THE IMAGE AND THE CITY
Nithin Coca wrote a compelling piece titled “How Tourism Changed Bali: The Indonesian island reconsiders development at any cost” where he says the following:
“While parts of Bali remain Balinese, many parts of the island have become something else entirely. The all-night clubs, bars and pizza joints of Kuta, full of drunken Australians and Europeans visiting on cheap budget flights, resemble the Mediterranean nightlife destination of Ibiza. Canggu, a popular surf spot with brunch restaurants, cafes and shops is more akin to the beaches of Southern California or Australia’s Byron Bay. And Ubud, famous for its yoga studios, meditation centers and therapeutic massage parlors, has a similar vibe to Rishikesh or Dharamshala in India. What’s more, the exquisite resorts of Nusa Dua, with their own private golf courses and manicured beaches, echo the French Riviera or Cancun.”
Bali is an island that is a little over 2,000 square miles and which has been recognized as one of the most popular destinations in the world, according to travel platform TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Awards of 2020. It relies on tourism for 80% of the city’s income. For context, imagine if almost 7 million people visited Delaware each year. This has made it one of Indonesia’s richest islands where the per capita income is nearly three times that of it’s neighboring province, Nusa Tenggara Barat. As such, it is expected that tourism-related development and infrastructure are a welcomed economic opportunity, but at the cost of what?
“I blame us, the Balinese, for letting this happen, for selling our lands, for getting the easy way out of poverty, for thinking that tourism is the only job that we can do it,” said Eve Tedja, a Balinese journalist. “We sold our rice fields and now buy our rice from another island.”
How synonymous is this with a reframing of modern day slavery? Who serves you rum and cokes and attends to your basic needs on the Caribbean beaches you vacation at? Or gives you massages for ridiculously low prices at the beaches in Bali, let alone in and around Southeast Asia which has become a travel hot spot of sorts? How do these transactional relationships mimic the riptide effects of systemic racism rampant in city branding today? Is there a potential benefit that outweighs this cost of marginalization or does this cycle of inequality continue to repeat itself?
The idea of city marketing to city branding and how this develops a city’s image is one that is crucial to the understanding of this dichotomy between the image and the city, as explained by Michalis Kavaratzis. In his paper titled “From city marketing to city branding: Towards a theoretical framework for developing city brands,” Kavaratzis says, “it is not the city but the image that has to be planned.”
This is quite the opposite from what we hear about today in the planning world, where the discourse heavily relies on the issues at hand - land use, transportation, housing, the works. How, then, do we rationalize this idea of city tourism and city marketing to get things done? What does this mean for income polarization, the growing wage gap, housing and transportation injustice, and the dichotomy of image and actuality?
The 2016’s Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil comes up as a common example of this disconnect between image and reality, as does the disparity concerning homelessness in Tokyo, Japan for the now postponed 2020 Summer Olympics, where both city governments prioritize development for city image upkeep at the expense of the surrounding lower income neighbourhoods. In Rio there were huge condo developments right next to slums without proper access to basic necessities such as clean water and electricity. All for the tourist’s sake.
Who has the power and who decides the fate of these lives if demand drops, especially now in a time like COVID-19? These concerns around city branding, the need for tourism to boost the economy (especially in developing countries) and the dichotomy of the city image versus the reality as it affects marginalized populations extends itself into many other important areas of conversation.
Read How Tourism Changed Bali: The Indonesian island reconsiders development at any cost by Nithin Coca.
Read bell hooks' essay on the fetishization of the other titled Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance bell hooks