Tourism is a phenomenon with the potential to affect our living environments and their physical appearance. Once we had a talk with J.B.J and F.G. about the possibility to show the urbanizing force of tourism in Croatia since we’re already dealing with the subject. The Croatian coastal belt is around 2000 x 200 km ribbon and it’s transforming into a diffuse urbanized area. Prosperity is not the only outcome tourism has to offer (as well as unintended negative side effects). There’s an interesting artificial landscape rising from it, where coastal, inland, urban, rural, semi-urban, semi-rural and historical areas blend with recognizable urban features, and not necessarily disregarding natural preservation.
The idea is to show this ribbon which follows the Magistrala (the winding coastal road that connects the north to the south). This belt is, of course, constituted by points of density and in-between areas.
Tourism is not just about short-term displacement; in Europe it’s blending more and more with quotidian life. Global growth, productivity and higher incomes are leading to longer and stressful working hours. The quality of free time has become one of the ways to compensate such demands. Conversely, more spare time is becoming available to those who, by choice, decide to cut their regimes of work in favor of a more qualitative life- a practice generally bound to ‘more developed’ countries. Nevertheless, spare time and qualitative time focus mainly on leisure. Leisure converted itself from a status symbol in the fifties into a regular activity during the nineties- and as such, coming closer to tourism during this decade, for an increased and cheaper mobility is making out of traveling an accessible commodity.
Commodity of ‘the familiar’
Tourism has always been a temporal (or seasonal) phenomenon and always had its purpose on rest, leisure and traveling- a quest for knowledge through the broadening of one’s living experiences. Today the later is somehow becoming less relevant.
In a tourist industry where leisure is the prime product, the tendency of consuming unvisited places is becoming characterized and conditioned by ‘a commodity of the familiar’. Although destinations in general, even remote and exotic, represent an ideal desire, often it’s unconsciously expected from them to operate within familiar codes and procedures– the paradox of escaping away from routine in order to find ‘home’, where home is a sign of safety and comfort opposed to the apparent ‘risk’ and ‘difficulty’ of performing the seemingly unknown procedures and activities implied in world travel. These conscious or unconscious expectations are also due to an increasing blend between travel and daily life, in which excitement frequently subordinates to a ‘comfortable sense of temporal belonging’.
Often there’s a contradiction between the consumers’ iconographic expectations and the tourist products, landscape and building facilities that comply these expectations; an ideal and generic Mediterranean imagery cannot constitute part in the realm of the original typological and idiosyncratic environment that produces such imagery. Most of the time, the shortcomings of tourist products happen because they’re isolated semi-multifunctional complexes, unable to replicate the whole repertory and atmosphere a consolidated town has to offer (narrow streets, dramatic light and shade contrasts, outdoor life, etc). In addition, the feasibility aspects of such a profit oriented sector, which ‘can’t afford’ over investments, make it difficult to achieve expensive effects. In short, it’s difficult for new accommodation facilities to look like real vernacular villages. Nevertheless, it’s clear that a large amount of users and travelers are becoming progressively acquainted with the implanted iconographies on offer and consequentially shifting expectations.
A SPECIFIC EXAMPLE
Much has been said about the definition of ‘urbanity’ or urban life. The measure can be put in manifolds such as heterogeneity of the social landscape, civil culture, multiplicity of subcultures, density and diversity of program, duration of activities, flux between permanent and temporary urban dwellers, movement of capital and building activity, constant re-invention of the urban fabric from behalf of its users, etc, etc. For example, urban life can be somehow found in the temporary conversion of the homogeneous and domestic environment of the northern Croatian coast into a dense ‘internationally-urbanized landscape’ during tourist seasons. The surroundings of the coastal towns of Umag and Porec are a clear manifestation of the yearly-tree-month-implanted-transformation; a phenomena that could be characterized as follows.
2- Programmatic diversification, where activities are both, offered to the ‘transitory citizens’ and at the same time originated by them.
3- Diversity in all different sorts of gadgets and iconography brought from outside the country, such as sun umbrellas, laying mats, toys, tools, cars, motorcycles, bikes, towels, floating devices, etc.
4- The multilingual soundscape.
5- The ad hoc or improvised multiple services such as food providers, cocktail huts, kiosks, retail stands, rental stands that oscillate from laying chairs, scooters, boats to diving equipment, etc.
Space of tolerance
One of the aspects in the cases above, and hosting environments of mass tourism in general, is the level of tolerance and efficiency involved among the people sharing and negotiating their m2 (the sea shore, restaurants, public terraces, parking areas, apartment paths and terraces, sun decks, etc). A practice one can also find in the city (bars, restaurants, commercial strips, pick hours, etc). Often happens that the levels of civility these situations call for are the closest manifestations of the civil culture and citizenship once forethought for our urban environments, for good manners are being replaced regularly with just- nor more nor less- tolerance (tolerance understood as one of the main qualities of civility, aside from formal protocols of courteousness).
It is clear that the Mediterranean coastline is becoming more populated. In Croatia, the implementation of low dense models of territorial colonization, partly behind such growth, is changing in favor of an organizational disposition than differs from the traditional practice. Many of these scattered objects are not being executed in coastal or semi rural styles, function and form (type). Instead, they are build progressively borrowing urban like typologies such as small 4 storey apartment blocks, row housing, suburban self-standing villas and urban villas (with 4 to 6 flat inside). These developments are probably the most feasible since they offer the least complication with permit procedures, fast and cheap executions and maximum exploitability of the parcel. And as mentioned before, this transformation is fueled by the increasing acceptance of urban types, of course, with a small glance of Mediterranean iconography. In this sense, parts of the Croatian coastal belt is starting to become a repertory of small architectural objects that remind you of city fragments, but with a specific natural background and points of dense activity.