Towns and cities have changed from a leisure perspective over recent years.
This question requires the discussion of a number of concepts and queries which have to some extent directly, and in other contexts indirectly, impacted upon the way town and cities have evolved in recent decades. While one theme remains post-modernism, another context is the emerging crime and terrorism situation which, along with a damaging recent credit crunch, have changed the meaning and metaphor of how towns will look and be experienced in the future. This topic also draws in how architectural planning and philosophy has accordingly responded to the changing economic situations and demographics globally and locally.
When we take the example of Europe, this aspect seems to be coming true more than ever. A more local example would be the way London, with its financial powerhouse ‘the City’, has transformed into a greater commercial concern over the last few years (BCSC, 2001). In addition to its increasing reliance upon high-rise concrete jungles, there is an increased tendency to spread and embed security networks within primary leisure and business locations (Schiller, 1999). Such measures have included traffic relocations, complex constructional plans, and also a more commercialized approach to the revival and presentation of historical structures. When we look at London there is a lot more than meets the eye. Firstly the London 2012 Olympics are coming up and much has to be done to accommodate an incoming tide of wealth and the risk of overcrowding the already sparse living space within this historically significant city (Muir, 2008).
The changing concepts of leisure in Britain
An important example of this shift is the St Pancras railway station which since 1996 has brought a new meaning to planning and tourism provision within central London. The need to address the fast pace of modernization has been addressed and vastly accelerated by a technologically intensive discourse adopted in the mid-nineties. The historical allure of the same has been merged with what is the pending necessity to connect Central London with the rest of Europe as well as within its complex internal transportation network (Thomas et. Al, 2000).The definition then of leisure becomes confusing when the a vast array of internal shops and businesses as well as the changing nature of the surrounding Kings Cross and Euston areas are noted. It could be argued that what is essentially defined as ‘leisure’ is certainly a fluctuating concept between actual tourism for the sake of enjoying historical sites and the sheer enjoyment crass commercialism can bring to tourists. These would certainly be the impressions of any lay person or even an experienced town planner or surveyor as they walk across Oxford Street where you can take a bus but not your own private car (Ravenscroft et al, 2000).
An important paradigm to the changing needs and metaphors which define leisure is the increasing trend of public private partnerships in the United Kingdom when it comes to urban development (Richard and Clark, 2001). While leisure-based development requires the meticulous maintenance of the constructional and structural integrity of historical British architecture, its new age refurbishment has precision and care (Ibid). This marks a shift towards a point where commercial ventures become more of a priority over attracting tourism and promoting leisure based activities at an internal level. Arguably, the increase of the same also denotes the accommodation of tourism, which may not however be classed as a leisure activity for the masses in the most complete sense. The truth is that there are two or three competing interests at large now when it comes to town and city planning in Britain (Thomas and Bromley, 2000). One is the recent effort to promote “Green” policy, making as a focal point of such planning. This means that roads and traffic routes are increasingly managed differently to reflect environmental awareness (Thomas and Bromley, 2000). The same is done by marking certain zones as levying a congestion charge to discourage traffic and overcrowding in such areas. Another issue touched upon before is managing terrorism. Modern day town and city planning is much more aware of the needs of incorporating disaster management into modern infrastructure. Leisure alone no longer stands behind as an impetus to develop and plan cities as important economic priorities come to the fore.
Another dimension to note is that leisure development did not, since the post modern era, exist unadulterated with the retail mix: the retail aspect exists as a part of leisure development. Important examples from Europe include the concept of “Heron City” in Europe (Whysall, 1991). The 1996 Football Cup tournament brought a large amount of international tourists from abroad and to accommodate them every leisure development had to have a commercial/retail dimension; London is thinking along similar lines in anticipation of the 2012 Olympics. These Olympics bring with them an increasing concern for event based leisure with a large commercial aspect to them. This is often used as an argument that London has actually moved towards leisure based planning. However, it should not be forgotten that like many metropolitan giant ‘world’ cities, London is also a prominent business and trade centre. Yet the earlier contention may prove to be sensible in the light of the fact that, since the initiation of the plans for Spinnaker Tower (also known as the Millennium Dome) and the large amount of change brought about in the transport routes and management within Central London, a lot more is going on in terms of attracting tourism to the United Kingdom than developing it industrially or commercially (Griffiths,2004). This is true for a country which is one of the most expensive places to live in the whole world and relies on imports for a substantial part of its consumption. Due to a stress on the tertiary sector, being a focal business centre and attracting tourism, town and city planning has avoided the industrial dimension, at least for Britain since the early nineties. (Schiller,1999).
It can be seen from the example of modern Britain that there is an increasing tendency within traditional town and city centres to witness the development of new “entertainment quarters”; and there is a promotion of the concept “24 hour city” in London, although perhaps not in other cities. In the context of London, the notion of leisure has also shifted to an enhanced night life and mass urbanization (BCSC,2001). There is an increase in incorporating active leisure facilities in malls since the eighties essentially brought about the big box idea of putting a variety of leisure options under the same roof, mimicking malls in the USA. One such example is the Oracle centre (operational since 1999) in Reading which is an example of new age consumerism within the urban fabric of the British society (Richard and Clark,2001).With around twenty bars and eateries and almost eighty shopping outlets, it was an effort to boost the potential of another economically derelict part of the town. Another example is the Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth, operational since 2001, which attracts visitors for its seaside view, recreational facilities and access to discounted fashion wear. The pubs and comedy clubs then make it a good leisure development in terms of planning. Finally, an example of more commercialized building and planning is the Xscape town centre in the ‘new town’ Milton Keyes which apart from being a large retail centre is a health club, a cinema, a bowling alley and also a collection of eateries. This changes further the notions of leisure development as becoming private concerns rather than a matter of public spending (Boulding, 1956).
The theoretical dimension
From the above it is possible to note that the increasingly postmodern dimension to city planning and architecture has brought about a death of the older meaning of leisure. Almost a decade ago, leisure had a more communal meaning to it, where a cornerstone of effective town and city planning would be to provide venues for entertainment, sports activity and physical welfare to the masses. The increased incidence of tourism, the changing financial markets and increase in consumerism have adulterated this notion to a point where the history and poetry in the local architecture (whether buildings or streets) has vanished in the favour of large skyscrapers and tourist resorts. Many authors have criticized this as a change in the thinking attitude of an architect or planner, which avoids the subsequent social relationship that is to form between the structures and the public (Canter, 1977). Some have even gone to the extent of criticizing this as a loss of dignity within the ethics of planning and architecture. The modern planner has failed to interpret the needs of the public in line with his duty to be an interpreter of the modern times and has followed a more commercialized approach (Bounding, 1956). Many would agree that post-war town centre planning and architecture in the UK has been a disaster and created many an eyesore.
Post modernism was essentially an expression of a subtle corporate approach, which had heavy undertones of consumerism (Canter, 1977). Many found it disturbing as large historical structures was no longer being utilized for prayer or educational purposes but shopping centres and large display centres surfaced everywhere (Boulding, 1956). This interaction between the building, the interior spaces and the public merged with capitalistic ideals of the corporate world as savvy brand-builders worked to foster a corporate identity that meshed with their key demographics from the very first impression. However, postmodernism as it is claimed by other authors, did bring about a shift to a more human connection to function of building cities through a renewed fascination with new materials, new processes, technologies and concerns.
The question of whether the new age town and city planning are largely a matter of contradiction and paradox and subject to domination by immense bureaucratic organizations that have the power to control and often to destroy all communities, values and lives is debatable. The postmodern era has also produced some aesthetic structures, which through technology were conceived as completely usable, functional as well as aesthetic designs which were praised for being light and straightforward without surrendering to crass commercialism (Ravenscroft et al., 2000). One such example is the Jubilee library in Brighton
The move towards tectonic architecture in city planning and development has indeed brought with it standardization and an infusion of retail mixing with everything perceived as leisure (Thomas et al, 2000). The term tectonic (Greek for artistic infusion into building techniques) remains at odds with the manufactured commercial miracles birthed by computer generated planning programmes. Modern planning is, it seems, still preoccupied with materiality and championing of a commercial craft and less concerned with the abstractness of leisure (Thomas et al, 2000).
The advent of the modern age of consumerism also meant that shopping has become an object of leisure and recreation, (although it is fair to say that Britain, the ‘nation of shopkeepers’, led the world in pioneering this consumerism two hundred years ago). This gives a new meaning to the concept of leisure. Many authors have noted the pleasure attributed to window-shopping and have observed this or the pleasure derived from display centres and can thus also translate the building of large shopping centres as “leisure” (Whysall, 1991). Such an observation brings us back to what leisure actually can be defined as. In pure simplicity, it is a contrast to work; but can it denote a recreational activity or satisfying experience as a whole for the public? This would mean that despite the traffic congestion and the environmental nuisance of the 2012 Olympics, the whole event should qualify as “leisure” for the masses (Torkildsen, 1992).
Of course, every interpretation of leisure does involve profound moral or social welfare aspects of consumerism and consumption. Ideally in the most liberal sense it is perhaps more viable to think of the same as the perception of freedom of activity, for the sake of the doing or the experiencing of it (Thomas and Bromley, 2000). This can be rationalized further by stating that the planner is responding to the citizen as a consumer rather than an individual who is a part of the larger sphere of society. This may denote many further implications in a capitalist sense: what is being demanded will be produced. If modern citizens demand more shopping centres than sports activity systems, then town planning shall focus on those; whether it should is a moot point. If political pressure on politicians makes them legislate and plan more towards anti-terror and anti-pollution ‘green’ legislation, then the city structure and architecture will face changes accordingly (Thomas and Bromley, 2000).
The future of leisure planning: an analysis of the 2012 London Olympics
After the recent Olympics which were held at China in August 2008 in a scintillating mega event, London has a lot to learn in terms of better town, city and infrastructural planning which will determine its economic boom or the lack thereof in 2012 (Muir, 2008). (Though, of course, China is ruled by a brutal and ruthless dictatorship desperate for status in the eyes of the world, which could ignore all protests by individuals and had limitless finance and space). As discussed before this remains a classic example of the changing meaning and metaphors of leisure and city planning. Future planning in terms of leisure development in London will actually have to reflect the catering to and expansion reflecting the demands of incoming tourism demand pertaining to hotels, food and accommodation (Muir, 2008). While this remains excellent news for the recession hit United Kingdom post the international credit crunch, there remain bigger dilemmas at stake here apart from securing revenue generation from better planning. Future planning for leisure activities will now involve a heightened demand for technical skills and an expansion of the transport, hospitality, logistics, and cultural and creative industries to cater to the incoming influx of tourists (Lloyd and Clark, 2001). The anticipated problem of congestion and pollution in the overcrowded city of London has been already pointed out in the discussion above, which is one reason that the upcoming Olympics have attracted much criticism from economists and environmentalists as these are negative externalities of event-tourism based leisure planning. All in all, since leisure has a compounded meaning now it has to be seen that modern town and city planning has more to do with incorporating legislative and political contexts than plain convenience of the public, many people would still like to protest that the welfare of the young generation is being ignored while large sports centres are being replaced by shopping plazas. Sadly, it is always more about who is willing to pay and for what than the general welfare of the masses (Schiller, 1999), and the sale of school playing fields for residential and commercial development has been seen by many as utterly irresponsible and something that will harm the health of future generations. The political dimension of “greening” is however a strong aspect of current town planning and policy. In fact, the biggest challenge to the 2012 Olympics in England will be issues of corporate social responsibility (CSR) as there is an increase in road traffic and large building structures and a depletion of the “green” in the notions of the “think green” policy of Britain. Essentially, now town and city planning has become more of an issue of capturing and sustaining economic value generated leisure and cultural activity such as the London 2012 Olympics (BCSC, 2001).
In conclusion, the future of city planning – at least in Britain – can be seen in the form of large tourist centres, commercialized retail concerns which bring the inclusion of catering, entertainment and sporting activities under one roof, and perhaps a move towards city living. All in all, whether there is a situation of promoting ambient leisure or heritage destination leisure, it is possible to see that leisure planning in Britain remains strong as ever while shifting to a more commercialized context, and this transformation could be enhanced with the upcoming preparations for the 2012 Olympics.
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