Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Chapter 6 Sustainable Tourism by David Weaver Relational Summary

Chapter 6: Attractions

Role of attractions
Typology of attractions
Attraction characteristics
Ownership and orientation
Spatial configuration and situation
Authenticity, presentation and image
Scarcity and status
Carrying  capacity and accessibility
Theme Parks
Sustainability related issues
Environmental and Economic considerations
Disney World
Sustainability initiatives: Disney examples
Other initiatives
Perceived economic benefits
Indian casinos
Economic and sociocultural costs
Negative economic impacts
Negative sociocultural impacts
Problems in Indian casinos
Sustainability initiatives
AGA and other programs
Ski resorts
Expansion and consolidation
Environmental impacts of skiing.
Corporations and real estate
Displacement and diminished sense of place
Sustainability initiatives
Golf courses
Environmental and sociocultural impacts
Sustainability initiatives
Situation and site consideration

On the ground: Disney defeated at the third battle of Manassas, Virginia

When I was in graduate school for Urban Planning at UCLA, living off-the grid at the Los Angeles Urban Eco-village where I had built an indoor composting toilet and water recycling system, eating organic food from our permaculture garden, riding my solar charged electric bicycles to campus an hour each way, and earning a reputation among my peers for being a “radical environmentalist”, I caused some confusion when I got my yearly season passes to Universal Studios theme park, Knots Berry Farm, the California Adventure and, of course, the Magic Kingdom of Disneyland.  People in my environmental policy cohort  thought there was something terribly inconsistent about somebody who worked on urban gardens,  frequented bohemian book readings and rallies for low-wage worker’s social justice and Indian rights pow-wows, spending every other weekend in a theme park.

They grudgingly understood that my  strategy was sound from a student’s time management perspective – it was how I got my reading done for my classes.  I would stand in line for an hour or so at a time waiting for a ride like Peter Pan or the Pirates of the Caribbean, highlighter pens in my hand, my face buried in my graduate reader or textbook like Belle in Beauty and the Beast, oblivious to my surroundings and protected by the anonymity of the crowd from any distractions, getting an enormous amount of focused reading done, and then clear my head with a 5 or 10 minute roller coaster or fantasy ride.  As soon as the ride was over I was ready to plunge into another complex academic article.  My feet and my arms would get tired sometimes, but it was a great way to stay motivated to study all weekend instead of wasting time.
And  I could claim some eco-friendly consistency with my principles, as  I did ride the notoriously bad public transit system from LA to Annaheim, which took me over 2 hours each way, another great opportunity to get undistracted reading done, and  so my carbon foot print getting to Disneyland was incredibly  low, but it wasn’t easy for folks who weren’t inside my head to see how my weekends at the parks could be anything other than a strange contradiction from “Mr. Sustainability”.
But that is because very few people who don’t study our subject know that Walt Disney, the innoventor, and his company of  Disney imagineers who invented the modern theme park, are also the market leader in sustainability initiatives.  Actually, a trip to the Disney parks is one of the best opportunities  to see sustainable mass tourism in action.
Weaver affirms,

“Disney’s broader ethos of ‘environmentality’, launched in 1990, is reflected in the extensive use of native plants in landscaping, measures to prevent the escape of exotic species, the use of organic pesticides and the use of water hyacinths (a noxious exotic weed) and native plants to treat wastewater.  It also led in 1995 to the establishment of the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund which funds selected projects of non-profit wildlife and conservation organizations. Other measures include various community outreach programmes, recycling and waste minimization activities and reductions in water and energy use. Although the formation of the Reedy Creek Improvement District is cited as a potential problem for sustainability because it concedes planning and land use control to the Disney corporation, it can be argued that this internalization of power is a major factor that has allowed the company to implement  new standards of environmental sustainability and to create landscapes that juxtapose heavily built theme park facilities with large areas of relatively undisturbed natural habitat. Disneyland Paris has also been touted for its many environmental and sociocultural innovations both internal and external, but for the very different reason of extensive state intervention.” P. 97

Of course this surprised many in my crowd at UCLA and the Eco-village, because of the negative stereotype  theme parks have in the sociological and anthropological literature.  Weaver tells us the literature “variably implicates the mega-theme park (and the Disney operations in particular) as a potent symbol of globalization, infantilization, inauthenticity, alienation, stereotyping, technological utopianism, hypersanitization, escapism, decontextualization, standardization, frivolous consumerism, corporatism or some other aspect of the post-modernist sociocultural critique. The not-so-subtle anti-corporatism and anti-Americanism of this literature, and the centrality of the Disney theme parks in particular, is evident in Ritzer and Liska (1997), who perceive theme parks as the progenitor and extreme expression of ‘McDisneyization’, a process that personifies  the negative conventional mass tourism ideal type depicted in Table 3.1”.
“From the perspective of sociocultural sustainability”, Weaver continues, “one broad message of the critics is that people who visit theme parks assimilate the values that these facilities represent.  Fjellman (1992), for example, argues that Disney’s Future World (a themed section of Orlando based Disney World) sends the message  that technology will solve all environmental issues and that corporations are the best means through which to achieve this.  It is further contended that these subliminal and not-so-subliminal messages subsequently influence the visitor’s day-to-day patterns of shopping and entertainment, thereby contributing to the McDisneyization of the culture and society as a whole.” P. 95
Yeah yeah, when I was in my Master’s and Ph.D. programs studying regional and international development and environmental analysis and policy it was fun to beat up on the mouse, using Michael Sorkin’s post-modern classic “Variations on a Theme Park” and Foucault lenses of Discipline and Punish and skewed power relations in the panopticon to use Disney as the obvious straw man to pick on whenever you needed a villain.  But it reflects a poor understanding of what Disney himself was trying to achieve and what has been done by his imagineers since his death.

You see Disney was an optimist who believed in the enterprising spirit and ingenuity and the idea that his theme parks would never be finished but would evolve through the stated ideal of being “the happiest place on earth”, source of perpetual delight for children of all ages.. There was no “final word” on development according to Disney, who was also the pioneer in nature films and wildlife and cultural documentaries.  Each generation would learn from the last and try to improve upon it, and his philosophy was more like the Bruntland report definition of sustainability than almost any other enterprise.  He had no desire to get rich by robbing the future to meet the needs of the present. His ultimate goal for his parks was to create a living breathing globalized city that celebrated all cultures and all stories and the best practices for a healthy human and natural habitat possible. He called the pinnacle of his life’s work  EPCOT, the experimental prototype community of tomorrow, and insisted it always reflect new knowledge and maintain the values of fairness and honesty and imagination and freedom and the pursuit of happiness for healthy families.  EPCOT was a utopian dream, and though it never succeeded in turning into a real form of urban planning after Walt’s untimely death, Disney’s original vision has nonetheless still  inspired generations of visitors to dream bigger and conceive of a real tomorrowland that at least gives us a chance to “live happily ever after” in this time of looming ecological and economic collapse.

Empty rhetoric?  Too much  techno-optimism?  When I was a high school science teacher in the mid 1990s I was given a chance to come to Florida from LA to take a “behind the scenes” tour of the “science behind the magic”.  Disney had a program to help science teachers develop exciting curricula in Physics, Chemistry and Biology, and Environmental Science by showing us how they deal with the challenges tourism operations face using good science.  As Weaver is quick to point out, “By their very nature, theme parks are conspicuous, intensely built and enormous generators of waste products such as sewage, greenhouse gases, greywater, pesticide residue and debris from food products, packaging etc.  While “The amount of space actually required for a theme park is often surprisingly small, with only 57 of Disneyland Paris’ 2000 hectares occupied by the intensively visited core facilities (according to Camp, 1997),”  “ Complementary and facilitating land uses and activities typically account for a much larger amount of space. Camp estimates that the average European theme park has a 20-hectare parking lot capable of accommodating 5800 vehicles. Theme park companies also tend to establish the theme park and help to extend and internalize tourist expenditures. Land is also often held in reserve for purposes of future expansion.
Beyond the land held by the corporation (Disney World, by way of illustration, consists of an 11,100 hectare property) theme parks serve as magnets or unintentional growth poles that attract large amounts of direct indirect and induced development activity  to their activity.”  P. 96.
And this is true, they do tend to increase urban sprawl and unsightly strip malls and motorways and businessparks spring up in their midst. But in the case of Disney, they openly try to deal with these realities. For example, on another trip in the year 2000 or so , this time as an employee of the horticulture division of the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Garden to share  sustainability ideas with the staff of Disney’s Animal Kingdom and the Magic Kingdom as well as Sea World and Universal and Busch Gardens landscaping people, I got another behind the scenes tour of 4 different theme parks, led by their scientists, to discuss their efforts to reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides and inorganic fertilizers and to maintain native and endemic species and conserve water. Some were beginning to use their huge parking lot space to introduce permeable pavement, constructed wetlands, native vegetation  solar electric generating shade canopies and energy efficient lighting. They have the money and clout to do these things.
Back in LA a few years later , while beginning my college teaching career,  I was invited to bring my Global Environmentalism students from UCLA to behind the scenes tour of “Environmental Disney” led by the lead scientists on the project who showed us how they not only recycled everything from water to garbage (noting that in the Florida park they actually produce over 5 megawatts of electricity from food waste through a biodigester), but how they had completely redesigned Tomorrowland so that it not only had a majority of native plants, but, when it came to exotics, had EDIBLE plants.  They were pioneering the idea of reflecting the need for urban farming in the future with Edible Landscaping.  The only problem they faced was that when they called attention to it with signage, people started eating the vegetation and while it was safe, because they used no herbicides or pesticides, the plants were being damaged. So they removed the signs but kept the edible plants, using it as a feature for student visitors but keeping the information from the general public.  Still, because I went to the park all the time, I frequently met immigrant families, mostly from Central America who knew edible plants when they saw them, grazing on the landscape to add to their picnic, and this was allowed.  But it also made an incredible statement to the world – that Disney parks change with the times and the needs of society and reflect the sustainability mandates called for by the best thinkers on the subject.  The public learns all about urban and vertical farming at EPCOT on the ride in the land pavilion, and in Disneyland they were putting the ideas they experimented with at the Florida park  into practice in the California park in a place that had  been mocked by California greens like myself  as “yesterland” prior to the renovation.

Now in certain cases, it is true that even Disney has been  beholden to corporate forces beyond the control of the imagineers.  When my students asked why the autopia in tomorrowland still had fossil fuel burning cars in 2003, as it does today in 2016, and looks like a ride designed to teach kids how to sit in noisy, smoky traffic, our tour guide hemmed and hawed and told us that they had made great gains by getting new kiddie cars that didn’t need to idle, spewing smoke all day, but turned on only when the gas pedal was pushed.  He then said they would soon be switching some to natural gas, which was cleaner.  When asked why they didn’t use fast electric cars like the Germans do in their Movieland themepark, he said “well, market surveys showed that kids here in the US want to hear the roar of the engine.”  When asked why they didn’t simply simulate the engine growl using recorded samples (these are imagineers after all) he finally threw up his hands and said, “Okay, you got me.  Look, we aren’t generally supposed to tell anyone, but the ride was  sponsored by Exxon and we have sponsorship from General Motors, and they discouraged us from  changing  the ride.” 
In the Europe and Tokyo and Hong Kong parks however, things can be done differently.  Similarly, California has a more progressive sustainably futurist tomorrowland than Florida, reflecting a heightened demand for such visions of the future by Californians… in Florida one glaringly obvious unsustainable practice is that the trams and buses taking people from the parking lots to the parks still burn smelly toxic diesel fuel. In Europe and Asia and  California not only the Disney trams and buses are cleaner, burning natural gas, but even the normal municipal city buses are cleaner… even LA’s buses are all either natural gas burning or are going hybrid. 
So it isn’t that Disney is necessarily hypocritical, it is that it is using its presence as a massive international player to try out different sustainability ideas and technologies without alienating its core supporters in any given local, gently nudging the industry forward.  For example, when it comes to the associated sprawl, Disney made a deal with Orlando that because its own theme park and resort expansions would cause more traffic and demand more roads and create more indirect land use, they would in turn restore wilderness and buy and convert abandoned farmland back into natural wilderness or sustainable recreation areas.
I was led to a new preserve outside the parks that actually has seen the comeback of several endangered species.
Weaver sums it up by saying, “as with hotels and other built tourism-related facilities, theme park operators practice sustainability at least to the extent that they adhere to environmental and social regulations required by various levels of government in destinations where they operate. Beyond such mandatory compliance, voluntary measures include the allocation of land for environmental purposes. About one-half of the total holdings of Disney World consist of Green space or water that is not intended for any future built development. This includes a 3000-hectare Wildlife Management Conservation Area and 485 hectares of restored or enhanced wetlands. Disney also purchased a nearby 4850 hectare cattle ranch which it then donated to the Nature Conservancy to be managed as a restorative protected area known as the Disney Wilderness Preserve.” P. 97.
 But Weaver also notes that “the natural appearance of the former initiatives is somewhat misleading in that these lands were part of a massive process of deliberate environmental restructuring involving dredging, rechanneling, infilling, and contouring of Disney-owned lands to facilitate the establishment of the constituent theme parks and create an aesthetically pleasing buffer zone (Fjellman, 1992).

The problem with this criticism in my mind, is that it smacks of the old debate about whether man is part of nature or not.  There are those who see human beings as an aberration, a cancer, a scourge, a virus, a pox on the land.  Coming from a Judeo-Christian theological position that humans are not animals, that we did not evolve and are distinct from the natural world, for better or worse, some people have decided that we are more demons than angels and can only do harm.  Restoration ecology is an alien concept to such thinkers, and rather than analyzing our impact on its merits, the trend is to celebrate “untrammeled pristine wilderness” and assume that when humans touch the land it bears the mark of Cain.  This topic is well explored by William Cronin in his masterpiece “The trouble with Wilderness, or Getting Back to the Wrong Nature”.  But when it comes to the original Disneyland, for example, an ecologists point of view would be that the biodiversity quotient is so much higher than that of the pesticide and herbicide and fossil fertilizer laden monoculture citrus groves it replaced in “orange county” that it is an overwhelming improvement from the rural landscape that was there before. 
Since I worked as a botanical surveyor for the LA Zoo I was also in touch with the Disney horticulturists working on the botanical palette of the park, and they have more species of trees and shrubs and more wildlife than any of the surrounding land uses, particularly farmland.
And the story isn’t over yet… with each conference and gathering of ecologists and environmentalists and sustainable tourism advocates, and an ever more vocal public demanding a better overall tomorrowland, fantasyland, and adventureland than the ones offered by contemporary society, these parks, and others inspired by them and learning from the collegial idea sharing we were involved in in our American Zoological Horticulture meetings with the theme park groups, things improve.  It is gratifying to know that the largest corporations involved in these fantasy landscapes, while making no apologies for the “artificial” nature of their spaces, are doing a lot to incorporate real nature and its sustainability imperatives in their attractions.
In the typology explored by Weaver in Chapter 6 he singles out theme parks, casinos, ski resorts and golf courses as “four types of specialized built attraction that are prominent within the private sector tourism industry”.  As Las Vegas leads Casinos into becoming  ever more theme park like attractions they begin to follow the footsteps of giants like Disney.   I have focused in my relational summary  on theme parks because we at USF are close to Orlando, the major center of this form of tourism.
The book also explores the paradoxes of the other types.  Weaver  indicts many golf courses because “there is at present no precise definition of a ‘naturalistic gold course and often such credentials are claimed solely on the basis of reduced energy inputs that serve primarily to improve the profitability of the course”. On page 104 he speaks the “scorched  earth philosophy of golf course development that “eradicates and restructures the natural topography, soil, hydrology and biology of the site to meet the alleged needs of the game, and the huge requirement of water  (6500 m3 per day, enough to meet the needs of 60,000 villagers in many developing countries ), the use of enormous inputs of pesticides and fertilizers (two tonnes a year in the 1990s which contaminate ground water) and of a development in Thailand which has been “associated with forced displacement of local residents, land inflation and illness from acute chemical poisoning”. He also talks about laudable best practice  golf courses like the ones I mentioned in Chapter 1’s relational summary that I visited in Sumatra and Palm Desert California where “measures are taken to attract and sustain native wildlife”.  Once again, as we discussed at the end of chapter 5’s summary, the onus is on us to demand more sustainable resorts because the best practice models are out there, there just isn’t sufficient confidence by  the developers in the market potential of sustainability investments to convince them to go in that direction.
Ski resorts are another area Weaver explores and again there are good examples and bad examples.
 The point of bringing golf courses and ski resorts up is to give us a lens through which to view these attractions direct and indirect effects and not just assume that just because golf courses and ski mountains appear green in color because they are attractions based on green vegetation that they are also “green” in terms of sustainable practice. Both, interestingly, have their greatest negative impact not because of the slopes or the courses themselves, which can be done by a good designer with minimal impact on wildlife, but because the real money maker for both of these industries is the affiliated real estate projects surrounding them  that they depend on to generate profits . It turns out from an economic perspective that the golf courses and ski runs are “secondary products that serve as a hook to attract seasonal or permanent residents. Housing developments are usually situated within narrow riparian valleys, or ecological sensitive areas, which have the effect of displacing… wildlife that depend on these scarce habitats for adequate food and cover.  Road networks, enhanced airports and a suburbanization effect cause deleterious environmental impacts no matter how “Green” the attractions themselves can be made to appear, and from a social sustainability perspective they cause “suburbanization and gentrification” which has included the displacement of lower income residents to less expensive  communities often far removed from their jobs in these resorts” and “in addition these processes have eroded the sense of place that distinguish one resort town from another, replacing it with a homogeneous monotony inhabited and patronized by the privileged.”
Ironically, this is one of the reasons I actually feel better  hanging out at Theme Parks rather than resorts. I may appear low brow to my academic compatriots standing in line with the ‘usual rabble’, but to me they are all, as Sorkin says, “Variations on a theme park” .  The problem for me is that with ski lodges and golf courses you are led to believe you are somehow “out in nature” and that what you are doing is healthy, not just for you, but for our environment.  For me, however,  the  elitist nature of the activities makes it seem like the creation of  a nature that goes against the better part of my human nature.  When land is developed so we can  indulge in sports that for  centuries have always been associated with the very privileged few who can afford to spend their days uselessly going up and down mountains or hitting little balls about, and these games for the few are impacting the environments we all depend on, I get my feathers up.  In theme parks, by contrast,  I sometimes feel a sense of community with the masses. We all  know the environment is “man-made” and inauthentic, but we celebrate its magic because in a well designed theme park you are allowed to engage in a shared dream, a collective dream of Imagineering, the dream  that if we all put our minds to it and use our ingenuity and stick-to-it-ivity, the tomorrowland we end up in in reality  might just be enough like  that fantasyland where we live happily ever after that it is a place worth going to.  And that may be the most important gift to the sustainability movement the attraction sector of the tourism industry can offer – the idea that dreams actually can come true.

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