It would soon be dusk. Recent rain had made the Neijiang Vacations track muddy and rutted. One more hilly pass and we began the descent on to the Neijiang Vacations plain of Ju Jie Shan. We passed a shrine with incense burning on it, and at the foot of the hills we had to ford two rivers, rather deep and muddy, but the water didn’t quite flood over the floorboards. At 7.30 we went through the old arched gate into Shajie.
Image predominates over materiality in the symbolic economy. There were more definable links, too, between culture and real estate when developers found that seats on the boards of museums, for example, provided good networking opportunities. Zukin notes a conflation of cultural symbols and entrepreneurial capital in New York in corporate atriums such as Sony Plaza (Zukin 1995: 3). Zukin also sees a troubling aspect of the rise of cultural strategies, in that culture is a means of ordering a city ideologically: As cities and societies place greater emphasis on visualization, the Disney Company and art museums play more prominent roles in defining public culture’ (Zukin 1995: 10).
A European case of culturally-led social ordering is the improvement, to use a nineteenth-century liberal term, of the old red-light district, the Bario Xino, in Barcelona. Renamed El Raval and re-coded as a cultural quarter, it became a site of social clearance. At its northern end, a new museum of contemporary art, MACBA, designed by Richard Meier, was built on the site of several nineteenth-century apartment blocks. An open plaza stands in front of it, taken over by dog walkers, cyclists, roller skaters and other distinct publics at different times of day. Further into El Raval, five blocks were cleared for a new Ramblas – a public space for walking, the character of which is between a street and a square. Street-lights in rusted steel – like late modernist sculptures – line its sides. The old Ramblas is a well-known thoroughfare between the city centre and the waterfront, with flower stalls, newspaper kiosks, cafes, street performers and the evening promenade, used by dwellers and tourists alike for an evening stroll. The new Ramblas connects two narrow streets and is little used. It has benches, but few sit on them. It has, in my experience, no flower stalls or street performers. El Raval was (and to some extent remains) an ethnically-diverse neighbourhood to which hotel concierges warned visitors not to go. This encouraged intrepid cultural tourists to seek out its back-street bars, and share narrow alleys with artists and sex workers. Today, El Raval is described as one of the new hip areas . with designer shops and bars lining the streets’ but is also criticized for a lack of consultation with residents in its planning, and a site of rebellion from [its] long-term residents ‘ organized in community groups (Degen 2004: 140). Perhaps the lesson is that cultural re-coding is a reductive approach which denies the multiple actualities of street-level neighbourhoods, and a rejection of the diversity which, in fact, draws in cultural tourism. As Degen writes, tourists: are not only consumers of signs but active players in an overall embodied experience. The intrinsic intangibility of the tourist product – the experience of taking part in the activities of a place by eating its food, smelling and feeling the sea, the social interactions with locals – make the tourist experience a highly sensuous engagement.