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Bali Must Not Lose its Identity

Bali Post Article Tracks the Decline and Loss of the Island's Cultural Identity Due to Poor Enforcement of Building Codes.

(4/5/2010) In a series of articles examining Bali tourism, Bali Post suggests that the island, as a leading world tourism destination, is increasingly losing its identity. This fear, expressed in many circles, is seemingly refuted by Bali's growing tourism numbers which attest to its attractions to international tourist visitors and growing investment in tourism projects. Unfortunately, many of those involved in Bali's tourism industry are ignorant of the fact that the very magnet that draws people to Bali's shores is its unique cultural identity. Instead of working to preserve and protect Bali's cultural values, they instead become the catalyst that accelerates the destruction of Bali's heritage through erecting building that have no Balinese characteristics in their design and decoration.

One of the most glaring examples of how business people contribute to the rapid destruction of Balinese culture is how business places and commercial centers are virtually devoid of Balinese architectural elements. Despite rules mandating "Bali style" be incorporated in all Bali buildings, businesses ignore these building guidelines preferring loyalty to "brand image" over heritage preservation. Ironically, those within the provincial government charged with enforcing building rules, for reasons best known to themselves, are reluctant to enforce these clearly stated guidelines.

Putu Rumawan Salain, an observer on local building and zoning issues, does not deny that Bali's building construction is becoming almost completely divorced from requirements for "Bali style." At the same time, he says meeting a "Bali style" requirement is not difficult. Rule requiring Bali elements are flexible and easily included in the final architectural details of any construction.

Explains Salain: "It all depends on a commitment to maintain a unified Bali characteristic. On the other hand, the regional governments are required to carefully supervise work being carried out in the field, ensuring that the rules are obeyed."

The chief of the Badung regency tourism office (Kadisparda), I Made Subawa, also freely admits that the buildings in his district, especially those on the side of roadways, ignore these rules.

Rumawan, a professor on the Technical Faculty at Bali's Udayana University, says any commitment to maintain Bali ornamentation should be viewed positively. He said that ornaments of Balinese style will create a unifying link among Bali buildings and is easily achieved. In short, he says there's no reason for anyone to reject these building rules.

"Remember," Rumawan added, "the cultural tourism potential of Bali depends on the appearance of the island's buildings. Moreover, buildings incorporating ‘Bali style' remains a main part of Bali's attraction. If Bali no longer tries to retain Bali architectural elements in its buildings, I worry that Bali will no longer have a unique identity that is attractive to tourists, looking much like anywhere else in the world."