Posts Tagged ‘Colombia’

Beyond the Bounds of Conservation

November 20, 2014

I hope you are a member of the organization I run, the Global Heritage Fund.

Our goal is to help save world heritage sites in impoverished regions by activating them as assets for the local community. Our methodology combines Planning, Conservation Science, Partnerships and Community Development, which we term Preservation By Design®. Our goal in our second decade is to make our Community Development more robust and replicable.
MA arch b

Why? Because that is best for the heritage site – to have the community benefit from a resource that they protect and cultivate just as you would a crop or a precious natural area. Indeed, at several of our sites we have both natural area reserve and a heritage site, which makes sense, since World Heritage inscription covers three categories: Natural, Cultural, and Mixed.
Trail 20 huts

Now traditionally we look at pretty straightforward ways of measuring community development. Jobs. Income. The simple obvious answers for heritage sites include things like local people trained and employed in conservation of a site; local people employed in tourism and hospitality around a site; and indirect benefits of these activities for local business, agriculture, and so forth.
PY Nan st vwS copy

But the more expertise we develop in community development, the more we realize that these numeric metrics are only the tip of the community benefit iceberg. This summer we built a health center on the trail to Ciudad Perdida, the 7-14C Tayrona site in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains of Colombia, on the Caribbean coast. The site also just received a Global Vision Award from Travel & Leisure magazine (it is on my desk right now – the award that is)
GHFCP4 Building a Medical Center

A couple of years ago we built a bridge over the Buritaca River at another site on the three-day hike to Ciudad Perdida. Now of course we work to conserve the ancient rammed earth platforms and their stone surrounds, and the miles of stone staircases that connected the “cities” of the Tayrona.
CP 61 best

But we also build bridges and health centers and install efficient stoves and graywater treatment systems in the homestays, which seem to break the boundaries of what we consider heritage conservation.
Trail 29 bridge

Why not? The bridge was built after someone died during a flash flood. Ostensibly it is for the tourists, but it has become a vital resource for the local people as it facilitates transportation in the same way the original stone staircases did a thousand years ago. The health center will help if there is an emergency on the trail, but will of course primarily serve the indigenous Kogi people who live here, own and operate homestays, help ferry tourists up the trail, and are a primary target for community development.
Trail 40 indig

You see, community development is not defined as the equivalent of economic development, and neither is simply numeric. A bridge, a health center – these are infrastructural improvements that affect a whole VARIETY of metrics and improve local life and livelihoods. When you properly approach community development as an integrated piece of heritage conservation – as we do at Global Heritage Fund – you realize that your goals and targets are more than numbers.
CP lodge Romauldo SG

Community development is a process of improvement, and that improvement can mean more and better jobs, more income and other things that can be assigned numbers. But it also means more opportunities, more access, more infrastructure and more choices and options for the local population. Interestingly, it can also mean more natural area conservation like I mentioned above, because increasingly conservation organizations are moving away from the wilderness model and looking to indigenous managed – landscapes as a way to conserve the best of nature and culture in the MOST sustainable way.
Trail 12 peeps

Sustainability. Using resources in a way that allows the next generation to enjoy them as well. The cultural landscape – the world heritage site that contains monuments, relics and treasure from an ancient civilization WHILE still serving as the home and livelihood of an indigenous population – is the most sustainable solution for BOTH heritage and biodiversity.
CP i main iBest


Ciudad Perdida: The Urbanism of the lost city

March 15, 2013

A year ago I was teaching a class about cities, about urbanism. The perspective of that class was the history of ideas about modern city planning from the 1890s through the rise of modernism and sprawl in the 1950s to the Jane Jacobs revolution in the 1960s and its continual reverberations to the present day. We read Glaeser, whom I have reviewed before in this blog, and we tended to think of cities in their modern iteration, as large megalopoli built on huge freighters, large trucks, mile-long trains and cars more numerous than bubbles in a champagne glass, their profiles distinguished by skyscrapers recognizable from miles away, their plans defined by a radical manipulation of the natural landscape. Something entirely different from the cowering walled cities of the medieval world. Something defined, as Le Corbusier was wont to do, by fast and effortless modes of transportation.
LA aerial bS
Los Angeles, a couple weeks ago

Think of the postcards of skyscrapers from the 1920s, always with planes flying around them, cars and trucks bustling at their bases, dirigibles docked on their masts. The modern city was about effortless transportation and commerce, about erasing barriers to speed, whether vertical or horizontal. The skyscraper and the highway, massive and modern.
swfc view hand

So it may seem odd that I am thinking of this having just returned from an arduous six-day trek into the Colombian jungles, up and down the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, in the Tayrona National Park, to the heritage site of Ciudad Perdida, which of course means Lost City. Trudging along jungle paths with all of your gear in a backpack, passing through indigenous villages far beyond the reach of cell phones and the internet, despite constant rain and humidity and insects (ticks especially – they love me – I am a tick magnet), as far as I have been in a dozen years from civilization, sleeping in hammocks, washing in cold water and cooking by wood fires….
Trail 52 river b
Buritaca River
Trail 20 huts
indigenous village
Trail 43
backpacking up the trail to Ciudad Perdida
Trail 8 cook

This is surely the opposite of urbanism, yes? No. At the end of the third day you climb the 1280 stone steps from the Buritaca River to Ciudad Perdida, an amazing collection of stone terraces and building foundations dating back to the 6th century AD and representing about a thousand years of habitation and rebuilding. The jungle swallowed this city, built by a group we call the Tayrona, but over that millenium this was a city in more than just name, for it had those essential qualities of urbanism I mentioned above.
CP 16 main axis best
The main axis or “chapel” area at Ciudad Perdida
CP 55 grdg stones
detail of flag stone

What these people did was level a section of the rough mountain, build stone walls and fill them with rammed earth, then finish it with huge flagstones. Then atop these terraces which flattened the incredibly jagged and heavily sloped terrain, they build round stone foundations for houses. We have no idea what these houses looked like, but there were hundreds here. Most importantly, the Tayrona connected these flagged terraces and circular foundations up and down the mountainside with a surfeit, a positively luxurious quantity of stone staircases, connecting each platform and house not essentially, but in manifold fashion, to the others. There are sometimes five or more walkways leading off of a platform or terrace.
CP 39 terraces houses
This is a modern house of the shaman or mamo, but it gives an idea
CP 42 pathways
CP 76 nice platform
CP 64 stairs main

These might look like rustic stones, but their function is urban. They make transportation in a jungle, along a jagged mountain, easier. There are no wheels or pack animals, so the stone stairs and pathways create the most efficient and speedy and luxurious method of moving people and goods possible in this environment. The city was built and rebuilt, with terraces covered by another terrace, as seen here:
CP 51 jail

The main axis of platforms shown above has been cleared, but the terraces continue into the jungle and more are being discovered. Conservation has included repairing many of the terraces and staircases, but there are always more, because this city was continually being built and rebuilt. We savor the nature here, with more bird varieties in this one national park than all of the United States and Canada, not to mention frogs and snakes and even jaguars and puma.
CP 61 best

CP 46 cirtcles

CP lichen stair

They estimate a population of perhaps 2000, and the number of terraces and rings (to support buildings) are in the hundreds at least. As you trek the three days up (and two back) you have a typically modern concern about the slash-and-burn agriculture which despoils the jungle, yet at its peak Ciudad Perdida was not surrounded by jungle but by farmed land. The jungle we see today, being destroyed for agriculture, is in fact a secondary growth: when the city was at its height this jungle was already destroyed for agriculture. It was urbanized, which is to say completely altered from its natural state.
Trail 40 indig

Trail 942 slash burn

Trail up i10 village

What Global Heritage Fund has done here through our Project Director Santiago Giraldo and together with the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History, is not only help conserve the site, but help build lodges along the way that provide for the tourists making the trek. They also provide development to the peasants and the indigenous, offering more efficient wood-burning stoves, septic systems, training, education and economic development for local communities. We have built one bridge over the sometimes unpredictable Buritaca River, which serves both the indigenous and peasant communities as well as helping the tourists make the trek with one less slog through the water.
Trail 29 bridge

You can support GHF’s work by donating here. You can also make the trek from Santa Marta through various approved outfitters, and savor a city that is in many ways like no other city – “Lost” perhaps, but sharing with all of our cities the basic tenets of human civilization in a form very different from what we are used to.

CP lodge Romauldo SGCP i main iBest

2015 UPDATE:  It turns out the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta isn’t the only place with lost cities.  Try the whole Amazon rainforest.