries will need to consider how the preservation and promotion of unique cultures and landscapes can provide quality of life for their people and, at the same time, attract quality tourism that will benefit local economies.

For more information, the latest news and updates from the conference please see the following sites:

Changing Planet

Jenna is a guest blogger for National Geographic at the Florens 2012 conference. She runs This Is My Happiness, a blog about culture, art, and travel, and is a freelance writer. She writes about what makes places unique to provide a deeper look at travel destinations. She would like to thank the Fondazione Florens for bringing her to Florence to attend Florens 2012.