Erik Luijendijk: Nederlandse Antillen
In 2006 I did a two-month internship on Curacao, an island which is part of the Dutch Antilles in the Caribbean. This internship was part of my studies at the Urban Planning program at the University of Groningen (the Netherlands).
My involvement in Curacao resulted from the efforts of the Department of Urban and Regional Development Planning and Housing (DROV) in Willemstad (Curacao) to prepare a nomination-file for the Cultural Landscape Western Curacao for the UNESCO World Heritage List. Very exceptionally I was allowed to use the magnificent plantation house Ascencion, situated in the middle of the nomination area, as my 'operating base'. From this inspiring location I could experience both the landscape and the culture of this particular part of the island.
My assignment in Curacao was to make an inventory of the factors affecting the property: the (cultural) landscape. The main goal of my study was to analyze the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT-analysis) affecting the property within the nomination area.
The internship started with an international expert-meeting organised by DROV where experts from all over the world discussed the intended nomination. This meeting was of great importance to me as the information brought forward during the discussions immediately introduced me to the nomination area and the nomination process. These conditions are essential conditions when you are in such a relatively short internship.
The intended UNESCO nomination-file of Curacao's Cultural Landscape Western Landscape contains six plantation systems. The plantation systems are situated at the west-end of Curacao, in the area named Banda' Abou. All plantation systems consist of a plantation house ('landhuis') and a surrounding plantation.
By interviewing stakeholders in- and outside the area, I met many people who introduced me to a lot of the factors affecting the nomination area. It turned out that all the interviews are in favour of the nomination of the Cultural Landscape Western Curacao for UNESCO's World Heritage List as everyone acknowledges the many advantages for the Banda' Abou area and for the island as a whole. The growing popularity of cultural tourism and eco-/action tourism can play an important role in giving the Banda' Abou region a new impulse. However, to achieve this it will be necessary to have a clear and well thought-out plan for each plantation system in which the role of each plantation system in the whole nomination area is defined. Besides, the entire physical, legal, organizational and financial infrastructure needs to be build: roads, the structure of the plantations, detailed spatial plans (now lacking), the demarcation of the boundaries of the plantations, restoration and maintenance of the plantation houses, development of a management- and marketing plan, development of an education-program, etcetera.
Hence, the most important conclusion of my study is that the nomination of an extensive landscape is a major operation. The support of local parties (population, investors) is all-important to achieve this. This requires a well-structured cooperation with the various parties involved. As it is beyond dispute that preservation of the plantation systems is essential to keep the unique identity of Curacao in the Caribbean alive, creating awareness of and appreciation among the general public, investors, policy makers, etcetera for the historical value of the area is an inevitable requirement to achieve this – and to create support to preserve the area.
There will be a win-win-situation if all the people involved will act in a way that leads to the preservation and creation of a Cultural Landscape Western Curacao. A site that is unique not only in the Caribbean but in the world.
My internship offered me a unique introduction to the island of Curacao. The landscape, the nature, the culture, the people and the buildings were all factors that are related to Curacao's potential future world heritage site that I had to look at.
From a personal point of view I would say that Curacao is an attractive place to do an internship, especially for Dutch students. There are plenty fellow students to undertake outdoor activities and experience the Caribbean-nightlife in Willemstad. Besides the island has a lot of beautiful sites. Not only the beaches and the sea but also the rough and relatively untouched nature offer lots of possibilities for a wide range of activities. My research for the intended nomination of the Cultural Landscape Western Curacao for UNESCO's World Heritage List confirms this wide range of possibilities. The island is an area of outstanding cultural, natural and architectural value.