12.00 Developing a Pragmatic Tool for Historic Environment Practitioners: A Case Study of the Horto d’El Rey in Brazil
In the past fifteen years, there has been an increasing call for built heritage practitioners to use the values of a broad array of stakeholders when determining what buildings, places, and landscapes are “historic” and how the authenticity of these resources should be conserved. There are, however, no efficient, pragmatic methods that these practitioners can use to address this need. Moreover, there is a growing gulf between heritage studies academics advocating for a heterodox approach to heritage conservation that considers these contemporary values and practitioners who base their decisions on traditional, orthodox approaches that privilege expert rule while deprecating community values. In order to answer this gap, this paper will explore how to create a heritage management tool that engages communities as equals in a values-based dialog with professional heritage practitioners using community-based participatory research. This methodology places the “researcher” in the role of a facilitator and empowers community members (the co-researchers) to make decisions on the specific ways in which the study will be conducted.
In order to answer the primary question of how a pragmatic, efficient research tool can be created for use by built heritage conservation without prior social science training, we will examine what worked and did not work using the Horto d’El Rey, one of the oldest botanical gardens in Brazil, as a case study. The garden is located in Olinda, Pernambuco, and was established by royal decree in 1798 and first started working as a research botanical garden in 1811, but was abandoned in the latter part of the nineteenth century. While the primary author led this study, students from the architecture and urban development program at the Federal University of Pernambuco (UFPE) acted both as co-researchers and facilitators. For the purposes of the methodology of this study, the stakeholders from the neighbourhoods of Carmo, Amaro Branco, Bonsucesso, and Amparo are considered to be co-researchers as well.
The case study is designed around community workshop meetings in which the participants/co-researchers are free to decide what particular methods they wish to use and the overall structure of the meeting, including which communities of practice they wish to include/exclude in particular meetings. In this way, the co-researchers are free to determine what values are associated with the garden, what problems need to be addressed, and how the community can be empowered to take direct action on these problems without needing to wait for government or non-governmental organizations involvement.
Preliminary results indicate that the community members we have engaged through this process have a clear idea in terms of the values associated with the garden, which include environmental, historic, landscape, and folklore values (i.e., stories linked to collective memory). Particular problems identified include issues with deforestation, illegal land occupations, projects for the area that run counter to the preservation of the garden, a lack of environmental management, abandonment, neglect and misunderstanding by the public, an overall lack of land management and supervision, and that many people do not seem to know about the existence of the garden. Potential solutions that the community members/co-researchers wish to explore include ecotourism, making the garden into a public park, conserving as a natural forest area, returning the land to its former use as a research garden, using the garden for heritage and environmental education. In particular, the participants want to find solutions that do not result in evicting people who are currently illegally occupying the land, but rather find a way to enable them to be stewards of the garden.