Urban design and tourism in the tropics

Anderson, Allison (2016) Urban design and tourism in the tropics. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Abstract

This thesis aims to critically examine the process of urban design in a tropical city in terms of its alignment with tourist preferences. Since the European Colonial period the tropics have been imagined and marketed as exotic, paradisiacal and untainted natural places. However, as tropical cities become hubs of economic and population growth, their supporting urban areas are eclipsing the tropical idyll to become a dominant element of the landscape. There is both potential and risk in this: the city experience could provide either an enrichment of the tropical holiday or detract from it. In an age of accessible, online user− based travel reviews, this can have serious implications for the local tourism industry, which no longer has a monopoly on destination image control. In evaluating the effectiveness of the urban design process from the perspective of tourists as users of the city, this thesis examines what tourists value in the experience of the tropical city to propose a method of evaluating the urban design process.

The thesis commences with an analysis of urban design, tourism and a range of other literatures concerned with the dialectical relationship between people and place. Emerging from the analysis of this literature is a conceptual framework for the thesis comprising of shaping the urban landscape, experiencing the urban landscape and context. Within this conceptual framework are four basic quadrants: urban design; urban destination product; experience of place; and tourist experience of place, which are discussed both generally and in terms of the tropical context. The review identifies gaps in the literature concerning: how urban design works as a process in different contexts; how the urban landscape can be used as a tourist resource; how the process of urban design works to deliver an urban landscape that is aligned with user preferences; and how the process of urban design works to deliver an urban landscape that is aligned with tourist preferences. These gaps give rise to four research objectives:

1. Analyse the place, polity and power contexts of urban design in a tropical city;

2. Critically analyse the urban design process in a tropical city from the perspective of those shaping it;

3. Identify the connections and disconnections between how urban designers shape a tropical city and what tourists value in the tropical city experience; and

4. Propose a method of evaluating the urban design process in terms of its alignment with tourist preferences.

To address these objectives, a methodology is developed within a problem−focused pragmatic paradigm to better understand the 'heart' of complex, 'wicked' or design problems often associated with urban and tourism issues. Using a critical, abductive approach where analysis iterates between data sources using inductive and deductive styles of reasoning to answer the research objective, this thesis is a common, single case study of Cairns. The data in this research is drawn from academic literature; grey literature, including planning schemes, government policies and historical accounts of Cairns; a three− year analysis of online travel review site TripAdvisor.com; 20 websites advertising Cairns; 20 in−depth interviews with urban designers in Cairns; and 526 tourist surveys.

To answer research objective 1, a critical context analysis draws on academic and grey literature to reveal place−based modes of operation in Cairns that have developed in the past and persist today. It reveals a lack of political self−determination at the local level in Cairns that appears to underpin a more general lack of capacity in terms of design, tropical adaptation and policy making. The analysis leads to the development of an organising structure of geography, culture, economy and environment within which to critically analyse the place, polity and power contexts of a place. This makes a theoretical contribution to the literature, but also a methodological contribution through applying a thorough context analysis in a city setting.

To answer research objective 2, a critical analysis of the urban design process draws on the context analysis and urban designer interviews to reveal a process of urban design that is influenced in a measured way by a range of local urban designers, but generally driven by politicians who often have access to or influence on funding sources. Additionally, urban designers identify their key normative priorities for designing for tourists in the themes of Feel, Nature, Built environment and People. This makes a theoretical contribution to the literature by enhancing the way in which we understand urban design as a process influenced more by power and place−based modes of operation, and less by the norms or ideals of the designers themselves. Methodologically, the interview process illustrated the value of in−depth conversations to elicit themes and concepts that were not originally evident to the researcher.

To answer research objective 3, the norms of the designers, context analysis and literature review informs the development of the tourist survey to evaluate how effectively urban designers in Cairns assess the preferences and needs of tourists in the urban design process. The normative preferences emerging from this research are: Nature, Feeling, Design, Aesthetic, Tropicality, Use and Management. Results indicate that in Cairns, the urban designers are mostly in tune with what tourists are seeking from the tropical urban landscape, however in many instances, the process of urban design does not allow the urban designers to produce these outcomes in the city. This makes a number of theoretical contributions to the literature by introducing the assessment of tourist experience as a key indicator of tourism planning effectiveness and gauging the effectiveness of the urban design process.

To answer research objective 4, the abductive, iterative methods used in this thesis are represented as a four−stage method of evaluating urban design process in terms of its alignment with tourist preferences. It contributes to filling a wider gap in the literature concerning the evaluation of user preferences by proposing and operationalising a method of evaluating user preferences in the urban landscape. This is the major theoretical contribution of the thesis.

Recommendations for further research include expanding the proposed method of evaluation to explore all user needs, expanding the analysis to other contexts to assess the validity of the evaluation process, further examining the role of nature in the urban experience, and expanding the method of evaluation of the urban design process to measure changing processes over time.

Item ID: 49941
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Cairns, city planning, tourism, tourist experience, tropical Australia, tropics, urban design, urban landscape
Additional Information:

Publications arising from this thesis are available from the Related URLs field. The publications are:

Anderson, Allison, and Law, Lisa (2015) Putting Carmona's Place-shaping Continuum to use in research practice. Journal of Urban Design, 20 (5). pp. 545-562.

Anderson, Allison, and Law, Lisa (2013) Tropical urban design in Australia. In: Byrne, John, Chandler, Bill, and Echberg, Bruce, (eds.) Urban Voices: celebrating urban design in Australia. Urban Design Forum Incorporated, Melbourne, VIC, Australia, pp. 78-81.

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Date Deposited: 24 Aug 2017 01:04
FoR Codes: 12 BUILT ENVIRONMENT AND DESIGN > 1205 Urban and Regional Planning > 120508 Urban Design @ 50%
16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1605 Policy and Administration > 160514 Urban Policy @ 20%
15 COMMERCE, MANAGEMENT, TOURISM AND SERVICES > 1506 Tourism > 150606 Tourist Behaviour and Visitor Experience @ 30%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970112 Expanding Knowledge in Built Environment and Design @ 60%
97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970115 Expanding Knowledge in Commerce, Management, Tourism and Services @ 40%
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