Designing Sacred Lands

By Steve Lansing, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore §

After four unsuccessful attempts, in June 2012 UNESCO approved a new World Heritage Cultural Landscape: the subaks and water temples of Bali. An innovative management plan empowers the elected heads of subaks and villages to manage the World Heritage as a Governing Assembly, with assistance from government departments.  Implementation of this management system has been delayed, but it has been endorsed by UNESCO as a promising model for democratic adaptive management.

With millions of visitors arriving in Bali each year, there is obvious potential for the Governing Assembly to capture revenue from visitors to the sites, and in this way channel benefits from Bali’s enormous tourism industry to Balinese communities. The design of visitor facilities also offers an opportunity for people in the sites to decide what they would like to communicate about their cultural landscape, to Indonesian school children as well as foreign tourists. To that end, Sang Putu Kaler Surata and his students at Mahasaraswati University in Denpasar have just published a school book about the subaks and the World Heritage.

Landscape architect Julia Watson and I have prepared a design proposal, “Gateways to Sacred Lands”, offering initial suggestions for imagining educational facilities in the World Heritage. When the Governing Assembly comes into existence, the intent is to use these ideas as catalysts for discussions in the villages. Our hopes for the World Heritage are discussed in a recent posting at Agroforestry World, and plans for these design charrettes are outlined in a short video about empowering the Governing Assembly.


Photos from fieldwork:

Farmers of Subak Kulub Atas perusing Julia Watson’s Design Proposal for Bali’s World Heritage. Photo by author.
Preparing the nomination dossier for UNESCO. Photo by author.
Preparing the nomination dossier for UNESCO. Photo by author.