The strategic master plan for the Petra region in Jordan will receive the 2012 American Planning Association’s Pierre L'Enfant International Planning Award. The plan, led in part by Aspen’s Design Workshop, balances the need to preserve the area’s important archaeological resources with increased tourism and economic growth.

Photo courtesy of Design Workshop
Al Khazneh, The Treasury, in Petra, Jordan

A 6th century archaeological gem, Petra was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1968 and more recently, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Petra contains several important archaeological finds, including Al Khazneh, or the Treasury building, whose carved-rock façade was made famous in the Indiana Jones movies.

In addition to its importance as a regional and cultural icon, the region’s  tourism draw is the second largest component of the Jordanian economy. The tremendous tourism growth, however, has put the archaeological resource at risk of losing its designation as a World Heritage site.

“As with all national parks anywhere, Petra is undergoing a balancing act between development and preservation,” says Kurt Culbertson, Design Workshop chairman. “There’s not a lot of economic development going on there, and the benefits of tourism are not getting to the locals as much as they should.”

The region also faces challenges from environmental degradation, population growth, child labor, limited water availability, unchecked development, lack of infrastructure and management of the archeological park.

“As tourism grows, traffic has increased through the small villages near the park,” Culbertson says. “And at the park, there’s too much unmanaged bus traffic, some not-very-environmentally friendly modes of transportation into the park (like donkeys), and not enough disbursement of tourism opportunities into nearby communities.”

Also, a conflict exists between protecting the archaeological site and the need to promote tourism to benefit the country’s economy. Local residents and leaders understand that the integrity of these resources is critical to the region’s long-term economic health and well-being, he says.

“So we’re suggesting some investment strategies to share the economic benefits of the park more broadly and promote other nearby sites that might be of interest to tourists,” Culbertson says. “We are hoping to create a regional animal park with activities like camel races and horse trekking to get people to extend their stays in the area and offer other things for them to do there.”

The strategic master plan for the region also provides a guide to preserve its archaeological, ecological and cultural resources while planning for the needs of a fast-growing population.

“We’re trying to expand the boundaries of the park itself, to where they make more sense from a user-perception point-of-view,” Culbertson says. “That would make it about 20% larger and put more land under formal government protection.”