Fall 2012

Designing Sustainable Tourism in the Tlacolula Valley: The Mezcal Route | La Ruta Mezcal

How can tourism improve the lives of poor people? Must tourism always destroy existing cultures? Can indigenous people plan and manage their own tourist resources? These are just a few of the difficult questions that CED students in the graduate studio, “Just” Tourism in the Tlacolula Valley, Oaxaca, grappled with during Spring, 2012.

The studio was based on the idea that to be equitable and sustainable, tourism planning needs to build on the existing environment, society and economies of the local area. Sponsored by the Ministry of Culture of the State of Oaxaca and in collaboration with professors and students from the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City, students from all three CED departments—Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, and City and Regional Planning—traveled to Oaxaca Valley to investigate its rich history and culture and to understand its current challenges.

Raul Cabra (M.A. Design, 2011)—Director of Oaxacalifornia, a cultural exchange program between Oaxacan craftspeople and California designers, who is also a local resident—led us through ten intensive days of fieldwork that covered nearly every meter of the valley. We surveyed local agriculture and gastronomy, craft traditions, markets that date from pre-Columbian times, unique Zapotec governance systems and the techniques of artisanal mescal production—the most important local industry. We met a range of Valley residents including government officials, returned migrants, organic farmers and American expats.

Returning to Berkeley, we incorporated different concepts from the anthropology of tourism, everyday urban design, local economic development theory, infrastructure planning and land-use law to create a strategic tourism plan for the Valley. Organized around flexible itineraries, the plan makes the valley accessible to tourists while protecting its physical and cultural resources.

Multi-dimensional and decentralized, the plan offers numerous options. Since villages value their independence and autonomy, each element can be adapted to local conditions. Last summer, local officials, businesses, and artisans enthusiastically responded to the Mezcal Route strategy, so we are optimistic that the rest of the plan will have an equally positive impact in Oaxaca.

Team