The National Geographic Society asked me to participate in their 2006 World Heritage Survey, an analysis of the World's most valuable cultural and environmental sites. Says National Geographic,
In 1973, when the U.S. became the first country to sign the World Heritage Convention, the idea was for global recognition to encourage protection of the world's great natural and cultural sites. UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) would administer the program, and nations could apply to have a site inscribed on a World Heritage List, if the site was protected and of "outstanding universal value." Tourism traffic wasn't even part of the equation.
It is now.
The impact of tourism on fragile, unique, or historic sites is paradoxically critical to their preservation but capable of their destruction, and the purpose of this study was to analyze the sites on their own merits, taking into consideration their milieu on the whole, their integration into the local community, their preservation, and their protection. I was invited to be a panel member based on my work as a travel author. Together we cast our ballots on some or all of 830 sites, and National Geographic tallied up the results. They are surprising.
The ratings have been tallied and the results published in the November/December issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine, and on the web at:National Geographic, where you can find the individual site ratings, read participant comments, and link to information on the World Heritage Program. From National Geographic:
The resulting Stewardship Index rating is an average of informed judgments about each place as a whole - all its many faces. Like the cards that Olympic judges hold up, our experts' scores reflect both measurable factors and the intangibles of style, aesthetics, and culture. And like an athlete, each destination has a chance to improve.
I have also been asked to participate on a similar project, the 2008 World Monuments Watch List of the world's 100 most endangered sites. The World Monuments Watch List is compiled biennially in order to 'call international attention to cultural heritage sites around the world that are threatened by neglect, vandalism, armed conflict, or natural disaster.' An independent panel of experts reviews the nominations, and a final 'World Monuments Watch: 100 Most Endangered Sites 2008' list will be released.
I also participated in the 2007 Island Destinations Survey. Read more about it here.
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