Negotiating with ethno-ecology: Landscape management strategies for northern Laos’s ecotourism boom

Students: ZHANG Mengting Yani; WEI Gongqi William

Instructors: Ashley Scott Kelly; Xiaoxuan Lu
Course: Studio Laos: Strategic Landscape Planning for the Greater Mekong
Programme: Bachelor of Arts in Landscape Studies
Date: June 2020


Today’s cultural tourism is a fragmented display of signifiers, a discriminating break of the primitiveness, and an indifferent journey for tourists. Behind all these homogenized culture representations, we are aware of a larger system imposed on a larger geography that constantly sustains the cultural landscape and it is greater than any tourism developers want to provide. The territory of culture is much larger than what we designers are aware of. In the modern knowledge system, scholars condense culture to a concept, a discipline of study. However, for designers, this concentration means simplification and laziness leading to only seeing culture representations rather than culture itself. While for developers, this concentration becomes an intrigue to commodify and homogenize the culture. Indigenous people will have ambiguous answers to the question of culture or nature, primitively. However, they know how to sustain their land and retain their identity as the owner of the land, which is exactly where their dignity is. They are much closer to the land than we are and the connection is sacred and spiritual. They live within one system. It’s a not A system we should design, it is the system they design. Negotiation is an ever-changing and inclusive process that is capable of keeping the issue on the table and forestalling the implementation of top-down plannings. To enable villagers to have greater authority over their land and preserve their dignity, we purposely focus on expanding the culture territory by concisely calculating and representing the territory without reducing its complexity. With this rigor and complexity, landscape architecture is giving villagers the ability of translating their introvert perception of land to the extrovert view of culture to negotiate for their future on their own.

Keywords: northern Laos; tourism development; ethno-ecology; negotiation; culture territory

Enlarge Photo: Two sites in Yunnan are selected to evidence their larger culture territories. Meanwhile, two sites in Laos are selected to reveal the maximal tourism capacity challenging the predominant value system. By ZHANG Mengting Yani, WEI Gongqi William.Enlarge Photo: Four villages are under the same trend of cultural tourism development plan yet of different ethno-ecologies and forms of development. By ZHANG Mengting Yani, WEI Gongqi William.Enlarge Photo: Mandan is to be developed in the mode of National Parks, while the cultural territory of Dai people proved to be much larger than the boundaries of tourism development plans. By ZHANG Mengting Yani, WEI Gongqi William.Enlarge Photo: An object-based trip concentrates on object display, commodifying culture, and promoting consumptions. Viewshed of the planned tourism route is analyzed, which does not fully overlap with the culture territory. By ZHANG Mengting Yani, WEI Gongqi William.Enlarge Photo: In Boten SEZ, without indigenous residents retained, local salt industry is still highlighted in tourism planning. Adopting the same analysis method, Boten's culture territory is much larger than SEZ planned territory. By ZHANG Mengting Yani, WEI Gongqi William.Enlarge Photo: Through calculation, the first negotiation scheme is provided to minimize the conflicts with SEZ plan by keeping the current tourism capacity. The second maximizes tourism capacity by enlarging salt production. By ZHANG Mengting Yani, WEI Gongqi William.Enlarge Photo: This bigger culture territory is crucial for the external perception of the landscape that changes under the dynamics of the landscape. It is an accumulated co-production of people and environment. By ZHANG Mengting Yani, WEI Gongqi William.Enlarge Photo: The landscape related to shifting cultivation in Nalan will never be presented within the viewshed of the hiking trek limited by the Nam Ha NPA and LUPLA program. By ZHANG Mengting Yani, WEI Gongqi William.Enlarge Photo: A landscape management strategy is proposed to identify spaces for recovering the culture practices of kahmu people without touching the protected areas, while predicting different levels of tourism capacities. By ZHANG Mengting Yani, WEI Gongqi William.Enlarge Photo: The management system should provide you a touch with the direct materiality of the local culture and the whole territory that sustains the culture displaying dynamics of space and time. By ZHANG Mengting Yani, WEI Gongqi William.