Science & Tech

New tourism threatens desert ecosystems worldwide

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The Department of Urban Planning and Design at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) hosted a conference April 4-5 titled “Desert Tourism: Delineating the Fragile Edges of Development.” Panel discussions with leading architects, planners, and developers explored the relationship between tourism, social development, and the architecture and landscapes of arid regions around the world.

The discussions began with the premise that deserts have lost their stigma as inhospitable, inaccessible places and are becoming an ever-more popular tourist destination. The growth of tourism, however, jeopardizes the deserts’ fragile ecosystems and strains their scarce resources, affecting both the landscape and the local population.

The conference highlighted innovative projects that seek to enhance their cultural and environmental surroundings and address the challenges raised by recent developments in desert tourism, ranging from Australia to Algeria to Morocco to Baja, Calif.

Sponsorship and support were provided by the GSD, the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, the Harvard University Middle Eastern Studies Department, the Moroccan Ministry of Tourism, the Office of the Provost at Harvard University, and UNESCO Rabat.

An exhibition in Gund Hall continues through April.