Can you make authentic places?

We often experience places as authentic when they correspond to the image we have of them in our minds. ©Photo by Aimilia Ioannidis.

by Ares Kalandides*

Destination marketing is obsessed with place authenticity and for good reasons. Tourists, it is said, want to experience the ‘real thing’. What is that real thing? What are authentic places? We know that some places feel more ‘real’ than others, but what does that feeling mean? Is place authenticity the same as the ‘sense of place’?

Imagine the following situation: You are walking in the mountains, maybe wandering through a beautiful forest with no one around. You enjoy the sounds of the forest animals, the smell of the damp earth. The light through the trees makes you dreamy. You enjoy the solitude, that feeling that you are into some kind of discovery of nature and of yourself.

“There are things that give us the feeling that places are authentic, but when examined closely they are somehow flawed.”

Behind the trees you discover a small well-designed kiosk. As you approach a very friendly person greets you: “Would you like some information about the other sights in the area?” Suddenly you are not in the discovery of nature any longer. That very friendly greeting makes you feel that you had been duped. What you thought was an untouched forest was in fact part of the packaged local sights. Continue reading “Can you make authentic places?”

An Itinerant Sense of Place

Sense of Place

by Ares Kalandides*

Place is an important category in the construction of our individual and social identities. We develop a sense of place both by projecting ourselves onto places and identifying with them in myriad ways. We may, for example, use place names to identify ourselves (“I live in Berlin”, “I am from Greece”); we may be more or less attached to particular places, as they become markers of who we are (“I am a new Berliner”).

By Place, I do not only mean the “bricks and mortar” of a locality, but rather the interaction between the physicality and the social relations that come together in a particular locus. Place attachment then is with people and their cultures, with their food, language and behaviour – as much as with public spaces, landscapes or buildings. It is easier to feel responsible for a place we are attached to, rather than for places we just pass through in the course of our lives. Tourists often behave differently at home than when they travel, although place attachment and responsibility may not be the only reason behind it (throwing away behavioural norms as part of the travel experience or the relative anonymity and lack of social control may be other explanations).

“It is easier to feel responsible for a place we are attached to, rather than for places we just pass through in the course of our lives.”

In a world where many people (though by no means all) move constantly, is there still such a thing as place responsibility and indeed the space for place-based politics? Or as Doreen Massey put it back in 1991, is there a “global sense of place”? Continue reading “An Itinerant Sense of Place”

Places don’t have DNAs – living organisms do

Ares Kalandides "place identity" "Place DNA"
Original uploader was Richard Wheeler (Zephyris) at en.wikipedia – Originally from en.wikipedia; description page is/was here., GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2117121

by Ares Kalandides

I recently came upon a very interesting (and in my opinion also very useful) document, the World Towns Framework, which begins with the following: “We shall support the unique characteristics of each town and urban district, the ‘place DNA’, to engage communities, businesses and institutions in driving forward their future, and to address the plural and distinctive set of challenges facing these unique places.”

There are several issues I could raise here (e.g. does each town really have unique characteristics or is it the blend of characteristics that is unique? are communities, business and institutions players of the same level or are they different types of categories?), but today I’d like to ponder only the ‘place DNA’. It is an expression that bothers me and always has.  Continue reading “Places don’t have DNAs – living organisms do”