The Local Council Reformative Act which is being presented to Mayors and Executive Secretaries today needs to inculcate a sense of civic pride, innovation and creative thinking throughout the whole process of managing localities in Malta and Gozo. We need to regenerate our towns and villages in such a way that we do not lose the characteristics and Culture that could be a valuable asset in attracting visitors to these island.
When we speak about restoration and development it is always a matter of concern for many who wait in utter trepidation for the “Big Bang” that could mean the end of a small, picturesque and quaint village square or the demise of a simple townhouse that has such a strong significance in the locality and has been the subject of legends, stories and culture which are the main ingredients for that living history that possesses such an interesting attraction for all who visit these islands. There was a time when we were fast heading for a stereotypical Mediterranean tourist destination with all the trappings of a rather small mass market attractiveness. The introduction of local councils in 1993 has brought about a greater awareness of identity, environment and traditional characteristics; but in this year dedicated to creativity and innovation, we need to think carefully about the effect of misinterpreting the two functions of restoration and development.
Local Councils have a duty and an obligation to maintain a strong sense of tradition and culture that is indigenous or unique to the locality. They also have a duty to enhance the attractiveness of the locality in terms of attractiveness to tourists as well as the commercial sector – and this would seem to be a very difficult act to perform in many cases. Commercial interests and cultural attractiveness are not very obvious partners. But there is a way with which one can turn this win-lose position into a possible win-win situation and that is by using the principles of Local Agenda 21 effectively. But to do this we need to ensure that there is complete dialogue, communication and interaction between the tripartite made up of the local authority, the business community and the local resident community. There needs to be clear targets and objectives which are attainable and measureable. There needs to be a sense of identity and feeling for the localities and, most of all, there needs to be a commitment to think “outside the box”, to use creative thinking and innovation as the essential tools for producing new ways of developing local planning without compromising on the traditional characteristics. Some traditional makeovers we have seen in the past have seen a systematic process which stereotyped the, once unique villages and towns, by introducing red brick sidewalks, the rustic look of the townhouse, whose facade has been attacked with a pick axe and also the apartment blocks that seem to have exploded from the gutted interior of some elegant house whose facade has been maintained as a reminder of what 21st century architecture has contributed to our National Heritage.
We need to rethink our own attitudes towards our definition of restoration and development before it is too late. Urbanisation could have a negative impact on our attractiveness as a unique tourism destination; we have an interesting pot pourri to offer the visitor through our unique culture and characteristics which are emanated through the living history that is so different in every town and village on the islands, it is this living history that could be key to the development of a sustainable tourism activity which could continue to have a positive affect on our own quality of life, through the multiplier effect. This can only happen if we all sit down together and work out an effective action plan to make this possible.