Evidence of Atlanta’s Experience Economy
The Establishment of Fun in Atlanta
The Appeal of Atlanta
The Experience Economy, Disneyfication, and Atlanta
Here is a common question: “If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?” The answer to this question is shaped by a number of factors like financial status, cultural bias, religion or spiritual practices, one’s level of health, one’s ability to maneuver public environments, and one’s own perception of “fun.” In general, the chosen destination has to be appealing in some way to them. Environments are actually made to be appealing to others for the very reason of capturing the attention of strangers for the enhancement of their own experience economies. The experience economy, as scholars Marling, Jensen, and Kiib assert, is centered on the idea of creating a stimulating environment with attractions to demonstrate a higher standard of living, and thus inviting visitors to engage in a given space. A successful experience economy is able to accommodate everyone and anyone through the built environment.
Typically, an environment that actively participates in the experience economy includes some level of Disneyfication—“anything that looks negative is removed and the facts are buried” (Matusitz & Palermo 97). In order to appeal to people, cities are beautified and promoted to unrealistic or biased extremes. The incentive for Disneyfication is economic growth within certain corporate businesses as well as the overall environment. Due to healthy competition, this phenomenon is global.
Atlanta, Georgia most evidently began its beautification through an experience economy around the year 1988 according to scholars from the American Sociological Association Gallagher and Lacy. From then on, Atlanta has adopts several attraction sites and becomes the home for major corporations like CNN and Coca-Cola. In this way, Atlanta is acknowledged for its thorough growth and can actually be called a “fun” place to visit—or at least that is the goal. Without taking the initiative to build up an appealing environment, Atlanta would not be shaped in the form it is seen as of now. Despite other arguable incentives, the motivation for Atlanta’s city design, specifically in the downtown area, is to appeal, attract, and accommodate a broad variety of people for the enhancement of its experience economy.
The Symbolic Effect of the Experience Economy
When talk of a given space begins, typically people will provide common places or pieces of architecture. For instance, when someone talks of New York City, he or she will often speak of the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Times Square, and the Broadway Theater. These aspects of the environment essentially are symbolic for New York’s experience economy—“must-visit” places if someone plans a trip there. This can be found in several places around the world—some more widely known than others. In Paris there is the Eiffel Tower, in China there is the Great Wall of China, in Arizona there is the Grand Canyon, in Florida there is Disney World, and the list could broaden much further. Each region is not limited to just one symbol—as implied with New York’s example. These iconic spaces and places are iconic because they are distinct, historic, and simply popular destinations. Symbolic destinations are definitely major keys to success when a city promotes tourism.
Symbols become known through advertisement and promotion in the media. For example, watchmojo.com features a video titled Top 10 Must-Visit Cities around the World which elaborates on ten cities that have effectively created appealing spaces to explore or experience. The video provides several symbolic images that thoroughly demonstrate Disneyfication. These symbols inevitably function not only to make regions distinctive, but to promote tourism or recreational spending. This is all a part of the nature of the experience economy that motivates people, whether foreign or domestic, to indulge in leisure.
In Atlanta specifically, evidence of a symbolic experience economy can surely be found downtown. The environment is heavily designed for tourism and recreational spending. There people can visit the Georgia Aquarium, Centennial Olympic Park, the World of Coca-Cola, CNN HQ, SkyView Atlanta, the Phillips Arena, the Civil Rights Museum, the Rialto Center for the Arts, as well as a variety of themed restaurants and shops. It is no coincidence that all these recreational spaces are placed within the vicinity of each other. This concentrated area is also surrounded by three major universities of Atlanta—Georgia State University, Georgia Tech, and Emory—which is also no coincidence. This entire region is symbolic for the experience economy in Atlanta, however it is not limited to downtown.
In the above image taken from atlanta.net, the extended recreational environment is shown through visuals. Atlanta is not limited to the artwork shown, the image focuses more of the proud symbols of the city. This picture is prime example of Disneyfication—the city in reality does not look like this and only a positive-looking, colorful, and fun appearance is demonstrated. Of course, this tactic is used in order to appeal to those interested in visiting the area. Therefore, this image alone is a form of promotion. With examination of the picture, one notices that all the neighborhoods included in the frame run through the same street: Peachtree Street. In this way, with the exception of few attractions away from the street, spaces for tourism or recreational spending are conveniently placed.
A realistic photo such as the one above taken from Google Maps could have been utilized for the Atlanta website, however, it was not. The map above still displays a connection between tourist attractions and places for leisure or recreational spending, however it is displayed mostly through text. The bird-eye view does not provide clear visuals and the surrounding urban community may cause distraction or lack of clear focus of where the attractions are. In contrast, the illustrated image of Peachtree Street provides clear–though drawn and unlabeled–images of attractions and minimizes the surroundings to just greenery. The illustration is indeed misleading, but it is also rhetorical: through the colorful graphic, the Atlanta website is essentially promoting the city’s attractions, or symbols, for the sake of growth within the experience economy.
Furthermore, the juxtaposed images that portray Peachtree Street demonstrate Disneyfication not because of obvious obscurities, but because the real-life picture is not as “ideal” as it could be. The Google Maps image displays some isolation between attractions, whereas the image from Atlanta.net the attractions are adjacent. Peachtree Street is an extended road that is in the vicinity of several attractions, however, in reality all of the symbols seen in the illustrated image are not on this street. They are only near by. Peachtree Street also passes through an interstate which could cause navigational changes or even hardship–the illustrated image fails to recognize this. The illustrated image also displays a vast space of green space, where green is the most prominent color of the picture, but in the actual photo although green space is present, the ratio is far less than the amount displayed in the artwork. The illustrated piece is bluntly misleading. The Disneyfication lies within the exaggeration. The actual photo does not apparently offend, however to a possible tourist, it simply does not look as accommodating as the drawn image.
The Promotion of Recreational Spending through City Design
Placement is key in Atlanta’s experience economy. It is clear to notice that Atlanta concentrates its attractions in a central area. At Centennial Park, visitors are surrounded by attractions. In this way, visitors are accommodated especially to those who walk. Even though parking is available, it is limited and priced. Those who do not reside in the area and come to Atlanta without a personal vehicle do not have to worry about taking long trips in between each attraction they plan to visit. Because visitors are expected to arrive to begin with, of course the streets include sidewalks and crosswalks. The above pictures display the corner of Peachtree St and Andrew Young International Blvd. There is a large group of people crossing the brick road towards Hard Rock Café. There are traffic signals that direct cars to stop and pedestrians to walk.
Also because the attractions are within the vicinity of each other, visitors may see attractions that they have not had planned to visit prior to actually being present. This is another form of promotion that is established due to the fact that attractions are placed within the vicinity of others. The accommodation extends from the downtown area to other neighborhoods where visitors can also experience Atlanta through Peachtree Street. To synthesize, through providing accommodation for visitors, Atlanta also promotes exploration to support the experience economy present.
Another provided option for those who do not travel in personal vehicles is the public transit system. The main source of public transportation throughout Atlanta is Marta which is found within the metropolitan area. Marta bus station signs and directory towards train stations are conveniently placed throughout the city. Along with Marta, as of December 2014, the Atlanta Streetcar is available. According to the official website, the Atlanta Streetcar was established to make up for a lack of walk lanes or bike lanes visitors may encounter. The implied reason of its establishment is to accommodate tourists as well as further promote Atlanta’s attractions.
In the map provided through the Atlanta Streetcar website, the transit routes around Georgia State University, the King Historic District, and Centennial Olympic Park which is surrounded by several other tourist attractions such as the Georgia Aquarium, CNN, the World of Coca-Cola, the Phillips Arena, the Georgia Dome, and more. The map simply displays the some of the attractions in downtown Atlanta. Near Centennial Park, there is also SkyView Atlanta and several themed restaurants. On the Georgia State campus, the map explicitly mentions the sports arena, recital hall, and the Rialto Center for the Arts. The map is color coded according to attractions and parks. Nearby Marta routes are also added onto the map. This addition may be for the residents of the metropolitan area that visit downtown Atlanta. The formatting of the system map is clear evidence that the vehicle is for the promotion of the experience economy. Every mentioned space mentioned space is related to leisure or recreational events. The streetcar conveniently routes around the most commonly visited places in downtown Atlanta.
Downtown Atlanta has maps embedded on walking ground in order to further accommodate walkers. These maps are not placed on a large enough scale, neither are placed geographically near for individuals who decide to travel in a personal vehicle. In this way, walking is promoted because there is navigational accommodation. Maps also inform tourists of what is nearby and where to go to next if they plan to spend more time in the city—and in this way, consumption is promoted. The map “Downtown Atlanta’s Entertainment District” includes restaurants, lounges, hotels, event spaces, retail spaces, and even university campuses which are all places that involve tourism. The map at Centennial Park, however, guides visitors solely through the park, but it still mentions surrounding attractions on the borders.
Demographic Changes in Atlanta
In response to the growing experience economy, Atlanta has shown evidence of diversification. In order to find greater success within the economy, cities like Atlanta invite strangers to engage in tourism. This also calls for accommodation which is clearly provided. As Atlanta creates an appealing image for itself, or Disneyfies, the amount of diversity grows steadily. This leads to the mixing of cultures, the addition of cultural spaces, and globalization in which Matusitz and Palermo define simply as “global interconnectedness” (92).
In terms of demographic change from the years 2000-2010, the Latino community exhibits the most growth at 72%, and right after it is the Asian community with a growth rate of 65.8%. Out of all the given demographic groups in the second chart—Black, White, White non-Hispanic, Asian and Pacific Islander, Hispanic or Latino of any race, and Foreign Born—the black community is the only group that did not experience increase, but quite the opposite with a 14.5% decrease. This proves that although the environment diversifies, there is a strong chance that the black community faced gentrification as a result of the creation of its experience economy.
During this ten year frame, Atlanta was making a name for itself through the recently added and now well-acknowledged attractions established the decade before: the World of Coca-Cola and Centennial Olympic Park which actually became not only a historical site, but a memorial for the victims of the terrorist attack in 1996. Also, in the late 1990s, the Georgia Dome and the Phillips Arena were added. Then in 2005, a rather successful symbol—the Georgia Aquarium, the world’s largest aquarium, opened.
Atlanta has effectively designed an experience economy that accommodates visitors. This is evident through the built environment. The success that has already been achieved through this tourism industry is evident through the demographic changes Atlanta experiences between a ten year time frame. Atlanta’s success stems from its increasingly effective navigational resources in downtown Atlanta like public transit and maps, and effective promotion, even if it is through Disneyfication. The streets incorporate crosswalks and sidewalks in order to provide safe travel for tourists. Atlanta hopes to appeal to a variety of cultures and age groups as a safe and beautiful place to be, and the city is designed accordingly.
Marling, Gitte, Ole B. Jensen, and Hans Kiib. “The Experience City: Planning of Hybrid Cultural Projects.” European Planning Studies 17.6 (2009): 863. Advanced Placement Source. Web. 4 Feb. 2016
Lees, Loretta. “The Geography of Gentrification: Thinking Through Comparative Urbanism.” Progress in Human Geography 36.2 (2012): 155. Advanced Placement Source. Web. 5 Feb. 2016
Matusitz, Jonathan, Palermo, Lauren. “The Disneyfication of the World: A Grobalisation Perspective.” Journal of Organisational Transformation & Social Change 11.2 (2014): 91. Advanced Placement Source. Web. 5 Feb. 2016.
Ezuma, Tiffany. Top 10 Must-Visit Cities around the World. watchmojo.com, 2014. http://watchmojo.com/video/id/13277.
Li, Mimi, et al. “A Grid-Group Analysis of Tourism Motivation.” International Journal of Tourism Research 17.1 (2015): 35-44. Business Source Complete. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
“Dive Into Fun at the Georgia Aquarium.” Review of Optometry (2012): 60A-62A. Consumer Health Complete – EBSCOhost. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
Gallagher, Charles, and Karyn Lacy. “The Changing Face of Atlanta.” ASA, 2003. http://www.asanet.org/footnotes/jan03/indextwo.html.
“Demographics of Atlanta.” Wikipedia, March 16, 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Atlanta.
“About.” Atlanta Streetcar, 2016. http://www.theatlantastreetcar.com/.
Atlanta Streetcar. Accessed March 25, 2016. http://streetcar.atlantaga.gov/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/AtlStreetcar-System-Map-FINAL-8-march22-2013.pdf.
“Statue of Liberty National Monument.” Wikapedia. Accessed April 29, 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statue_of_Liberty_National_Monument#/media/File:USA-NYC-Statue_of_Liberty.jpg.
History.com staff. “Great Wall of China.” HIstory.com. Accessed April 29, 2016. http://www.history.com/topics/great-wall-of-china.
History.com Staff. “Eiffel Tower Opens.” HIstory.com. Accessed April 29, 2016. http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/eiffel-tower-opens.
- The building of the experience economy through recreational/tourist attractions in Atlanta has caused economic growth, an increase in diversity, and an increase in tourism.
a. What is an experience economy?
c. What caused the experience economy to spread globally?
d. When does Atlanta most evidently begin to build up its experience economy?
II. The Symbolic Effect of the Economy
a. Present commonly known pieces of architecture, or spaces whether natural or man-made, around the world. (i.e. Eiffel Tower, Grand Canyon, Great Wall, Niagara Falls)
b. Elaborate on how the pieces function not only to make places distinctive, but also function as symbols for experience economies found in certain regions as tactics to promote tourism.
c. Transition into symbols found in Atlanta like the Georgia Aquarium, the World of Coca-Cola, the CDC, King Memorial/Civil Rights District
III. The Promotion of Recreational Spending through City Design
a. Accommodation in the environment (relates to walkability, public transit)
b. Limited and paid parking promotes an increase of walkers and public transportation in Atlanta.
c. Provide a brief explanation of Marta. Explain more so on the Atlanta Streetcar that was recently established.
d. Peachtree Street extends through many of Atlanta’s attractions.
d. How walkable is Atlanta?
IV. Demographic Changes in Atlanta
a. Present census statistics–increase in some racial groups and gentrification within black community
b. Globalization in the environment
a. Draw conclusions and connect the evidence presented to support the claim.