(or why your city has three heads)
Are you a film buff? Then you've probably heard of Fritz Lang's Metropolis.
And if you’re a Star Wars fan, then Coruscant holds no secrets for you. Maybe you're familiar with Trantor from Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, or what about the LA noir of the Blade Runner franchise?
Science fiction films weave a fantasy of futuristic social, political, and technological changes, but one thing remains constant: in these alternate universes, humans or extraterrestrial beings always organise themselves in cities. We can't do without them, apparently, and – according to data from the United Nations – this century will see the largest migration of all time, a phenomenon that will result in eighty percent of all Earth's inhabitants eventually residing in cities. It’s time to support this evolution by investing in the livability and vivacity (pun intended) of our cities, something that will benefit our global environment and humanity as a whole. Just think: the future will be urban or not at all.
Technology is now an inseparable part of our daily lives and yet, its very presence can be divisive. On one side, there are those who immediately embrace every new innovation without question, and, on the other, there are those who – with every breakthrough or invention – prophecy the demise of humanity. But true progress will involve striking a balance between what we want to preserve and what we want to renew. As a concept, this applies directly to the greatest technological invention ever: the city. So, what does balance look like for a city?
Let’s go back to ancient Greece – the birthplace of the city as we now know it – to the time of the legendary Prince Theseus. Theseus sets sail to the island of Crete and slays the Minotaur, but when he returns to Crete, his ship is repaired, with each original part being replaced one by one. Is it still Theseus' ship? Perhaps not physically, but – as long as Theseus is in command – it is indeed his vessel. The presence of Theseus is the soul of that ship, and it is no different with cities, which evolve and grow with time. Despite these outward changes, the soul of a city can be preserved.
The soul of a city is a unique and even indefinable combination of multiple factors – from its very air to its language, geography, economy, and more. And no one guards the soul of a city more closely than its residents. Smart government officials and urban planners realised years ago that without consulting a city’s residents on matters that might affect the soul of a place, the city will turn against them. Sadly,the world of city marketing and tourism has long lagged behind, but it's now understood that it’s not possible to attract visitors and businesses without the clear consultation of residents, the true owners of a city.
Europe is viewed globally as a patchwork of culturally distinct cities, but the continent can also set an example as to how its urban areas will rise to meet the challenges of the future, the most significant of which is how we can keep our cities livable and vibrant in the face of increased tourism. Tourism is no longer a separate, purely economic activity, a story of those who offer something (the tourism industry) and those who desire something (visitors) – a situation that has put the residents of a city at a disadvantage and damaged the very fabric of a city. In order to rectify the damage – to redress this imbalance – we must transition from a win-win situation to a win-win-win situation, where both residents and visitors can thrive.
Now – more than ever – we are seeing an abundance of splendid projects and plans to address these problems. But, alas, the stumbling block to success often materialises during the implementation of these specific strategies. Let’s harken back yet again to ancient times for a better illustration of the problems we’re grappling with in respect of tourism and today’s cities. In Greek mythology, the hydra was a monster with many heads, each of which would sprout anew when severed. Much like the hydra, tourism planning has multiple heads – three, to be exact: people, the planet, and profit. And yet – unlike the hydra – if one of these heads is severed, either of the two other elements will suffer. This is why successful urban tourism practices should take a holistic and comprehensive approach. As we said: it’s all about balance.
Successful strategies are more than just written suggestions; rather, their success lies within their execution. But this execution can only thrive when it takes into account the comprehensive sense of balance needed for all three elements of tourism to thrive. It’s a realisation that has spurred tourism strategists into serious contemplation and something that has upended the entire consultancy model. Indeed, the development of preformatted strategic models and their sale to DMOs and urban authorities is no longer a sustainable model if we want to prioritise the future of our cities. Consultants must reclaim their original roles as mediators between potentially useful models (theory) and the realm of reality (practice). This reality differs for every city, as each finds itself in a distinct phase of its lifecycle. This being the case, each city necessitates a unique starting point along with the ability to confront distinct challenges that require the implementation of tailormade solutions.
Let’s go back to the very beginning of this piece, to our film analogy. Have you also noticed that no two cities in science fiction movies look alike? Each one is unique, with its own evolution, problems, and challenges. That's why you can confidently say, "each city needs to boldly go where no other city has gone before."
VivaCITY is an initiative aimed at furthering that endeavour.
VivaCity is a project that provides three years of guidance and support to two European cities in their strategy and implementation efforts.
CityDNA represents European cities and their tourism policies, and with the launch of WeGENERATION, they have introduced a new strategy that aligns perfectly with this new holistic yet focused approach. To demonstrate that Europe remains at the forefront of urban innovation, including tourism policies, CityDNA is launching this learning lab as a tangible demonstration of their commitment.
Supporting this project as a sponsor is SIMPLEVIEW, a company deeply passionate about tourism, who will contribute through their innovation branch, THE FUTURE OF TOURISM. To ensure the project's success, they have enlisted the expertise of two internationally renowned consultants. The VivaCity challenge is open to all cities in Europe, and you can find all the relevant information here.