In a noticeable earthquake, many of the world’s historical towns and villages are in danger of being destroyed, because in many cases it will be too expensive, if not impossible, to retrofit iconic old buildings. By losing them in a seismic event, those cities will be left with a shattered spirit of place. This ruined identity affects the citizen’s security and sense of belonging; factors which are considered important in social resilience (Cimellaro, 2016). On the one hand, the survivors must endure the loss of loved ones, and on the other they have to come to terms with a lost identity. How can we protect our vulnerable cities from losing their identity? Is there a way to minimize the after-effects and can we help these cities recover faster? One fact is that in any human settlement, regardless of its size, there are parts that are immune from destruction or at least resistant to destruction. By focusing on these parts in the development course, we will put our historical towns and villages in a safer position. This article tries to identify these parts, examine the relationship between them, and find out what changes in them may lead to better results.
What is the spirit of place?
“I think sometimes that cities don’t exist. If you love a city as I loved Prague, you can come to believe that it is your own creation and that when you leave it, it disappears. It stops”.
When Carlos Fuentes (1968), wrote these sentences in his novel ‘A change of skin’, he may not have known, he was referring to a distinctive quality of all great cities; a quality that makes them memorable. We call it, the spirit of place, which is defined by everything that gives meaning to a place, and determines its character or essence (Schulz, 1980). It exists in our minds, and emanates from either tangible or intangible elements. Tangible elements are made of physical objects like buildings, while intangibles are made of non-physical elements such as rituals, and ceremonies. In both these categories we can find resilient elements.
Symbolic historical buildings, and structures in general, are central players in making the spirit of our cities. They are usually the first things that cross our minds when we hear the name of a city, but although very important, many of them are not resistant to a devastating earthquake. The landscape however, is very resilient. Though still a part of the built environment, it is of a very different kind; one that will suffer the least in an earthquake (figure 4). This is because over the course of time plants adapted themselves to develop a flexible structure due to their static nature. As a result they mostly remain untouched in tectonic slips. And the good news is, there are many towns that their landscape is making their spirit of place. In Tuscany the spirit of place comes from the vast vineyards; In states like Iowa, and Illinois from the vast panoramic views of the corn fields(Hansen, 1991); in Yoshino, Japan from the abundance of cherry trees, and Hanami festival (Motonaka, 2006); and in Qamsar and Niasar from the Abundance of Rose gardens(figure 3).
The above examples fall in the category of utilitarian landscape. A utilitarian landscape is a landscape that produces an end-product and as such, can generate money for its owners. This end-product can be edible like fruits, vegetables and spices or not-edible such as the essence extracted from flowers. They first emerged as a product of agricultural revolution, and influenced our cities, and their identity. Some argues that even theist religions, were an agricultural enterprise; at least in their beginnings (Harari, 2016). From agricultural revolution some 10.000 years ago (Harari, 2014) till the late middle ages (Boults and Sullivan, 2010) most man-made landscapes were of this type.
Resilient intangible elements, the rituals
Intangible elements are equally as important in making the spirit of place. In fact, there are many cities in the world that qualities other than the physical city, cross our minds upon hearing their names. Take Nashville for example, whose identity is rooted in ceremonies associated with a musical event which earned its nickname the ‘Music city’(Music-city, 2019).
Ceremonial events or rather rituals, are the main topic of this discussion. They are among the most important intangible elements of the spirit of place. According to Longman dictionary (Mayor, 2009), the word ‘Ritual’ as a noun, means a ceremony that is always performed in the same way, in order to mark an important religious or social occasion. It also refers to something that you do regularly and in the same way each time, a routine. As such, any ceremonial event can be considered, a ritual. It is a way of acting and as a way of acting, ritualization distinguishes certain ways of acting from others (Mann, 2011).
In the past the word “Ritual” was associated deeply with religion and possessed the power to legitimize and protect the empires (Harari, 2014: 240) but nowadays many other routines can be referred to as rituals. Examples are plenty. Among such examples are the ones that offer a sense of belonging and connect us to groups, they suggest a deeper world of meaning beyond the mundane habits of everyday (Ochs, 2010). A case in point is the iPhone, whose designers have made the process of unpacking, a ritual experience to its fans. Other examples are: Music festivals and gatherings people attend regularly, football matches, the annual Nevada “Burning Man” festival, Mardy Gras or Fat Tuesday. The list of rituals is a very long list, and they all give a unique sense of place to the geographical places where they are held. “They affirm the identity of the individual within the community” (Virginia, 2017, March 28).
Ritual landscape and the resilient spirit of place
Whenever a utilitarian landscape plays an important role in the economic security of a society, in a sense, it has the ingredients to be sanctified (UNESCO, 2011; Boyce, 1984; Pirnia, 1994), and intertwined with their traditions and rites. In this article let’s call such a landscape a ritual landscape (figure 5). Here, we see a direct relationship between tangible and intangible elements of the spirit of place which can add to the resiliency of society. Both utilitarian landscapes and rites are highly resistant to earthquakes and continue to prosper and inspire their communities. Since much of what makes up the spirit of place remains unharmed and can quickly return to its pre-earthquake status, the whole society becomes more resilient, given that they also play a prominent role in making the economy of society.
These capacities of a ritual utilitarian landscape, can benefit our historical earthquake-prone cities. By way of illustration, let’s conduct a comparative analysis of two very different set of examples. In the first group of examples we have wine towns which are among good examples of ritual utilitarian landscapes, in contrast to the second group, whose economy are rooted in either rich natural mineral resources and related productions, or manufacturing industries.
From Zagros Mountains to Caucasia, from Europe to Americas, cultivation of grapes and wine making, have always had deep spiritual and social meanings. In Persia it has been attributed to the mythological figures in the ‘Book of kings’ (Pellechia, 2006) and is a symbol of enrapturing divine love in medieval Persian poetry (Saeidi and Unwin, 2004), making it integral to Persian culture (J.B., 2016). In Christianity, it is considered to be a gift from God (Kreglinger, 2016), and monasteries have greatly contributed to the development of quality wine (Adams, 2009). Aside from many wine brotherhoods that date back to the late 12th century (Charte Internationale des Confréries Bachiques), there are scores of wine and grape harvest festivals around the world, such as ‘Vendemmia’, the Italian autumn ritual (Mekacher).
All this gives an unparalleled spiritual and economic power to wine and vineyards. Full of character and spirit, the vineyards give their spiritual power to the towns with a dominant viticulture. For many around the world, Tuscany or Bordeaux means vast vineyards and reminds them of the best wines. Just as Times Square and Broadway are the source of identity for New York, or the Eiffel Tower is the source of identity for Paris, so are the vineyards of Bordeaux or the Okanagan Valley (figure 2). According to Tafel and Szolnoki (2020) an estimated number of 10 million wine tourists generated EUR 5.2 billion for Germany in 2016. In Italy it generates EUR 2.65 billion annually (Maudlin, 2020). Even if we leave aside the considerable profits of wine production industry, the vineyard tourism itself amounts to a significant figure and since this main asset, the landscape, will not be severely damaged in a devastating earthquake, they will continue to generate income. Considering that one the fundamental factors that makes a community resourceful, is their self-resiliency (Cimellaro, 2016: 127), the inherent economic capability of these towns, works like an effective natural insurance.
Vineyards can be opened to wine tourists quickly and continue production swiftly. The Napa Valley in California, quickly opened its doors to wine tourists after a magnitude 6 earthquake (Hetter, 2014). In Italy, following the August 2016 earthquake in central Italy with a magnitude of 6.2 on the Richter scale (USGS, 2016a), Amatrice, Accumoli and Pescara del Tronto were among the towns damaged to the point of total destruction (Chrisafis, 2016), while many of their vineyards remained intact (Saccetti, 2019; Donati, 2017). In New Zealand, following the November 2016 Kaikōura earthquake, measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale (USGS, 2016b), only a few vineyards suffered land damage, and wine loss was just as low as 2.0% (Dizhur et al., 2017). In Chile, one of the most crisis-hit areas, following the 2010 earthquake, measuring 8.8 on the Richter scale, was Maule, Colchague and Cachapoal valleys, which produce 80% of Chile’s wine (USGS, 2010) damaged. The result was a 12.5% loss compared to the previous year production, mostly due to damage to storage facilities but the production quickly bounced back. Here again, the utilitarian landscape remained mostly unharmed, with the damage limited to irrigation systems (Morales, 2010).
While it took only a few months for the above examples to recover, for the second group it took years. Tangshan, a highly productive industrial city that damaged by 1976 earthquake, is a prime example of rebuilding a city from scratch (Vale and Campanella, 2005). It seems, that at the time of the disaster that killed at least 250,000 people, the city’s identity was mainly formed around its rich natural mineral resources and the industry. Old Tangshan had no response diversity for its spirit of place; therefore, the social impact of the earthquake had been quite significant. Even though some industrial facilities escaped destruction (Vale and Campanella, 2005: 350) the overall damage to the economic core of the city was considerable, and it took almost 10 years for the government to recover the city completely; twice as long as the original five-year target set in the 1976 (Zhang et al., 2015) and the city’s pre-earthquake production output, was a goal that was met within two years (Vale and Campanella, 2005). In another incident, the Great 1923 Kanto Earthquake, Yokohama City has lost about 90% of its factories. In one of the fastest economic recoveries we know, it took the manufacturing factories about one year to exceed pre earthquake numbers in 1924 (Okazaki et al., 2019). Just compare the time required for economic recovery of Tangshan and Yokohama, with wine towns mentioned earlier to see how effective a ritual landscape can be.
It should be noted that, ritual landscapes are not limited to vineyards and wine towns. Any landscape, green or not green, natural or manmade, which has the ability to diversify the economy of its immediate community and has a strong influzence on the spirit of place by means of rites and celebrations, fall into this group. So the rose gardens of Qamsar and Niasar in Iran along which are completed with the Golabgiri festival, or the cherry groves of Nara in Japan which are given a new meaning by the Hanami festival are all good examples of a ritual landscape. Both of these festivals, centuries old, attract many tourists from all over the world and have a great economic impact on society (Massoudi, 2014) (Basil, 2009) (figure 1).
Ritual landscape and social networks
Trust and well-developed social networks are also pivotal factors in creating a resilient community. In the presence of well-developed social networks, people will be able to respond effectively and collectively to change (Walker and Salt, 2012). A ritual landscape can play an important role towards developing social networks. Developed networks which are essential for the successful conduct of annual rituals and ceremonies can be used to solve problems in times of disaster. In the examples mentioned, we come across an interesting case. Amatrice is famous for inventing spaghetti all’Amatriciana and holds an annual festival in its honor. As soon as the news surfaced that Amatrice is among the worst hit towns in 2016 earthquake, chefs around Italy used their “network” effectively to help the earthquake victims. They mobilized hundreds of restaurants to serve the spaghetti all’Amatriciana dish and raised funds to help Amatrice (Williams, 2016). This was possible, because Amatrice was able to create a brand that was supported by a ritual, and a network loyal to it. Similarly, historical towns that have developed a popular “ritual utilitarian landscape”, should naturally be able to respond effectively and collectively to help an earthquake-stricken town (figure 6).
Utilitarian landscapes around the world are far more capable than what we know today, especially when they combined with rituals to create a ritual landscape. They can be man-made or natural, but they are all economically beneficial to their immediate communities. The spirit of landscape in cities such as Saint Emilion, Qamsar, Mount Yoshino, and many others, is so strong that overshadows the iconic buildings and physical city. Here the sense of urban identity is shaped by green space, rituals, as well as buildings.
In an earthquake, ritual landscapes are resistant to destruction, thereby from a socio-economic point of view, towns developed with a focus on a ritual landscape, can return to their ‘pre-earthquake’ state sooner than other areas and this resistant spirit of place, will be less affected by a devastating earthquake. Therefore, a logical argument is that the world’s historical towns that are prone to post-earthquake destruction, both in developed and underdeveloped countries, should better promote a model of development that focuses on development of rituals related to their landscape. This is because this type of development approach, is effective in many domains of resiliency such as redundancy and robustness, and acts as a ‘natural insurance’ against the effects of earthquakes. It will also make citizens more resourceful, because resourcefulness is linked to redundancy and robustness (Cimellaro, 2016: 38-39), In this article, we have called this approach, a Ritual Landscape Oriented Development (RLOD).
A Ritual Landscape Oriented Development, will focus on developing a ritual landscape. In other words, its emphasis is on the development of rituals that are related to a utilitarian landscape which is able to create a strong spirit in the place. The landscape, does not necessarily need to be a green one, any type of landscape capable of enriching the economy, and shaping the culture of community will help. A good example is the annual Nevada “Burning Man” festival, where the desert becomes an asset. Ritual Landscape Oriented Development, prioritizes resiliency over resistance (table 1), and promotes social networks, associated with ceremonial events, which will result in having more sustainable, more efficient, less vulnerable communities.
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