Where town meets country

Where town meets country

07/12/2023 - 10:41

How to develop sustainable cultural tourism in the Urban Fringe? ‘With this Horizon 2020 project we mainly ignited the discussion on destination development.’ Ko Koens on the SmartCulTour research project.
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SmartCulTour stands for Smart Cultural Tourism - as a driver of sustainable development of European regions. With partners from across Europe, BUas contributed to the research from the fields of Tourism, Leisure & Events, Hotel, Facility and Games. The project was funded by the European Union under Horizon 2020 and it was recently completed.


‘People expect products from such research, tangible and measurable. Because money is involved. Logical of course, but in this project we mainly contributed with tools that help people think about zoning development and thus help give concrete form to ideas.’ Ko Koens, along with a host of other BUas colleagues, was involved in the SmartCulTour project. How can you develop sustainable cultural tourism in Urban Fringe regions? That question was central.


Urban Fringe – where town meets country.

‘Such a region does not necessarily have to be far away from the city,’ Ko says, ‘often these are regions that receive less attention or at least are less in the picture with municipal authorities.’ The question may also be, do they want that, to be in the picture? Is every region keen on attracting tourists, even if it is sustainable cultural tourism?

‘That’s a good question,’ says Ko, ‘this project is mainly about contributing to improving places. And indeed, not everyone is keen on it. In the Afrikaander neighbourhood in Rotterdam, for instance, people didn’t feel the need for further development, so we didn’t go any further there. But in Hoek van Holland, for example, they did want to look further at how tourism can add value.


De Hoek? Near De Nieuwe Waterweg? Ports?

‘Surprised? Hoek van Holland really does have something to offer and not just beach,’ says Ko. ‘There is a lot of cultural heritage to be found from the Cold War. Communication equipment, for example, to send information to Berlin, the tower is still there. But creating a coherent story is proving difficult. The tram now stops in the city centre, the new metro will soon run directly to the beach. The population is ageing and there are fears that the village is slowly fading away.’


So what’s needed?

‘We looked at that first – what’s there now and what’s missing,’ Ko continues, ‘it’s important that you start doing things together, but then there has to be a certain collectivity. The degree of collectivity determines the size of the steps you take. A lot depends on the context, where can you contribute? So you have to get to know that context first. Only then can you start looking at solutions, can we offer them and how?’


And what about this context?

‘We are dealing with two snags,’ Ko explains, ‘often people don't understand what can be done with tourism, that is, with what is already there in terms of cultural heritage. Another snag is that ownership is not always taken. The latter is actually the question behind the question, I have discovered. People often point to someone else. It is also really difficult to get something done because there are different interests involved. If you put it very crudely, you could say we are dealing with three Hoek van Holland groups. The ‘original’ locals who are often older, ‘new’ locals and the visitors. People don’t always find each other yet. You can’t promise tangible results either. Because you have to deal with legislation, rules, policies that may be at odds with them. And people also need to feel ownership.’


What has the project led to?

‘With this Horizon 2020 project, we have mainly ignited the discussion on zoning development. It does not immediately lead to direct physical change in the built environment, but the output does provide tools to enter the conversation about sustainable development. In terms of output, there is, for example, a mapping tool, which provides insight into what is out there. Mobility lines are also mapped. Hoek van Holland has the potential to be a 365-day destination – it has a beach, museums, heritage. How can you connect those building blocks in such a way that the population benefits?’

‘The project was completed with a toolkit for six regions in Europe, including thus the Rotterdam-Hoek van Holland region. It mainly involves tools that help break free from existing patterns. One example of a tool is a serious game developed in our own Cradle Lab. It is a game that allows you to see the effects of certain scenarios and interventions. People often have unrealistic expectations. In the game, you can show, if we do this, that will happen, do we want that? Such a tool is mainly meant to get people talking to each other. The toolkit also helps us map the processes. It helps us arrive at the collectivity that is so badly needed for sustainable development.’


Text: Maaike Dukker-‘t Hart


More information: http://www.smartcultour.eu/