Representing place

Barcelona map exaggerating its main roads

Barcelona map exaggerating its main roads

“The land itself, of course, has no desires as to how it should be represented.  It is indifferent to its pictures and picturers. But maps organise information about a landscape in a profoundly influential way.” (Robert Macfarlane, in The Wild Places)

It struck me that guide books, canned tours and signed tourist itineraries could be considered similarly.  Echoing Robert MacFarlane’s words, they “carry out a triage of [a place, not destination‘s] aspects, selecting and ranking those aspects in an order of importance, and so they create forceful biases in the ways a [place, not destination] is perceived and treated”.

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Collecting our senses in Collserolla

Evarist March of NaturalWalks joined our group in the afternoon and led us “by the most natural route possible” from the top of the Collserola park down to the station for our suburban train back to Barcelona.  One of the most interesting facets of the conversation along the way related to public attitudes to this Natural Park.  While it seems much of the media and public discourse on the park is negative, pointing to issues such as the risk of forest fires and wild boars encroaching on peripheral residential areas, few stories celebrate the beauty and mere existence of this diverse natural area so close to the densely-populated built-up area.

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Getting Close-serola

Barcelona, post-1992 Olympics, is a story that has been told countless times in print, conference rooms and tour guide banter: finally, after decades with their backs to the Med and their plumbing pointing straight into its immediate depths, the Barcelonins gave their stretch of coastline a spring clean and reacquainted themselves with their maritime souls.

It’s an account that washes over some contradictory and more place-specific detail.  For insight, talk to some old-timers in the sea- and portside neighbourhood of La Barceloneta, or ask questions about the former shanty town neighbourhood, El Somorrostro.  A good source of such insight might be La Barceloneta Rebel.

My point is that the situation today is generally the reverse.  From their homes and workplaces the attentions of many Barcelonins are directed to the beach, to a stroll in sea breeze reverie, or to a plate heaped with steaming cooked gifts from the sea and rice paddy.

Meanwhile, the thoughts of a small minority of Barcelonins slip through the backdoor to the hills behind this compact metropolis: La Collserola natural park.

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Places, not destinations

After several years of reading and thinking about tourism, I’ve decided I dislike the term “destination”.

I don’t mind “you will reach your final destination by early evening”, i.e. point of arrival.  But when applied to villages, towns, cities, islands, parks and other protected areas, peninsulas, and whole countries…  urgh!

OK, the word is widely-used because it is useful to us, but therein lies my niggling discomfort with “destinations” in academia and business parlance:  it reflects the generally industrial use of places by travel, tourism and associated industries, otherwise described as commodification.

You’ve probably enjoyed visiting many destinations, but ask yourself this, “would I want to live in a destination?”.

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Learning from the (place) likes of skateboarders

Outside Barcelona’s principal contemporary art museum, MACBA, skateboarders exhibit their skill, concentration and precision, not unlike the architect who carved new lines and folded new spaces into this mixed urban landscape.  Except the skateboarders are indisputably dynamic.  Weaving amidst others passing by or lingering here, their movement adds energy to this place, and is inextricably linked to its physical parameters.

Yet the skateboarders can be a noisy nuisance, particularly for nearby residents if the clatter of boards on concrete goes on for hours on end and late into the evening.

What would you do–prohibit, tolerate, regulate, enjoy?

From a lecture by Iain Borden and opinion piece on The Independent‘s pages:

“What skateboarding, and all the myriad urban practices of the city tell us, is that we need to need to celebrate three things: different peoples, different spaces and different ways of knowing the city.”