Every summer, for the past 59 years, the Split Summer Festival has come out with a theater program in the city’s public area. With renowned Croatian actress Senka Bulić heading the project, last year’s manifestation included a number of public discussions. The public’s interest for critical thinking about the city’s various issues confirmed the need for such content hence the public discussions have been continued, now traditionally located at the Carrarina Poljana. This year’s edition of the Split Summer Festivalhas set up a collaboration with the Institute of Architectural Research ‘Platform 9.81′ and their Urban Beginnings program.
The first of the two anticipated public discussions was held on July 18th, entitled ‘Local Culture Under Pressure from Tourism’. The following participants took part in the discussion: Saša Poljanec Borić, tourism sociologist, Jurica Pavičić, journalist, Vedran Matošić, director of the Split Tourist Board, Slaven Tolj, artist and Vedran Mimica, architect. The discussion was moderated by Dinko Peračić from Platform 9.81.
The public discussion touched upon topics such as positioning the city of Split as a tourist destination through congress tourism, increasing accommodation capacities, new terminals for cruisers, and gave a critical review on the matter of basing the city’s identity on history and tradition through the inadequate tagline “The Mediterranean As It Used to Be”, as tourism is promoted by the Tourist Board headed by Matošić. Pavičić pointed out the fact that Split is currently attractive to tourists solely due to live and public spaces, established by previous generations for the purpose of improving the living standard for residents as opposed to tourists. The Park Forest Marjan, Bačvice Beach, and the city farmer’s market, which tourists find quite interesting, were mentioned among cultural and historical monuments within the city core. Mimica confirmed that in order for tourism to succeed and prosper in today’s world, emphasis must be put on the citizens’ quality of life, stating examples of collaboration between the local residents and tourists from Norway, Costa Rica, as well as Zadar. Poljanec Borić pointed out how the notion of tourism being all-important has become an ingrained opinion in Croatia, while in fact tourism merely makes for the seasonal economy. In terms of these statements, she went on to explain that the government should evaluate strategic investments within this context as opposed to mere figures, and encourage those in areas with the lowest BNP, such as eastern Croatia, in lieu of the south, which has surpassed itself in infrastructural capacities as it is. Tolj used Dubrovnik as an example to convey what happens to a city and its life when tourism takes over. On the one hand, Dubrovnik residents are faced with issues such as displacement from their historical core, while on the other there’s the issue of taking away Srđ, the only area where the city can hope to develop any kind of new life in the future.
The relationship between public authorities and tourism was also discussed. Lack of an adequate strategic plan at the national level has been recognized as a large problem insofar as it passes planned tourism on to the local government. Thus currently the development in tourism in certain cities depends on the good or bad vision of its mayor and tourist board. Mimica took the occasion to mention should order be instilled in the system, 20% of proceedings lost in corruption could be invested in public spaces thus significantly improving the quality of life in the city. Poljanec Borić touched upon the political decision of the city expansion. She concluded that Split has become a dual city where centrifugal urbanization is taking place. While on the one hand, tourism is chasing people away from the city, on the other hand, city life is being developed on its outskirts. The sociologist holds that by supporting the expansion of the city, city authorities are indirectly supporting population migration from the center. Unfortunately, nobody from the city government participated in the public discussion, thus the exchange of viewpoints and information at the discussion went by without insight in regard to the opinions of those who have political and executive clout in the city.