UTSA architecture professors study economic, cultural effects of S.A. Missions

Sedef Doganer
William Dupont

Sedef Doganer (top) and William Dupont

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(Sept. 11, 2013) -- Sedef Doganer and William Dupont, FAIA, professors in The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) College of Architecture, are studying the economic and cultural effects of the Historic San Antonio Missions campaign to become a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site (WHS). In addition, the pair's research aims to help local business within the missions' surrounding communities flourish in the midst of the campaign.

The San Antonio Missions have been on the tentative list for consideration to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008. They are scheduled to undergo review in 2015. If granted, the Missions district would be the first Texas site to attain World Heritage Site status. This status could potentially bring millions of dollars in economic development to the area.

In a study titled "Cultural Heritage Tourism and Authenticity: San Antonio Missions Historic District," Doganer and Dupont propose a model designed to leverage the Missions' local communities to advance the campaign for World Heritage Site status. The study, with input from David Bojanic, Anheuser-Busch Foundation Professor of Tourism in the UTSA College of Business and the San Antonio Small Business Development Center, is published in the conference proceedings of the 13th International Conference on Studies, Repairs and Maintenance of Heritage Architecture.

The proposed model would preserve the authenticity and integrity of the site by recruiting the missions' surrounding communities and tapping into local resources. They researchers suggest that to create an environment conducive to heritage tourism and positive economic development, the existing heritage of the local community would be promoted as a tourism resource.

"The San Antonio Missions are so popular because they give an authentic historical representation of Spanish architecture and the city's heritage," said Doganer, primary investigator for the study. "If the missions were to become a World Heritage Site, millions of dollars would pour into the area. If mismanaged, this might possibly be to the detriment of the authenticity that brought people to it in the first place."

Tourism can bring many benefits to the local economy, but it can also disturb the quality of life of local residents and the cultural authenticity to which tourists are drawn. In 2009, approximately 1.7 million tourists visited either one or all five of the missions. That number is expected to substantially increase if the missions to receive World Heritage Site status.

The study draws upon on existing plans by San Antonio to improve the San Antonio River, along which the missions rest. By educating local residents and business owners and giving them the tools to preserve the authenticity of their community, Doganer and Dupont hope the proposed model will be used to lead to a sustainable, unique cultural site for future generations. If effective, the proposed model will create jobs and direct the economic benefits to local entrepreneurs, thereby keeping the influx of money local where it would be spent and re-spent many times over.

"We could wait several generations to discover what the passage of time will leave behind for us to treasure, or we can proactively pursue the real market value of cultural heritage today," said Dupont, San Antonio Conservation Society Endowed Professor. "San Antonio has huge assets within the cultural heritage resources of our region. Tapping these cultural assets requires a little advance planning and some specialized knowledge of what they are and how to use them most effectively."

The UTSA College of Architecture Center for Cultural Sustainability has submitted a proposal for a community-based cultural heritage project based upon the study's model to the City of San Antonio for consideration.

The Center for Cultural Sustainability is a center for excellence within the UTSA College of Architecture. It provides academic research and services to benefit communities, completes large-scale research projects, provides research and educational opportunities for graduate students and convenes leaders in the field for dialogue on global practices concerning sustainable development and construction.

>> Learn more at the UTSA College of Architecture website and the UTSA College of Architecturs Center for Cultural Sustainability website.