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Terra Firma: Trinity University Press blog

San Antonio's Second Annual World Heritage Festival

by Margy Avery on

This month San Antonio hosted its second annual World Heritage Festival, a six-day bonanza of cultural, historic, and informative activities celebrating the San Antonio missions.

Perhaps you didn’t know that the city’s five missions are the state’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of only ten cultural World Heritage Sites in the country. (The United States has twenty-three sites in allten cultural, twelve natural, and one mixed. You can see a list of them here and order a cool map of the 1,000-plus sites around the globe for $3 here.)

The city’s World Heritage Festival, which was all about celebrating the missions, included excellent events like a twenty-two-mile trip via bike, walk, or run from mission to mission and Restored by Light, in which colorful hues were projected onto the walls of Mission Concepción to emulate the frescoes that once cloaked the structure.

Being there was like speaking to a neighbor you’ve seen for years but never talked to beyond exchanging pleasantries. The missions have so much more to offer us, if only we’d ask.

How do communities like San Antonio balance a rich, deep heritage with the everyday bustle of modern life and a robust tourist industry to boot? This was one of the questions an international group of scholars, city planners, architects, conservationists, and urban planners considered at the Living Heritage Symposium, a two-day meeting that overlapped with the festival.

Speakers and participants from around the country, and from places as far reaching as Hong Kong and Turkey, shared widely differing experiences. Discussion provided ample opportunity to share experiences, compare challenges, and strategize.

Speakers from San Francisco, for example, discussed their efforts to establish cultural districts, designed to preserve a community’s culture (as opposed to a historic district, which is defined by specific buildings in a clearly demarcated space). By decoupling heritage from culture, a cultural district might manifest more as a network of specific nodes rather than a defined space. In other words, preservation doesn’t necessarily have to be tied to a place in a designated district. An example in our own backyard is the King William Cultural Arts District.

Trinity University Press was proud to help sponsor the symposium alongside the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Center for Cultural Sustainability, the City of San Antonio’s Office of Historic Preservation, and PlaceEconomics.

While the press’s numerous books on the city’s historic places are proof positive of our dedication to historic preservation, the dynamic nature of cultural districts is a topic we’re hot to pursue.

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