Culture driven policies and revaluation of local cultural assets: A tale of two cities, Otaru and Yubari

Management of cultural heritage is an issue that is attracting increasing attention worldwide, as emphasis shifts from pure conservation issues to issues of future sustainability of heritage sites. Experience seems to suggest that it is difficult to preserve heritage sites without embedding them into a cultural vital social and economic environment, whereas at the same time there is the risk that, by putting excessive focus on the economic dimension, they are turned into theme parks with gradual loss of authenticity and progressive disintegration of their cultural and historical value. This paper tackles these issues through a comparative study of two Japanese heritage cities, Otaru and Yubari, both in the Hokkaido Island of the Japanese archipelago. The case study is of interest in that the two cities are representative of two opposite attitudes toward heritage management: in Otaru, the revaluation of local cultural assets has been conducted through the involvement of the local population and a socially inclusive approach, whereas in Yubari a top-down, financially driven approach has been developed in order to improve the city’s attractiveness for tourists. The results of such opposite strategies have gained international attention.
The Municipality of Yubari has gone bankrupt and its tourist attraction policy has been largely ineffective, whereas the bottom up approach of the City of Otaru has led to a rejuvenation of the city, that is now attracting tourists from abroad and has witnessed a considerable improvement in the local quality of life and in the sustainable use of local cultural heritage. Recent, successful new policy developments in Yubari to rescue the town from its deep crisis by means of direct dialog with citizens provide further evidence that active involvement of the local population makes the difference. This comparative analysis suggests that socially inclusive policies seem to be an essential component of viable heritage management models, and that failure to integrate such dimension into the strategic approach may be a fatal flaw.

Article by Guido Ferilli, Pier Luigi Sacco, Kunihiro Noda
Published in City, Culture and Society 6 (2015) 135e143

From the Conclusions (excerpt)
(…) The debates on the efficacy of culture as a powerful tool of local economic and social revitalization are increasingly frequent, especially in this period of global economic crisis and of obsolescence of traditional growth models and schemes. What the comparison between the Otaru and Yubari case studies tells us, is that it is not amatter of whether or not culture ‘works’. In order for culture to play its developmental role, it is fundamental that one properly understands the micro-mechanisms through which economic and social value added is produced e and such mechanisms have inherently to do with capability building, direct active participation of the local community, and collective learning processes.
If these aspects are overlooked, and culture and cultural tourism are merely thought as an industrial sector in a traditional sense and are managed accordingly, in terms of top-down sector policies, failure is most likely. But if the micro-social dimension of culture is properly understood and addressed, culture may become a very powerful developmental tool, not only despite the crisis, but to a large extent because of the crisis, as the Otaru case study powerfully illustrates. The crisis is a concrete occasion for the community to self-organize and leverage its full potential by designing creative responses to the current needs, thanks to its stock of human and social capabilities, provided that such capabilities have been cultivated and inclusively developed through time. This is a lesson that should be given all due attention in times like ours.(…).

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