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Can our cities and towns become creative spaces for cultural tourism? This was the underlying theme of an international conference at İstanbul’s Bosporus University held from November 19-21 2009 in which I had the pleasure to participate in.

While being in the fabulous metropolis on the Bosporus I started to wonder whether Kuşadası and our region – including İzmir – could perhaps pick up on a number of suggestions as had been expressed by fellow conference delegates, then decided to re-package them into a column whilst always duly acknowledging who had said what and hoping to start a healthy debate once being back.

Tourism is by definition an industry sector operating across borders. Culture supposedly is, too! Blending both issues had been a key subject during the İstanbul event: how to create improved awareness about cultural tourism by allowing our cities to become more ‘playful’ including providing more opportunities for an active resident’s involvement in the planning stages.

Important for city planners and tourism representatives in Turkey is the message that branding a city or place – think İzmir and Kuşadası – implies turning it into something to remember, as a speaker from Italy had stated when talking about the case of Turin. Equally relevant is that citizens must be involved in all stages of upgrading a city or part thereof.

From discussing with both conference attendees and speakers I understood that cities are not static; they are places with blurred social and cultural boundaries. Connections are less and less based on geographical proximity. Places and cultures are not fixed but ‘on the move’, too. Above all, cities understood as creative spaces add to the quality of urban life. Creativity opens doors for sustainable tourism, whether being in the field of cultural heritage or associated with mega events. How much government guidance and how much of citizen’s involvement make for the right balance is a question which needs careful analysis both in Turkey and beyond. Both actors however need the private (business) sector to succeed as transforming cities like İzmir into creative spaces for cultural tourism requires a lot of funding, too!

So how can our cities and towns be turned into creative spaces, become more inhabitable and perhaps climb up on the ladder of ‘most enjoyable places to live and work in’? I am not saying that living in or around Kuşadası is not very enjoyable indeed but there is always room for improvement, isn’t there?

My suggestion for today is to make better use of what our big neighbour, İzmir, has to offer and how developments in this great port city can become an advantage for tourists and residents alike here in Kuşadası. I know I already wrote about tourism management and a day trip to İzmir in this newspaper but today’s contribution is coming from a different perspective. Let me start by asking: what does quality of life mean for you? ‘Quality of life’ according to me can be attributed to both living in a big city or in the country-side. We can hence position ‘the quality of urban life’ versus ‘the quality of rural life’.

Kuşadası has a huge advantage as it is neither a big city nor a sleepy community nestled beneath rolling hills where the arrival of the daily mail is the only major event. Our town is a leading resort in a top holiday destination country successfully competing with similar towns in Italy, Spain or France. Let me share with you what one speaker hailing from İzmir herself had stressed in particular: Şebnem Gökçen Dündar’s topic (lecturer at Dokuz Eylül Üniversitesi) had been ‘The rise of culture and fall of planning – successes and failures in adoption of new routes for culture-led regeneration, the case of İzmir’:

1- Plans for the re-development of İzmir’s port had attracted 55 court cases resulting in four revisions – can we learn from that, perhaps making the urban regeneration process much more synchronized with the justified demands as expressed by local citizens who are supposed to benefit from it in the first place?

2- ‘Universiade İzmir’ and similar future events and their potential were apparently overlooked in Turkey’s 2023 national tourism strategy – could local tourism managers and entrepreneurs not set up a new, more pro-active lobby on national level?

3- İzmir’s Urban Regional Development Plan did not stress the relevance of ‘culture’ at all – how can local art aficionados and cultural actors be heard more and more loudly; city planners must listen to those who provide for, as well as those who ask for more culture

4- Learning from the unsuccessful EXPO bid it must be stated that despite three million people residing in İzmir its cultural venues only hold 28.687 seats (of course not counting all of its sports grounds)

5- Building on the success of the recent ‘İzmir Workshop on Culture’ – now is the time for a comprehensive strategy.

I reckon that the more welcoming our big neighbour İzmir becomes the more incoming tourists we will ultimately host in Kuşadası, too. The more creative and ‘cultural’ İzmir becomes the more our local residents will benefit, too. What I appreciated about Şebnem’s comments most was that she did not point a finger but tried to discuss apparent obstacles by offering solutions.

In a nutshell : I think it is good fur Kuşadası to have İzmir as neighbouring, emerging cultural metropolis.

This article was kindly contributed by Klaus Jurgens klaus.jurgens@gmail.com

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