Nov. 8, 1999
Contact: Mary Bridget Reilly

Romanos with hat, interviewing locals

Cincinnati -- An ongoing display at the University of Cincinnati focuses on a tourist hot spot in Crete. However, the photographs, map and written material on view through the end of the quarter in 5th-floor cases in the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning aren't typical travel enticements.

Instead, they depict some of the research activities and results of a team of 12 faculty members from a variety of disciplines -- planning, sociology, political science, English, marketing, geography, architecture and biology -- who traveled to Hersonisos, Crete, this summer to examine and help re-shape life in this picturesque fishing village, dramatic in its setting of sea, mountains and ancient Minoan archaeological sites.

"We looked at what went right and what went wrong with tourism's growth in the last 20 years," explained Michael Romanos, professor of planning. "Farmland is being lost. There are severe problems with crime, pollution, environmental degradation, traffic and infrastructure."

Agriculture, once the mainstay of the island, is now declining rapidly as more and more residents seek to earn a more prosperous -- and easier -- living via the tourism industry. Yet, the region is already suffering from environmental strain due to tourism and crime is escalating in tourist areas. For instance, the city has no sewers, and during certain times of the year, residents experience shortages of piped water since the hotels reserve the available fresh water for use by guests.

Romanos and the rest of the UC team worked with local officials and residents to brainstorm better ways to take advantage of local resources without sacrificing quality of life. Among the ideas for a healthier economic base: agritourism where visitor work on traditional farms, participate in traditional crafts and animal husbandry, sharing village life with local residents. Thus, the local farmers would doubly benefit, earning money from tourism as well as the sale of goods and produce from a region famous for its oranges, olives, legumes, flowers, honey, and mountain herbs.

Another challenge for the region is the virtual abandonment of traditional villages as more and more youth and young adults seek to work and live in the cities. "The villages look beautiful, but they are dying. All the village schools are now closed. The whole region doesn't have enough children to support a high school," said Romanos.

Again, the UC team developed ideas and practical steps for carrying them out. The team worked with the cultural association in a village called Avdou, arranging for the use of an abandoned school as a crafts center where older residents will teach young people and tourists traditional weaving techniques. Romanos purchased five traditional looms for the project and found local women who will begin teaching next summer.

Efforts by the UC faculty in examining land use and environmental hazards, citizen participation in development, social problems, education and the business environment were so effective that the local government invited the team to return next summer, pledging $40,000 to help fund follow-up projects.

In addition to Romanos, other UC faculty participating in the Crete summer research were: Chris Auffrey, associate professor of planning; Roger Barry, professor of planning; Marcia Bellas, associate professor of sociology; Carla Chifos, visiting assistant professor of planning; Laura Jenkins assistant professor of political science; Maria Curro Kreppel, professor of English; Byron Miller, assistant professor of geography; Virginia Russell, assistant professor of architecture; Howard Stafford, professor of geography; Tom Wagner, professor of planning; and Frank Wray, assistant professor of biology.

Support for the Crete research project was provided by a UC Faculty Development Council grant and from the municipality of Hersonisos.

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