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The Canadian Distinctiveness into the XXIst Century - La distinction canadienne au tournant du XXIe siecle

Chad Gaffield
Karen L. Gould

Culture, Identity, and the Market / Culture, identité et marché

Packaging Canada/Packaging Places: Tourism, Culture, and Identity in the Twenty-first Century

C. Michael Hall

Texte intégral

1 The landscape – which includes the built environment and its material and social practices, as well as their symbolic representation (Zukin 1991:16) – may be read as a text (McBride 1999). Based on the premise that “landscapes are communicative devices that encode and transmit information” (Duncan 1990:4), researchers examine both the ‘tropes’ that communicate this information and how they are read by those who come into contact with them. Tropes are signs and symbols into which various meanings are condensed. They include items in, and of, the built and physical environment – such as buildings, monuments, public spaces, trees, and parks – and also signs, slogans, relationships, brands, and even language(s) associated with the landscape under study. This last includes the languages of consumption associated with specific places and spaces (Jackson and Taylor 1996; Hall 1997). As a ‘text’, therefore, landscape is multidimensional, lending itself to many interpretations. As a conceptual tool, reading the landscape not only illustrates the ideology of the landscape (Cosgrove 1984:15), but it can also illuminate the way it may “reproduce social and political practices” (Duncan 1990:18). For example, King (1990: 53-4) explained how the ideological context of the garden-city movement is “expressive of an implicit environmental determinism.” Similarly, Kearns, and Philo (1993) identified the many ways in which the identity of the city can be constructed and reveal its different associations to space in the contemporary city. More recently, attention has also focused on the way in which places may be imaged in order to attract and retain people and capital.

2Issues of ideology, identity, and representation have become central to many of the analyses of the manner in which places have come to be packaged as a product to be sold (e.g., Kearns and Philo 1993). Contemporary imaging strategies are typically policy responses to the social and economic problems associated with deindustrialization and globalization, and associated economic restructuring, urban renewal, multiculturalism, social integration, and control (Roche 1992, 1994). The principal aims of imaging strategies are to:

  • attract tourism expenditure;
  • generate employment in the tourist and related industries;
  • foster positive images for potential investors in the region, often by ‘reimaging’ previous negative perceptions;
  • provide an environment that will attract and retain the interest of professionals and white-collar workers, particularly in so-called clean service industries such as tourism and communications;
  • increase public spirit by making communities feel good about themselves (Hall 1992).

3In the urban sphere, imaging processes are characterized by some or all of the following:

  • development of a critical mass of visitor attractions and facilities, including new buildings, prestige, flagship centres (e.g., shopping centres, stadia, sports complexes, indoor arenas, convention centres, and casino development);
  • hosting hallmark events (e.g., Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games, and the Grand Prix) and/or major league sports teams;
  • development of urban tourism strategies and policies often associated with new or renewed organization and development of city marketing (e.g., city promotional campaigns such as St. John's “The City of Legends” [Stewart 1991]);
  • development of leisure and cultural services and projects to support marketing and tourism efforts (e.g., the creation and renewal of museums and art galleries and the hosting of art festivals, often as part of a comprehensive cultural tourism strategy for a region or city).

4Imaging strategies are therefore conscious attempts by places to seduce. In particular, they seek not only to develop something which is attractive but also to package specific representations of a particular way of life or lifestyle for consumption. Therefore, representations of culture are intimately connected to place marketing. Whether we use culture in the sense of being indicative of a “particular way of life, whether of a people, a period, a group, or humanity in general” or “as a reference to the works or practices of intellectual and especially artistic activity” (Williams 1983:90), culture is becoming commodified and bought and sold in the global marketplace. Cultural policies are used to generate artistic and ‘high’ cultural activity in order to attract visitors and to make the city an attractive place to live for the middle-class, white collar workers, and businesses, while wider notions of cultural identity are also being used to attract investment, visitor, and employment ventures. The use of cultural images to attract visitors is not new. It has been around for as long as tourism itself. The effects of place marketing, however, may be pervasive within specific places targeted for consumption; indeed the notion of selling places implies not only trying to affect demand through the representation of cultural images, but also the manipulation and management of the supply-side – those things that make up a community's life – in a package that can be ‘sold.’ Such actions clearly have implications not only for how the external consumer sees a place but also for how the people who constitute the place are able to participate in making both the collective and individual identity and the structures that sell place (Hall and Hodges 1997).

5Imaging and place marketing began to be recognized as significant urban phenomena from the early 1980s, at a time when globalization started to be seen as a significant economic and social phenomenon, and when substantial changes in the nature of consumption and production also occurred. Indeed, it is no coincidence that in this time of dramatic shifts in the character of contemporary capitalism that the 1980s were characterized as the decade in which consumers were taught “how to desire” (Bocock 1993; York and Jennings 1995:44; Pawson 1997:17). For producers, an essential means of achieving this has been by “romancing the product” through the use of brands (Pawson 1997). Branding is a way of seeking to add value to commodities including services and places. A successful brand creates distinctiveness in the marketplace. As Pawson notes: “It is an investment in product quality at the same time as seeking to create more illusory associations to appeal to specific groups of consumers in the local spaces of globalized capitalism. Both branding and advertizing are inherently spatial practices, used by producers in the expansion and differentiation of markets” (1997:17). In the case of urban reimaging, marketing practices, such as branding, rely upon the commodification of particular aspects of place, exploiting, reinventing, or creating place images in order to sell the place as a destination product for tourists or investment. Through this process, the ways of living particular to a place may become commodified in order to transform them into a commercial product or a specific dimension of place promotion that can be experienced by the consumer.

6Given the shifts in the nature of production noted above, it should not be surprising that in the same way that the nature of production is regarded as having changed, so has the nature of consumption (Glennie and Thrift 1992). For example, Hall reported “greater fragmentation and pluralism, the weakening of older collective solidarities and block identities and the emergence of new identities associated with greater work flexibility [and] the maximization of individual choice through personal consumption” (1988:24). In this context, it therefore became apparent to those who were seeking to reimage the city that the desires of those who consume have to be accorded far greater prominence. Such desires must be actively catered to when urban places and spaces are created for them to consume (e.g., see Kotler et al. 1993). Hence, production has moved towards even greater degrees of flexibility. But in a world of consumers differentiated by social segments and lifestyle niches, it is the symbolic meanings of products that matter as well as their inherent qualities (Pawson 1997). These attributes are encapsulated in successful brands “which, through careful management, skillful promotion and wide use, come in the minds of consumers, to embrace a particular and appealing set of values... both tangible and intangible” (Interbrand 1990:6). Brands therefore demonstrate the falseness of trying to separate production from consumption (Bell and Valentine 1997). As Laurier observed: “To build binary opposites is to make one dependent on the other, and so there cannot be consumption without production... it is apparent that they merge in many places and that each process certainly does have effects on the other... even if they are causal or may never ever be explicable” (1993:272). We therefore come full circle: places are increasingly trying to seduce; if the argument regarding the relationship between consumption and production is correct, people also want to be seduced when they consider their destination options.

7The following discussion examines some aspects of the processes of urban imaging in Canada. It attempts to uncover some of the ideological messages and forces encoded in the landscape and to examine how they are read by those who inhabit and visit Canada (Duncan 1990; Duncan and Duncan 1988). Such a position is also idiosyncratic. As Daniels and Lee observed, “the geographies we inhabit are multicentred; there is no grand central place or single, privileged vantage point” (1996:12). The position is thus my own.

Cultural Settings: Cities Do Not Just Exist in the Present. They Are Products of the Accumulated Past(s)

8As noted above, throughout the Western world, cities which were affected by deindustrialization in the 1970s and early 1980s have responded with the development of imaging strategies in an attempt to attract new investment and create employment. Canadian cities have also adopted these strategies in order to position themselves as ‘world class’ or ‘international’ sites. Tourism, and cultural tourism in particular, has been an integral component of the imaging strategies of Canadian cities. Yet the success of cultural tourism strategies that focus on arts and heritage attractions is somewhat problematic. As Ekos Research Associates reported in a review of urban cultural tourism projects in Canada, “high culture does not appear to be a major magnet for tourists.... [but] there is recurring and consistent evidence that shows that once tourists reach major Canadian destinations (for whatever motivating factors) many will consume large amounts of culture. This is true even for those who did not consider culture in their original travel destinations.” Therefore, they continue, “there may be a more profound payoff in considering how to encourage tourists to consume more arts and culture once they make a travel decision rather than trying to attract tourists with arts and culture” (Ekos Research Associates Inc. 1988:25).

9Despite the evidence surrounding the relatively poor direct attractiveness of arts and culture to tourists, cities have persisted in using art galleries, museums, and festivals as tools for urban redevelopment and for changing the image of destinations. Unfortunately, most urban regimes have failed to recognize that “very few tourists perceive these cultural domains as isolated entities. Culture, as the symbolic environment of the destination, is often viewed as a meaningful whole” (Ekos Research Associates Inc. 1988:22). Greater attention should therefore be given to integrating all of the various aspects of cultural life in a destination in a manner which benefits the community, rather than the commodification of certain elements for the perceived satisfaction and conspicuous consumption of the visitor.

10Tourism can stimulate culture through the development of urban imaging strategies. However, such stimulation is limited, as the cultural policies developed to support such strategies focus only on cultural elements that can be commodified through the creation of a cultural industry for the consumer of culture. Furthermore, the economic implications of developing a tourist economy may be somewhat problematic given that the shift from a goods-to a service-producing economy does not occur evenly. For example, Pollock (1991) noted that the benefits of tourism growth in Greater Vancouver and Victoria are poorly distributed throughout the economy. Nevertheless, despite concerns over the real benefits of pursuing the tourist dollar and the real long-term returns of place marketing, Canadian cities continue to attempt to image themselves as international cultural tourism destinations.

11“Influencing travellers to visit a particular city destination comes through conveying the essence or image of that city as well as the specifics of what there is to see and do” (David-Peterson Associates Inc. 1992:15). That said, “product specific advertising is more effective than advertising which attempts to modify images concerning a particular destination” (Ekos Research Associates Inc. 1988:32). Even with the development of new tourism attractions and corresponding alterations to marketing strategies, changing the image of a destination is an extremely difficult exercise given the weight of previous perceptions.

12Rather than market a distinct product to the consumer through a combination of appropriate advertising, attractive pricing, and the opportunity for unique visitor experience, urban imaging strategies are creating a stage of “serial monotony” whereby different cities look the same (Boyer 1988; Harvey 1993). As Block commented with respect to the redevelopment of the port of Montreal for the 350th anniversary celebrations: “For Nancy L'Estrange, the Old Port is cleaner and prettier than in her hometown of Toronto. ‘I think it's beautiful-and it doesn't smell,’ she said. ‘There isn't that organic stuff we've got in Toronto. I don't see any ducks, bird faeces, or seaweed and other things floating in the water like we see in our harbor’” (1993:A3). In the competitive new environment surrounding city promotion, many of the imaging strategies designed to gain competitive advantage are sanitizing and commodifying representations of local culture. Moreover, they often fail to be inclusive of the public they are meant to serve.

Summer Olympic Games: “The Biggest and Most Costly Mega-project in the History of Toronto”

13Toronto made a bid to host the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. Toronto's bid, much like its previous, unsuccessful bid for the 1996 Games, was built on a waterfront redevelopment strategy that sought to revitalize the harbour area through the development of an integrated sports, leisure, retail, and housing complex. However, as in the case of the Sydney Games, or in any other mega-event with substantial infrastructure requirements, important questions should be asked about both the event's development process and who would actually benefit from hosting the event.

14One of the most striking features of this Toronto bid was the extent to which information on the bid was either unavailable or provided only limited detail on the costs associated with hosting the event. However, unlike the Sydney Olympic bid, Toronto was fortunate to have a non-profit public interest coalition, Bread Not Circuses (BNC), actively campaigning for more information on the bid proposal and for government to address social concerns.

15BNC argued that given the cost of both bidding for and hosting the Olympics, the bidding process must be subject to public scrutiny. “Any Olympic bid worth its salt will not only withstand public scrutiny, but will be improved by a rigorous and open public process” the organization contended. It went on to assert that Toronto City Council support for an Olympic bid must be conditional on:

  • the development and execution of a suitable process to address financial, social, and environmental concerns, ensure an effective public participation process (including intervenor funding), and include a commitment to the development of a detailed series of Olympic standards. A time-frame of one year from the date of the vote to support the bid should be set to ensure that the plans for the participation process are taken seriously;
  • full, open, and independent accounting of the financial costs of bidding and staging the Games;
  • full, open, and independent social impact assessment of the Games (Bread Not Circuses 1998a).

16Other key elements of a public participation process should include:

  • full, fair, and democratic processes to involve all of the people of Toronto in the development and review of the Olympic bid;
  • an Olympic Intervenor Fund, similar to the fund established by the City of Toronto in 1989, to allow interested groups to participate effectively in the public scrutiny of the Toronto bid;
  • development of an independent environmental assessment of the 2008 Games, and strategies to resolve specific concerns;
  • development of a series of financial, social, and environmental standards governing the 2008 Games, similar to the Toronto Olympic Commitment adopted by City Council in September of 1989 (Bread Not Circuses 1998a).

17In addition to the factors identified by BNC, the city's previous experiences with stadia and events raise substantial questions about the public liability for any development. For example, in 1982, then Metropolitan Toronto Chairman, Paul Godfrey, promised that Toronto's SkyDome, a multipurpose sports complex used for baseball and Canadian football, could be built for 75 million CAD, with no public debt. However, the final price of the development was over 600 million CAD, with taxpayers having to pay more than half. BNC also noted that the previous Toronto bid costs were 60 per cent over budget, “with a great deal of spending coming in the final, overheated days of the bidding war leading up to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Congress. There was no public control, and little public accountability, over the ‘96 bid,” while “there was virtually no assessment of the social, environmental, and financial impact of the Games until Bread Not Circuses began to raise critical questions. By then, it was too late to influence the bid” (Bread Not Circuses 1998c).

18BNC lobbied various city councillors to influence their decision whether or not to support a bid. Only one councillor out of fifty-five voted against the Olympic bid proposal however, even though the only information the councillors had to rely on was a 20-page background document to the proposal. When city councillors voted on the project, they did not have:

  • an estimate of the cost of bidding for the Games;
  • a list of the names of the backers of ‘BidCo’, the private corporation heading up the Olympic bid;
  • a reliable estimate of the cost of staging the Games;
  • a plan for the public participation process, the environmental review process, or the social impact assessment process;
  • a detailed financial strategy for the Games.

19Such a situation clearly had public interest organizations, such as BNC, very worried about the economic, environmental, and social costs of a successful bid. Clearly, the history of mega-events such as the Olympic Games indicated that such a situation was not new (Olds 1998). The International Olympic Committee (IOC) already sought to ensure that the Games be environmentally friendly. Perhaps it was now time to see that they be socially and economically friendly and build wider assessment of the social impacts of the Games into the planning process as a mandatory component of bidding. BNC, in a letter to the IOC President, requested “that the IOC, which sets the rules for the bidding process, take an active responsibility in ensuring that the local processes in the bidding stage are effective and democratic” and specifically address concerns regarding the “financial and social costs of the Olympic Games” and proposed that:

  • an international network be created to include the Centre for Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), the Human and Land Rights Network (HIC) Housing Rights Subcommittee, academics, and non-governmental organizations (including local groups in cities that have bid for and/or hosted the Games);
  • a set of standards regarding forced evictions, be developed and adopted by the network;
  • a plan be developed and implemented to build international support for the standards, including identification of sympathetic IOC, National Olympic Committee (NOC), and other sports officials;
  • the IOC be approached with the request that the standards be incorporated into the Olympic Charter, Host City Contracts, and other documents of the IOC (Bread Not Circuses 1998b).

20Such a social charter for the Olympics would undoubtedly greatly assist in making the Games more place friendly and perhaps even improve the image of the IOC. However, at the time this paper was written, the books of the Toronto bid had still not been opened for public scrutiny. Nor has there been adequate response to the proposal to create of a set of social standards for the Olympics. The revitalization of place requires more than just the development of product and image. The re-creation of a sense of place is a process that involves the formulation of urban design strategies based on conceptual models of the city that are, in turn, founded on notions of civic life, the public realm, and the idea of planning as debate and argument (Bianchini and Schwengel 1991). As Smyth recognized: “This needs to be undertaken in a frank way and in a forum where different understandings can be shared, inducing mutual respect, leading to developing trust, and finally conceiving a development which meets mutual needs as well as stewarding resources for future generations... This proposes a serious challenge to the public sector as well as to the private sector, for authorities have undermined the well-being of their local populations by transferring money away from services to pay for flagship developments” (1994:254).

21Unfortunately, such ideas have only limited visibility within the place marketing and imaging realms. Tourism and place planning are often poorly conceptualized with respect to participatory procedures, and the institutional arrangements for many of the so-called partnerships for urban redevelopment actually exclude community participation in decision-making procedures.

Canadian Cities: Commodities for Consumption?

22Today, everything seems to be a commodity available for consumption. Of course, it is not. In fact, the commodity has to be a commodity of a certain type with a given symbolic value which reinforces preferred lifestyles and representations of identity. These commodities are not evenly distributed in urban space. They are presently located disproportionately in the inner city areas, with many of the outer suburbs forgotten by those seeking to reimage the city, even though that is where the majority of residents live. Nevertheless, these commodities still seduce. They are produced and/or packaged to seduce the visitor; to attract international capital, albeit for increasingly shorter periods of time; and to seduce the locals. At a time when restructuring and change seems to be the norm and when employment becomes increasingly casual in nature and insecure, political elites need to be seen to be doing something. New brands, new developments, the hosting of events, and the creation of new leisure and retail spaces are all a sign that something has been done. However, those who visit cities on a regular basis see that, even though they are trying to reimage themselves as places that are different, they still look the same. Harvey's (1989) concern over the “serial monotony” of the redeveloped and reimaged city is reinforced. As Zukin observed, the city is a site of spectacle, a “dreamscape of visual consumption” (1991:221). It is, therefore, perhaps not so surprising that at a time when little competitive edge can be gained among cities in terms of the reconstruction of their physical space, then emphasis is placed on the lifestyle opportunities they offer to those who can afford them.

23If there are no lasting benefits and no identifiable economic opportunity costs associated with selling the city, then we are left with the Bourdieu proposition that “the most successful ideological effects are those which have no words” (quoted in Harvey 1989:78). If the function of a flagship development such as hosting an Olympic Games, a Commonwealth Games, a Grand Prix, or a major waterfront redevelopment scheme is then “reduced to inducing social stability, assuming the generated experience is sustainable for enough people over a long period and is targeted towards those who are potentially the harbingers of disruption... what is the purpose of marketing the city?” then asks Smyth (1994:7).

24Murphy and Watson (1997) described Sydney as a “city of surfaces.” Such a comment may also apply to many Canadian cities and, perhaps, to attempts to image Canada itself. While the spaces are the same, however, the places are different. Place has a distinct location which it defines; place is fixed. Space, in contrast, is composed of intersections of mobile elements with shifting, often indeterminate borders (de Certeau 1984; Larbalestier 1994). Daniels and Lee suggest that “reading human geography... is a complex and critical act of interpretation and as readers, we are engaged in interpreting writers' interpretations... of worlds which are already construed, or misconstrued, by meaning or imagery” (1996:5). Fortunately, city places and spaces are continually read “in various ways, by a variety of people pursuing a variety of endeavours, in walking, in working, in reading, in speaking, in all or any of our everyday practices” (Larbalestier 1994:187). While space is being constructed by urban growth coalitions in the desire to reimage the city, places remain open to negotiation and interpretation.

25Despite the conscious development of space in a manner that aims to seduce the visitor and the investor, places can still resist commodification. Indeed, the very complexity of place – with its dense networks of social networks – ultimately makes it interesting, though not always easily accessible for the visitor. Hewison observed that “the time has come to argue that commerce is not culture, whether we define culture as the pursuit of music, literature or the fine arts, or whether we adopt Raymond Williams's definition of culture as' a whole way of life'. You cannot get a whole way of life into a Tesco's trolley or a V & A Enterprises shopping bag” (1991:175). Such arguments are important because they run counter to the notions of commodification of place and culture as product which are intrinsic to place marketing.

26In experiencing places I don't want to be seduced in a contrived space, rather I want to be surprised. Despite the efforts of successive provincial and municipal governments, cities still have the capacity to surprise. However, such surprises tend not to occur in the planned spaces of the redeveloped waterfront, but rather in the back streets and the suburbs. These, though, are the ‘messy’ spaces – the ones that real estate speculators and developers have not yet reached and where successive politicians' grandiose monuments have not yet been realized. In promoting the city to the wider community, including those who live in the suburbs, those who cannot afford inner city living, and those who are seeking more than the casino and the riverside restaurant, it is to be hoped that those places will continue to thrive.



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Professor at the Centre for Tourism at the University of Otago, New Zealand. He holds degrees from the University of Western Australia and the University of Waterloo in Canada. He has been a member of the Association for Canadian Studies in Australia and New Zealand since 1988 and is a Past President of the Association. He has wide-ranging teaching and research interests in tourism, heritage, regional development, and environmental history and has authored or edited numerous books, articles, and book chapters. His Canadian interests have primarily focused on issues of urban and rural regional development associated with tourism, place promotion, and comparative studies of national park development

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