2007-06-16 / Editorials

Preserving the Cultural Landscape

To the Editor:

Here on Mackinac Island, we're learning this summer about how special places can get endangered. This is not, however, a process that is unique to Mackinac. A few days ago, Wednesday, June 6, a road that passes less than a mile from my Illinois home was named to a list of the world's 100 most endangered landmarks. The World Monuments Fund named U.S. Route 66 to the list. The well known American highway joined sites better known as endangered, such as flood-damaged New Orleans and the Near East's water-starved Jordan River.

"It's about cultural landscapes," the Fund's Michelle Berenfeld told the Springfield, Illinois State Journal-Register in a story published June 9. "Cultural sites are more than just the prettiest buildings. These are about areas that represent a part of history, the way people used to live and what people used to care about."

US-66 is not in danger of destruction. It has been repeatedly improved and repaved, and the sections of it that lie outside the city limits of major towns have been improved into a four-lane superhighway. The section near my home has changed a lot over the past 10 years, though. The old motel not too far from where I turn off the highway has closed, and a beloved hot dog stand was torn down not too long ago. National franchise outlets and chain stores have replaced these and other small businesses. This trend may soon accelerate. Wal-Mart has announced plans to build a large shopping center close to where the motel used to be.

This year, experts are warning our island that our landmark status is threatened, also. As with Route 66, the threat is that Mackinac Island, and its historic buildings and cultural landscape, could be altered and prettified so as to turn its visual appearance into a shell of what it used to be.

It is not certain that this alteration would be the best way for the Island to go, even in the commercial sense. The more than 500,000 people who come every year to Mackinac Island all come here voluntarily to immerse themselves in a total environment which they can see and feel to be different from the world where they spend most of their lives. People like pretty things, but they also dislike boredom. One of the challenges, and one of the potential rewards, facing Mackinac Islanders is the task of preserving the components of a cultural landscape solely because they are different from the increasingly standardized elements of everyday mainland American life. The more we protect these things, the more our visitors will emotionally react to Mackinac Island as a pear. Without these distinctions, we, as a community, would be no different than any other development that can be easily viewed by our valued visitors during their drive northward along Interstate 75.

I applaud Mr. Doud and his ambition to restore a "sense of community" to our island. His dedication to customer service and "grass-roots" community responsibility are traits to be admired and emulated, by all of our community members. If, by chance, any of our local leaders come to realize the same vision for Mackinac, that Mr. Doud has, then perhaps more visitors will embrace the "old world charm" Mackinac Island may once again possess. Such a realization can only lead to an increased number of visitors looking for an escape from "the hustle and bustle of the city life." While this letter is not intended to lay blame on any single group of people, it is intended to stir the thought process of all our civic and business leaders who are currently looking for answers to the riddle of our declining tourist numbers. Yes, I do realize that the loss of our charm is not the only reason for our declining numbers in tourism. However, it is a part of the many reasons and should be addressed, by our local and state leaders, as part of the solution. I present this letter as "food for thought."

James M. Bazinau

Mackinac Island

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