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Students Bail Out a Drowning Island

Around the world, the most beautiful locales suffer from the ugly side of tourism. Such is the case for the stunning Mediterranean island of Santorini, a Greek gem in miniature that is awash in tourists who visit by the millions each year. But UC faculty and students have begun a multi-year effort to aid this island paradise, a place that’s too pretty for its own good.

Date: 8/5/2004 12:00:00 AM
By: Mary Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: students in Santorini

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The drop-dead gorgeous cliffs of Santorini, an eight-mile-long speck amidst the Greek islands, were created by the upsurge of a volcanic eruption millennia ago.  Now, the island’s centuries-old culture and traditional ways of life are in danger of sinking beneath a similar upsurge in tourism.

Three million tourists a year visit the island, which is home to 12,000 residents.  The dramatic shifts tourism brings in terms of economic diversity, development and environmental preservation as well as demand for public services and potable water all add up to large-scale challenges.  That’s where an Extreme (Tourism) Make-Over Team from the University of Cincinnati comes in.

UC faculty and students have been using their professional skills for several years now on the nearby (and much larger) island of Crete, reshaping tourism in certain municipalities to protect treasures of Minoan archaeology, ancient groves of trees and pristine beaches while also encouraging economic diversity and respect for traditional lifeways and culture.

They’ve been so successful on Crete that the neighboring island of Santorini invited a UC team – led by Michael Romanos, professor of planning – to begin efforts there.  The team is comprised of Romanos as well as Carla Chifos, assistant professor of planning; Frank Russell, director, UC’s Community Design Center; Menelaos Triantafillou, visiting associate professor of planning; and Frank Wray, associate professor of biology.  Also on the team are architecture and planning students from UC’s top-ranked College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning.  They are Eileen Crisanti, Curt Freese, Hilary Fulmer, Edward Huber, Nicole Lopez-Stickney, Nora Luehmann, Andrew Meyer, Michael Steele and Hayfaa Wadih.

Throughout the summer, the students have been sending back reports on their work.  Below you’ll find their latest installment.

Wednesday, July 28
For the entire program, we have gazed at the small church of Agia Santa Irini that is located adjacent to our building.  We always wondered why the little church was built, as it is never open.  We were told by the old caretaker of the church, that the church (and many other small churches throughout Greece) were built by private individuals to honor the patron saint of the island, Saint Irene. 

Today, the church was open to honor Saint Irene.  At 10 a.m. the street around the church and our building filled with cars, buses and scooters.  Then, the off-key sounds of the local marching band serenaded the growing crowd.  A service was then held for the few persons able to fit within the small church. After the service, the orthodox priest, the band, and men holding banners with icons and crosses made a circle around the church.  While circling the church, the priest led prayers, while the band played rather morbid songs that remind one of the songs played in the funerals of New Orleans.

After the procession, food was set up on an altar outside of the church.  The local tomato balls, bread, apples, homemade wine, and brandy were served – yes, brandy at 10 a.m. Thus, we were part of a traditional Greek religious festival.

The other event of the day was an all-day workshop to present and organize our final work project.  That lasted from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., with a break for lunch and the festival.  

Thursday, July 29
The day was spent putting together the materials and reports decided on in the workshop of yesterday.  These materials include maps, graphs, other graphics, executive reports, and a PowerPoint presentation.  All of these materials were translated into Greek and presented to the mayor on Tuesday, Aug. 3.
Friday, July 30
Our cook-housekeeper, Susannah, has taken a keen interest in us and our project.  Susannah has become quite inquisitive as to what we are doing, yet communicating what we are doing to Susannah has become quite a hilarious experience.  Since Susannah cannot speak English and we cannot speak Greek, we have developed a series of exaggerated hand gestures punctuated by either Greek or English words.  Somehow information is passed.  Hayfaa (UC planning student Hayfaa Wadih), especially, has developed a special relationship with Susannah, in which they sit down at the kitchen table, and point to a word in the Greek-English Dictionary to communicate.

Susannah has been a godsend to the program.  She arrives every morning at 7 a.m., and starts making our lunch, washing our towels and cleaning up our mess.  Everyday she makes a huge lunch for all of us – enough to feed an entire regiment.  We are like her children. She becomes visibly concerned when one of us doesn’t finish our food. And at least once a week, she makes a special dessert.  Yes, we have become spoiled by our Greek Godmother.

Saturday, July 31
Work and Greek Music. Once again, work was the central activity of the day, even on Saturday.  Yet, our day of hard work was capped off by a delightful evening of traditional Greek food and Greek music at a beachside taverna.  Our sponsor, Nikos Zorzos, arranged for, paid for, and provided the vocals for the dinner/music.  Dinner and singing went on to 3 a.m., a truly Greek experience.      

The project in Santorini is funded by the island’s municipality and by UC’s Institute for Global Studies and Affairs.

Here’s more on UC’s 2004 efforts in Santorini:

For more on UC’s 2003 efforts in Crete:
For more on efforts from earlier years:

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