Sunday, December 16, 2007

Doom Tourism

More on tourism from the New York Times... a follow up of sorts to their previous piece on Antarctic tourism. Author Allen Salkin discusses the emergence of a branch of "ecotourism" some are calling "doom tourism" - visiting places predicted to disappear or dramatically change in the very near future. Currently, that includes sites like the Arctic, Antarctica, Mt. Kilimanjaro, and the Amazon - places viewed as under threat from global warming and industrial activity. While there are some interesting connections and points of analysis between these kinds of tours, the development of "ecotourism" since the early 1990s and the histories of "adventure" tourism, Salkin makes some odd choices to drive some of the points. One is pointing to the increase in travel to cities like Buenos Aires as a parallel to the fact that there is a Baskin Robbins in Katmandu and five star hotels in Goa, India. Tourism covers a broad range of desires and practices, so to move from a focused discussion of eco-adventure-doom tourism to more general travels to distant (in terms of the privileged Euro-US sense of geography) locales and cities doesn't do service to the complexity and significance of what's going on. The article could have easily, and more compellingly in our estimation, moved from the Euro-US desire to witness disappearing ecosystems to the surely disappearing ability for many to to travel anywhere, much less far-flung locations, that will accompany a fuel and energy crisis. The link between the privileges that are the cause of ecological destruction and those privileges that facilitate the leisure travel to witness that destruction go beyond a simple analysis of carbon footprints.
Another kind of doom tourism that could be discussed is that practiced by some Evangelical Christians in relation to Israel and the Book of Revelations. A couple of years ago, there was talk of some plans to build a Christian theme park on the Sea of Galilee. Of course, Bill Moyers has made the connection between the thinking present there and the environmental policies of the current Bush Administration and the religious right-wing of the US in general. And if the "Left Behind" series isn't sci-fi tourism for the religious right, we don't know what is.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Touring New York City

The New York Times has expanded its ongoing Weekend Explorer series of walking tours, led by John Strausbaugh, in New York City. All the tours are available virtually as a Flash-player application and as a download to actually use on a walking tour. The current tours include "Brooklyn's Freedom Trails", "East Village: Paths of Resistance", "The Gangs of Hells Kitchen", "Upper East Side: Insiders and Outsiders" and "P.T. Barnum's New York"

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Psychedelic Tourism

A friend just sent us this article from San Diego about tourists going to Mexico in search of the hallucinogenic cactus plant, peyote. Those travelers searching for the mystic experience offered by the plant are referred to as peyoteros. The article's main point is the danger of extinction that the plant is facing due to a number of recent activities. Although the tourism component is significant (and provides for a better "human-interest" narrative), a smaller portion of the piece discusses what sounds like much more devastating activities - greenhouse tomato production and silver mining. Where the tourism story becomes more interesting is where it connects to the evolving micro economy of places like Real de Catorce. The economic relationship between the peyoteros and the region sounds a lot like the widespread phenomenon of ecotourism, where it's a balancing act of preserving both the non-human and cultural ecologies while navigating the economic potential of tourism in the face of cultural, economic and spatial encroachment.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Toxic Tourism, the book

We just finished Dr. Phaedra C. Pezzullo's most recent book, Toxic Tourism and plan on writing a review, which we will post here. But in short, it's a fantastic account of the use of toxic tours within the broad, but not yet well enough known, environmental justice movement. Through an account of three specific tours, Pezzullo paints a picture of how egregious environmental racism and injustice in the US are and the potential for what we might more broadly call tactical tourism to intervene. From the politics of corporate-sponsored cancer awareness campaigns to the ongoing battles in Louisiana's "Cancer Alley", we are shown how groups of people decide to creatively resist the inequitable distribution of illness and death. And the book is not light, although it may be brief, in its analysis of tourism and critique of capitalized reason. Look for a more detailed review in the near future, but while you're waiting, we recommend reading it.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Next Stop, Antarctica

A recent article in the New York Times discussed the growth in ship tours in Antarctica. The story discusses the increase in accidents and deaths that are likely to accompany the growing number of tours, with the recent sinking of The Explorer, a tourist vessel operated by G.A.P. Adventures of Toronto, which luckily resulted in no casualties. Turns out that a few people have been discussing the negative environmental impact of a tourism boom on the sans-national continent. Greenpeace wants a moratorium to the region. Here are some interesting general stats on Antarctic tourism, including the fact that over 11.5 thousand tourists from the US visited between 2005-6.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Photoshop(ing) Tourism

A Tokyo-Mumbai remix from the folks at

An Inconvenient Tourism

Relating back to our recent thoughts about sci-fi tourism, the great BLDGBLOG has a recent post about the intersection of apocalyptic visions of climate change and science fiction-enabled escapism. Using a series of photos by Pedro Armestre and Mario Gomez, made for Greenpeace, the post discusses the affective qualities of these graphic visions of rising sea levels, and what they may actually produce in segments of our Hummer-driving, bottled water drinking, Wii playing culture. Possibly a vision of the "adventure tour of a lifetime" rather than the desire to change the situation?
Our two-cents is that these depictions represent a future to come in a way that might be more handy for planning for such a scenario than convincing anyone of how or why to change policy. As Paul Virilio has written (and we paraphrase): ecological disasters are only a problem for civilian populations... for the military, they are an opportunity. And as more of our civilian infrastructure and leadership becomes militarized...
[Image: By Pedro Armestre and Mario Gómez via BLDG BLOG].

Monday, November 12, 2007

Parking With the Stars

The Travel Office just conducted a Parking Public tour along, and behind, Hollywood Blvd as part of the amazing Just Space(s) exhibition at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (organized by Ava Bromberg and Nicholas Brown). We visited a former parking lot that is undergoing its transformation into a high tech Madame Tussauds Wax Museum and a traffic triangle that a neighborhood organization is trying to beautify and rid of pigeons.
This tour comes close on the heels of another tour we led in Champaign, Illinois looking at the transformation of its municipal parking infrastructure into more lucrative spaces for consumption. In both, despite the overwhelming differences between Hollywood and Champaign, we are seeing similarly massive changes in how parking fits into the utopian visions of city officials and developers.

Top image of Parking Public Hollywood tourists courtesy of Nick Brown, bottom image of Champaign lot undergoing construction from the Travel Office archives.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Ghetto Bus Tour

We can't believe that we haven't come across this before, given our main office's location just south of Chicago, but we were recently pointed to Beauty Turner's Ghetto Bus Tours in Chicago. Ms. Turner is the assistant editor of the public housing newspaper Resident's Journal and has been leading such tours since 1999. This NPR interview discusses the audience for the tours, the perceptions of those living in the housing projects and the policies that are leading to the relocation of residents in Chicago's public housing in some very disturbing ways.
For more info on the ongoing housing war in Chicago check out the friction institute.
top image from Stacie Freudenberg, AP

Thursday, November 1, 2007

More Near Future Touring

We recently acquired a book titled Ecofiction (thanks) from 1971 edited by John Stadler, with shorts by Bradbury, Ballard, Poe, Asimov and others. An interesting mix of possible futures from the horrific to the mundane. Standouts includes Poe's account of Earth's end by a comet that ignites the globe through an unexpected chemical reaction, the excruciatingly cramped existence of a family in a world where pharmaceuticals keep people from aging and dying by Vonnegut Jr., and a story of insidious subliminal advertising by Ballard. Interesting how many of these stories from well before the 1970s manage to resurface in new ways today.
In much more utopian terms, we also recommend Ernest Callenbach's 1975 Ecotopia - a vision of a US Northwest that has successfully separated itself from an ever waring and polluting United States. It has its sexist moments, so be warned if you haven't read it already.
However, our favorite tourist excursion into the near future through literature so far has been Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower. Parable is an extremely powerful tale of a young woman in Southern California during a global social and environmental collapse that creeps up slowly, invading normalcy rather than a sudden Day After Tomorrow catastrophic scenario. A horrific as the scenes Butler creates are, it remains critically hopeful. Told mostly in first person narration, it is a great read for people who like guided tours.
And to close, a more updated near future tour of a mid-climate change London created by art-research collective Platform called And While London Burns. This story takes the form of an operatic audio-tour meant to be experienced in the current space of the future story. We haven't had that experience of the tour, but it's a quite listenable work nonetheless. The great Mute magazine has an interesting critical review of AWLB.

Touring the End

Monbiot recently made a post that was inspired by Cormac McCarthy's book "The Road" and the apocalyptic horror of the human condition in times of catastrophe. While we haven't read the book, it sounds like a gruesome account of a post nuclear holocaust in which all life except humans is extinguished. (No mention of roaches).
This got us thinking about the role that sci-fi plays in touristic terms - it provides us a way of touring the future, whether of the Disney utopic variety, or the Children of Men dystopic variety.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Parking Private

Just came across a post from earlier this month by artist/designer Jonah Brucker-Cohen that included the image below.
One of the most threatening signs related to parking we've ever seen.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Punk Rock (and business) on Tour

Justin Moyer, of DC area rockers Antelope, is keeping a blog of their travels while on tour. I'm not sure why it's called "Iceland", but it discusses some great moments in professional tourism. Highlights so far are the recent post about being late to a French show that goes something like this:
P: All right! So, we understand you have been waiting for two hours for us to play! Well, we're gonna rock your socks off! Yeah!
C: (silence).
P: All right, baby! But before we rock (guitar tuning sounds)... let me tell you all about our drive. Goddamn, we are late! You must think we're real... how do you say?... assholes?
C: (silence).
After recently flying and noticing the sheer overwhelming number of apparently business-based travelers, we think some work on the Professional Tourist is in order. We've all seen them, and perhaps been one of them - those folks with bluetooth headsets siting tethered to an outlet working on a spreadsheet. Judging by the ads one encounters in US airports, one might assume these are the only people flying. How are the political economies of mobile sales and consulting (or rock and roll) linked with those of tourism?
I'm sure there is some good writing out there... and we've come across some essays in edited anthologies, but maybe there are some texts we're missing... anyone out there with any suggestions?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Juridical Tourism

The New York Times has a story on the Pentagon's plans for a portable judicial complex to be built in Guantanamo to serve as a courtroom and related needs, such as housing "550 court officials, lawyers, security guards and journalists from around the world."
The new portable design - "a $12 million “M*A*S*H” set for the age of terror," perhaps a fitting legal parallel to the Neocon idea of a faster, lighter army (put forward by Rumsfeld and others), has taken over previous plans for a $100 million dollar permanent court house.
Fredric I. Lederer, the director of the Center for Legal and Court Technology at the William and Mary School of Law quoted in the piece notes, “It’s something new... We do not normally design courtrooms that can be folded up and shipped.”
On another, not unrelated matter, Alternet has an article about Federal tracking of travel.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Touring the Imaginary

Thanks to our friends over at Leisure Arts, we've been thinking about the creation of fictional states/geographies/borders as a form of tourism that is both potentially escapist and critical. They pointed us to the website of the Republic of Molossia, a small nation-state within the state of Nevada. With it's beginnings in 1977 as a kingdom, it is now a People's Republic with a satellite protectorate in Pennsylvania known as New Antrim, with which there seem to be some conflicts over tobacco production. The RoM even has a virtual tour for us virtual tourists.
There are the travel parodies such as the Jet Lag series of bombastic travel guides to places like San Sombrero and Bongoswana, that try (ineffectively we would argue )to point out Eurocentrism by overdoing stereotypes and misconceptions.
In the realm of more codified art, Yael Kanarek's sprawling narrative World Of Awe comes to mind.
The proposed Nine Nations of North America is also an instance of speculative geography. But if the geographic imaginary just isn't enough, you can stage a psychic secession.
Image of "micro-nation" directional signage from the Republic of Molossia.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

More Than Mall Rats?

Lots of people (well, relatively speaking) have been talking about the hostels IKEA has opened up in a couple of its Norwegian stores (Oslo), but what if you really want to stay near a mall and are unfortunate enough to not have one of the big-boxes filled with hip designer beds? Well, some folks in Providence, RI built an apartment for themselves in the Providence Place Mall parking garage. AT 750 square feet, it probably would have made for a great IKEA concept room. Alas, their abode within the shopping paradise was shut down by Mall authorities, but not before it was "christened" by a burglar.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Putting the Super back in Superfund

We just received an email from the folks atSuperfund365, that this Sunday (September 30) will be the 4th anniversary of the bankruptcy of the federal superfund, implemented in 1980 via the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA).
They propose we all acknowledge this anniversary, and make sure that it doesn't go unnoticed. Here are their suggestions:
1. Forward this email to your friends and family. Circulate it widely.

2. Call your representative to tell him/her that the Superfund's polluter pays tax must be renewed. You can use this guide by Safe From Toxics. You can also read more about Hinchey's bill and Casey's bill.

3. Plan a trip to your local Superfund site. According to the Center for Public Integrity, about 20 percent of people in the US live within 10 miles of a site featured on Superfund365. Take a look at the list of 365 sites and find one near you. Visit the site (organize a group or go on your own) and remember to bring a camera. Upload your thoughts, findings and photos, which will then be included in the ever-growing archive of Superfund365!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Ash Goes on Tour

The Travel Office has been doing research on the geographic placement of toxic ash - from waste incinerators - and came across this initiative, called "Return to Sender", to bring ash back to Philadelphia from Haiti where it was dumped in 1988.
The Ash left Haiti in April of 2000, followed by an attempt to dump it on the Cherokee Nation, then an extended vacation off of the coast of Florida before being incinerated, yet again.
The continuing of colonization through waste - or what some call "waste imperialism".

Monday, September 24, 2007

Touring the Digital Cabinet of Curiosities

Our friend Brett just sent us a link to this web site that features some pictures of a Lockheed aircraft plant that was camouflaged during World War II in anticipation of a Japanese air raid - at least that's the story on this web site. The host site looks like a virtual collection of, well, odds and ends of "interesting" things. We couldn't resist posting this because of the image of the parking lot. You gotta park, even in wartime.
After a quick search for more info, we found this other reference to the Burbank plant, with more detailed references and even a book.

Parking Day 2007 in Pictures

Check out Parking Day 2007 as documented by Flickr users.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Unmarked Packages

The Institute for Infinitely Small Things completed a performative research project in Chicago (for an exhibit titled Pathogeographies), interrogating the fear of "unmarked packages". And for anyone who has traveled anywhere in the last six years - by plane, train or... bus - the phrase "unmarked package" has a different connotation that its mere words suggest.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Art and Unrest in the East Village

John Strausbaugh, of the New York Times, leads a video tour through New York City's East Village, looking at the remaining evidence of it's radical cultural and political past, through a more-than-slightly nostalgic perspective of sub-cultural and avant garde aesthetics. But it also looks at the significance of immigrant populations, the battles surrounding gentrification and the community gardens that sprung up in the Village's vacant lots. Worth a watch.

Parking Day 2007

The folks at Rebar launched a project a few years ago called Park(ing) that converted metered street parking into temporary public parks - feeding the meters for the maximum time allowed and rolling out grass and benches in the spaces.
Well, they've since taken the project national and are asking others to join in the process, by launching Park(ing) Day. Last year's launch in San Francisco and other international cities will be followed up by actions in more cities around the country, led by the Trust for Public Land. For anyone wanting to take part, they have a how-to manual available on their website.
When is this big day, you ask? September 21.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


Monbiot recently posted about the Climate Camp set up at Heathrow Airport. The Climate Camp (or Camp for Climate Action) is an organized effort by folks in the UK to simultaneously create a spectacle of protest and bring together discussions about climate crises. This got us thinking about the role of stasis in tourism, how there is often an expectation of temporary stability - a chance to camp, so to speak. Tourism is as much about the moments of not-moving as it is those fleeting moments of mobility. And so much of institutionalized travel is about creating environments, to the extent that a traveler can afford them, that are similar to those we inhabit while "at home." DVD players in automobiles, in-flight movies, first-class recliners on airlines...
What is more interesting to us however, is thinking about the other side of the politics of mobility - stasis. Much of the post millennium discourse on forms of political resistance focuses on the increase in mobility required to effectively protest global capital - moving through digital and social networks at speeds comparable to capital itself - but the language of civil disobedience has often revealed a significant amount of power in the act of not-moving as well. The sit-ins of the US civil rights/black freedom struggle, union picket lines, the tree sits and other tactics of Earth First! and even the arm lock blockades by contemporary protesters. This is not to counter the function of mobile actions (walk outs, etc) but to recognize the dual nature of mobility - movement only becomes meaningful when it's not there. Blocking things up is sometimes the only available means of dissent.
Camping is what you do between movements and once you get to where you're going. For those that are put in the position of permanent camps - those without permanent shelter in Los Angeles' "skid row" to the detainees at past and current internment camps - it is the institutional removal of mobility that makes inequities so visible, and why these "camps" are forcefully pushed to the margins of visibility.
Some associates known as Camp Campaign completed a project looking at just these sort of definitions of "camp", creating their own tour of camps across the US.
To get back to the initial spark that began this post, we are struck by the perpendicular development of affect visible in the actions of those desiring to alter our destructive institutions as well as in the actions of those very institutions. While the Climate Camp creates conviviality and protest through spectacular stasis, travelers passing through Heathrow will soon be able to get some atomized rest in the efficient luxury of the Yotel.
Image by Mike Langridge

Monday, September 10, 2007

New Parking Public Tour Dates

Some Travel Office promotional news:
There will be two upcoming Parking Public Tours in two locations.
1. October 12, Champaign, IL - beginning at the Springer Cultural Center in Downtown Champaign. Tour will leave sometime just after 6pm and should last approximately one hour.
2. November 9, Hollywood, CA - As part of the Just Spaces program at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions in Hollywood. This tour will be co-led with Claude Willey and will begin at LACE at noon.
Note: Both will be pedestrian/walking tours.
Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

365 Days of Superfund Sites

A quick post about a new project initiated by a great artist, Brooke Singer, and hosted by a great arts organization, Turbulence. Titled "Superfund365," the project is a daily journal of 365 Superfund sites across the US. From the project description:
Each day for a year, starting on September 1, 2007, Superfund365 will visit one toxic site currently active in the Superfund program run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). We begin the journey in the New York City area and work our way across the country, ending the year in Hawaii. (We will need a beach vacation by then!) In the end, the archive will consist of 365 visualizations of some of the worst toxic sites in the U.S., roughly a quarter of the total number on the Superfund's National Priorities List (NPL). Along the way, we will conduct video interviews with people involved with or impacted by Superfund.
You can also subscribe to a daily RSS feed.
According to the Center for Public Integrity, 50 percent of US citizens live within 10 miles of a Superfund site, so most of us don't have to travel far to see one.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Tourism and Conflict

I was recently made aware of this initiative (thanks Nick!) in California by the Physicians for Social Responsibility. Their "Military Tour of Southern California" looks at the military industrial complex in the region in order to discuss its impacts on the wider world as well the very near health of locals and workers.
While this tour fits into the critical tourism that the Travel Office is interested in, linking environmental justice and global militarization concerns, this got me thinking more about how such histories lend themselves to touristic imaginings.
I'm not interested here in what is referred to as "war tourism," where tourists are looking for danger and adventure in conflict zones... that will have to be a separate post.
A friend of the Travel Office, Trevor Paglen, has been exploring the largely unknown (to most of us anyway) landscapes of secret military programs, sometimes taking people out into the deserts of the US Southwest where most of them are located. This first hand experience of the sublime landscape combined with knowledge about the equally sublime amount of money being spent on them in search of ever more sublime methods of control and destruction is key to his work. Film maker Bill Brown's "Buffalo Commons" that takes a poetic look at decommissioned missile silos in the Dakotas and their intersection with depopulation also comes to mind.
The Cold War has its off-the-beaten-track sites, as well as the more accessible museums, monuments and guided tours around the world for military buffs, historians, political partisans and cultural analysts.
What will the second major ideological war of modernity (or post-modernity, if you like) - the "War on Terror" - produce in the way of touristic experiences?
Sure, some in the US might already see the memorial to the the destroyed World Trade Center as the first official version. Like the Cold War, where monuments to capitalism as the "winning" ideology dominate, there can be little doubt that sites of memory in the "War on Terror" will be simplistic in their depiction of conflict - a "with us or against us" representation of events.
Some critical tourists/artists/geographers/etc have begun exploring the spaces of the "War on Terror", at least trying to give us a more complex view of what is going on:
As already mentioned Trevor Paglen has been looking into the geography of the US military.
Tony Chakar's "Catastrophic Spaces" - an audio tour through East Beirut
You Are Not Here - a psychogeographic tour of NYC and Baghdad and Gaza/Tel Aviv
An Architektur has looked at the Juridical-Political Spaces in the "War on Terrorism"
The Institute for Applied Autonomy's (with Trevor Paglen) "Terminal Air" - the airspace of extraordinary rendition
Angie Waller's "Ebay Longing" looked at the trade in goods from Afghanistan and Iraq on Ebay.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Tourism and Imagineering

Someone recently sent us a link to an article on the ACM Siggraph site titled "From Myth to Mountain: Insights into Virtual Placemaking" by a senior vice president and creative executive of Walt Disney Imagineering. In it, the author discusses Disney's Animal Kingdom and Expedition Everest and the manner with which Disney has created places using story-telling methods. In introducing what he means by story telling, the author states:
Narrative space is theatrical space. What matters are not the functional realities of the buildings and landscape, but their use as language to communicate ideas. Theatrical space exists only in the viewer's imagination and is shaped only by story.

The experience of the space is described in terms of the conceptual narrative as experience, where "in the public environment of narrative space, the guests' real physical bodies are all moving inside the imaginary narrative space."
Of course, the narrative space being created is a very familiar one for Disney, and one that they've mined for countless stories - colonialism. The Animal Kingdom puts viewers in the role of a safari participant, now interested in preserving wilderness in the form of parks rather than trophy heads on a wall. It is less civilized people - poachers - against whom the Animal Kingdom must be protected.

Likewise, Expedition Everest is a "a high-speed adventure ride into the Himalayas to confront the yeti, the legendary abominable snowman." Yes, an abominable snowman. And yet again, visitors are put in the role of adventure seekers, this time, mountain climbers of course.
While criticisms of these narratives are perhaps too easy, after all, these are the narratives upon which Disney has built its empire, there is another kind of colonization at work - the very non-virtual colonization of space within which their narratives play out. As the author notes, the visitors (or as Disney calls them "guests") do not leave their physical bodies behind when they enter Disney's stories. Their bodies are moving, not just "through the imaginary narrative space," but also through the Disney-constructed environment. The food people buy at Disney is not imaginary, the people serving Disney's "guests" are not imaginary, the money being exchanged is not imaginary. And neither are the very real political and social impacts of Disney's narratives.

What are we touring when we tour a Disney version of the Himalayan Mountains, or a Swahili village constructed in a Florida resort for our amusement? How does this educate us (U.S) to think of the rest of the world in a way other than as a theme park?
pictures from happysteve.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Tourism in the Era of Emerging Diseases

The US Department of Health and Human Services recently announced the US will begin compliance with a revised version of the International Health Regulations "designed to prevent and protect against the international spread of diseases while minimizing interference with world travel and trade." The original version, adopted in 1969 was design to combat the spread of cholera, yellow fever, smallpox and plague.
The new version is designed to tackle "new" health concerns, like smallpox, polio, SARS and human cases of new strains of human influenza, as well as potential biological, nuclear and chemical terrorist attacks. The DHHS press release goes on to say:
The regulations provide an algorithm to determine whether other incidents, including those of unknown causes or sources, may constitute public-health events of international concern, and as such must be reported to the WHO.

There's an algorithm for that?
On a related note... ever heard of Aircraft Disinsection? My spell checker hasn't.

Monday, July 30, 2007


The Brave New Traveler blog has a post about volunteer tourism, providing a kind of how-to resource for those looking to do some philanthropic adventure traveling. Of course, this seems to focus on tourism in the more conventional sense, i.e. travel to more remote or distant locations (relative to where one is coming from), but it's also becoming a practice closer to home. Many people in the US traveled to New Orleans to spend some time rebuilding homes and businesses, for example, taking what the Washington Post called "working vacations."
While this is definitely an interesting way of repositioning the positive potential of travel and tourism, the new voluntourism is essentially a descendant of missionary work. Not to say that all missionary work is negative and necessarily proselytizing, but it certainly comes with historical baggage.
PBS recently featured a piece on voluntourism in Tanzania, and has a short list of related resources.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Medical Tourism

map of countries promoting medical tourism from the CBC
[image from the CBC]
I recently came across a blog devoted to medical tourism, the practice of traveling to other location for medical care. There has been some media coverage of the recent trend of people in the US traveling to India and Thailand, for example, for special treatments and lower surgical costs.
A friend of the Travel Office (Ricardo Miranda-Zuniga) did an excellent project about US residents visiting dentists on the Mexican side of the border.
As the Wikipedia entry notes, however, medical tourism is not quite a new idea (they mention spa towns, and even an ancient Greek example). The ongoing history of women having to travel across state lines in order to receive an abortion could be a fairly recent example that also reveals that travel for medical purposes is not "simply" a tourist affair - especially since recent legislation makes this travel even more complicated and dangerous for many in the US. The Dutch-based Women on Waves provides a more international response to such juridical regulation of women's bodies.
With the US medical-insurance-nutrition industry being what it is, it's not surprising that lots of its citizens are touring to neighboring countries, both physically and virtually, for lower cost meds.
On another blog, and quite some time ago now, I posted before about the global trade in genetic material and what I called "fertility tourism," which would also include the geographic transfer of genetic material (human and non-human) from legally under-represented populations into the intellectual property banks of US and European biotech firms - what has been aptly called "biopiracy".
So where do all these different instances of mobility and health intersect? Access is probably a good place to start... but that's for another day.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Driving East

Much like my previous post about race, place and tourism, the institutionalization of the image of North American First Nations in leisure activities is laden with aestheticized and displaced narratives. Some friends of the Travel Office have been working on an extended project titled Driving East that looks at this confluence of mobility, leisure, history and stereotypes through practicing their own form of leisurely, yet critical, mobility. Below is from their recent announcement for an exhibition opening July 17th in Milwaukee (The image is from their Flickr set for the project):

The year 2007 marks the 175th anniversary of the Black Hawk "War", a 4-month military campaign by the US Army and Illinois Militia to prevent a band of Sauk and Meskwaki (Fox) Indians from returning to their village near the confluence of the Rock and Mississippi Rivers. While details of the conflict — including the slaughter of hundreds of starving Indians after they had attempted to surrender - may be little remembered, the mythology of Black Hawk permeates the upper Midwest and, indeed American culture at large. In Wisconsin and Illinois there are hundreds of Black Hawk place names, including state parks, churches, schools, roads, hotels, and dental offices, and several heroic sculptures. Meanwhile, Americans across the country — including the four million people who identify as Native American — may follow the fortunes of Chicago's NHL Hockey team, thrill to the action‒packed war film or Playstation game Black Hawk Down, or find themselves piloting an armored helicopter through war-torn airspace.

Seemingly about the 19th century Sauk leader Black Hawk, this project is, in fact, mostly not about Black Hawk. Rather, we are interested in the disconnect between Black Hawk as a symbol and Black Hawk as a historical person, and, more importantly, the disconnect between the Black Hawk War as a historical narrative inscribed in the landscape and the present day struggles of American Indian peoples and Nations in the midwestern United States. As white people, we believe commemorative processes and historical narratives continue to shape the physical, social, and political spaces we inhabit today with real and substantial consequences for how we view ourselves and others as fellow inhabitants of and travelers within the contemporary United States.

Driving East Through Indian Country
Driving East is a multi-year project exploring how myths of American mobility developed during Manifest Destiny continue to operate today. We use the familiar and lighthearted form of the road trip to rethink how the present-day landscape was forged by the very serious, linked processes of white westward migration on the one hand and Indian removal and resistance on the other. By engaging with the material culture of westward expansion and its commemoration, we uncover, recover, expose, and re-present traces of these histories still resonant in the landscapes and and present-day politics of a place.
Driving East Through Indian Country: Black Hawk Chapter is a project‒ based exhibition by Sarah Kanouse and Nicholas Brown of photos, videos, and texts gathered during the Cultural Crisis Residency Program in Milwaukee

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

CLEAR in Indianpolis Airport

I picked up this CLEAR brochure in the Indianapolis Airport... so for $100 per year, Indy fliers can join the corporate control society, if you're not on a no-fly list anyway.

Tourism, Preservation and Race in the US

Related to an ongoing Travel Office project, I've been doing some reading into the intersections of historic and ecological preservation, tourism and race. Two books that I've discovered relatively recently, Black Geographies and the Politics of Place and Mapping Tourism, have provided a lot to consider.
In Black Geographies, Angel David Nieves' "Memories of Africville" looks at the black settlement known as Africville in Halifax, Nova Scotia through the disparate discourses of historic preservation and the reparations movement. One notable statistic Nieves uses: of the 76,000 properties identified by the National Register of Historic Places, only 823 are associated with African American Heritage. This is due largely to the fact that historic preservation is overwhelmingly based on notions of architectural integrity, meaning that preservation as an institution is biased towards building a record of architectural style and technology. Nieves' argues that "developing and alternative methodology adapted to grasp the multiple meanings of 'difference' in the North American cultural landscape and concurrently articulating a new model for historic preservation require new modes of interpretation." An argument is also made that for the creation of historical registers as an element of reparations. An unexpected and very interesting aspect of the text is how the debate between preservation and recreation has an effect on what is included in the historical record.
In Mapping Tourism, Owen Dwyer's "Memory on the Margins" looks at the politics of Civil Rights tourism, specifically the Alabama Civil Rights Trail. Dwyer analyzes the aesthetic of the map created for the trail, and how it positions Civil Rights as a "won cause" that took place in isolated Southern Cities, privileging streets, pulpits and courtrooms at the expense of homes, neighborhoods and citizenship schools. This division, according to Dwyer, represents a marginalization of the role of women in the black freedom movement. The discussion focuses on maps, institutions and literature that serve as gatekeepers, controlling access to sites and their histories. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, for example, is not recognized by the Alabama trail, despite its central role in the movement. Dwyer writes:
The symmetrical authority of maps and monuments - in one case generated via claims to scientific accuracy, in the other by recourse to weighty materiality - stands in stark contrast to the inherent instability of the messages they bear... this contrast between apparent fixity and radical impermanence accounts for the political value of maps and monuments as representational capital.
This interpretation of the value of maps and monuments is what drives the Travel Office's continued interest in tourism as a site of analysis and intervention.
The US National Park Service's Cultural Resource Management publication contains some official analysis and policy positions that are of interest here, especially Antoinette Lee's "Cultural Diversity and Historic Preservation."

Surfin' Safari

I just received an announcement from the wonderful LA Urban Rangers about two safaris they will be leading of Malibu's Public Beaches. Here's their description:
Tired of Zuma and Surfrider? Want to find and use the other beaches in Malibu? The twenty miles that are lined with private development? The "Malibu Public Beaches" safaris will show you how to find, park, walk, picnic, and sunbathe on a Malibu beach. Each 3 1/2-hour safari visits two or three beaches and explores natural history, jurisdiction, and the identification of public and private property. Skills-enhancing activities include a public-private boundary hike, an accessway hunt, sign watching, and a public easement potluck.

Times: West Malibu - Sat August 4 + Sun August 12, 9:30am-1pm
East Malibu - Sun August 5 + Sat Aug 11, 1:30pm-5pm
The safaris are free, but space is limited. Visit the Rangers online for more info and to contact them to make reservations.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Monday, June 25, 2007

Toxic Tourism

We wrote earlier about "disaster tourism." Well another, related form of tourism that has been used by activists to generate what Stephen Duncombe has called an "ethical spectacle" as well as to galvanize and organize communities around issues of toxicity and environmental racism and injustice. I recently went on a short "Toxic Tour" in Champaign, Illinois, looking at how racism has negatively impacted the north side of the city disproportionately in both environmental and social ways, from police brutality to contaminated surroundings.
A new book by Phaedra C. Pezzullo from the University of Alabama Press is the first (that I'm aware of) scholarly book on the subject
Using guided tours as a form of organizing and educating like this is a tactic somewhat widely explored, so I thought I'd post a few examples that include artists and activists' work.
- Sharon Stewart's early 1990s "Toxic Tour of Texas" is probably the first I became aware of.
- Free Soil's "Gardening Superfund Sites Bus Tour"
- Invisible 5 audio tour of California's I-5 Highway
- Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition Toxic Tour
- Ground Work's (South Africa) Household Toxic Tour
- Baltimore Toxic Tour on Youtube
- The Southern California Communities for a Better Environment's Toxic Tours
- Toxic Tourism in Tucson (an article that includes comments by noted Environmental Justice scholar Robert Bullard)
- in San Francisco
Obviously there are more...

One for the Road

This pocket-sized softbound guide from the folks at The New Internationalist is not your typical travel book. It's a toughie. The No-Nonsense Guide to Tourism takes a harsh look at the often invisible impacts of global tourism and challenges readers to think about some of the big picture effects that travel has on the world. It basically demystifies one of the biggest industries in the world by examining things like labor conditions, the role of travel and vacations in western cultures, and trends like the popular gap year.
from Gadling

Tourism in the Control Society

The Smart Mobs Blog points to a text about a biometric scanning program at JFK Airport called Clear, created by a company named Verified Identity Pass. It also pointed to a Register piece about a UK push for collaborative biometric surveillance with the US.

The Clear program shows how biometric technology is being developed to extend the automatic delegation of privileges we currently find in private toll roads, where those with access to early technology and financial capital benefit from better maintained roads and less traffic. Only here, passengers that pay the $99.95 per year fee, and submit data linked to fingerprints and iris scans, will be able to pass through security points without the lines and searches most of us now go through. Clear, offers to get its customers in the "fast lane," but a fast lane necessitates a "slow lane." This is what geographer Stephen Graham and others have termed "software sorted geographies," spaces of privilege that are managed and regulated by computer systems. Of course, this can easily fall into the trap of technological determinism, but the materialist nature of the critical observations are equal to the futurism/determinism here I think.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Disaster E-Tourism

In On the Beaten Track, Lucy Lippard discusses what she calls "disaster tourism," describing those travels to sites like the nuclear test ranges in the US Southwest and sites of famous fires, earthquakes or other catastrophic incidents - certainly Ground Zero in NYC would fit into her conception.
Browsing through some tourist/travel-blogs today, I came across a post about a horrible accident at the Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom. That post pointed to a website dedicated to amusement park ride accidents, appropriately called The site bills itself as:
the world's single most comprehensive, detailed, updated, accurate, and complete source of amusement ride accident reports and related news.
This kind of disaster e-tourism could also include the popularity of war-related blogs that serve voyeuristic desires as much as they do the desire for more on-the-ground news. Of course, these simultaneous desires mirror the complexity of desires that play out in conventional forms of tourism, for authenticity and the exotic.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Touring the Underground Railroad

The Chicago/Calumet Underground Railroad Effort (C/CURE) is creating a tour of the Underground Railroad and its connections in Chicago for the True North Underground Railroad Festival. This all takes place August 18-19, 2007 - see their site for more info.

US Proposes New Visa Rules

Members of the US Congress are proposing an electronic monitoring system for travelers coming into the US from currently visa-waived EU states. The descriptions sound like it would function through a "ping" sent to security officials when travelers purchased their plane tickets... but there is also mention of a biometric process. From an International Herald Tribune article:
"It's really a 21st-century model," said James Carafano, a Heritage Foundation analyst who specializes in homeland security. "It'll all be done electronically and biometrically. And it really doesn't compromise your privacy."
Sounds like an air travel parallel to the SENTRI program in place at certain points in the US-Mexico border. These developments point to the development of surveillance technologies not so much as a method of discipline (i.e. catching "bad guys") but as a form of submission and convenience for those privileged enough to be mobile on a global scale.
Thanks to Marc for alerting us to the story!

Sunday, June 17, 2007


For those interested in travelogues and trying to avoid flying, The Guardian has a column called "The Slow Traveler," by Ed Gillespie, who's traveling the world without taking any flights. Reminds me of the recent string, well 2 at least, of books on trying to eat in a manner aware of food miles - like not eating anything from more than 100 miles away.

Airports and You

Aileen, on the Furtherfield blog, recently wrote a rant on the rather irrational situations that air travelers regularly subject themselves to. She also asks a few related questions:
Once upon a time, air travel was glamorous, exciting, something different from everyday ordinary life. Wasn’t it? I think that’s what I remember from my childhood, that’s what it looks like in old films. So how did air travel come to be a form of mass transportation? And an increasingly unpleasant form of mass transportation at that? In fact, I am beginning to suspect that more sinister forces are somehow at work here. I have started developing my own personal conspiracy theory about it.
Her questions about airports got me thinking about a project from a while back by Martha Rosler entitled "In the Place of the Public." (find images here) Grant Kester has a short write up about it here, in which he says:
Rosler offers another way to map the airport, not as the adventurous travelers of the jet-age, but as alternately bored and frightened consumers. In her photographs the airport appears like a strange undersea world, filled with a leaden atmosphere, mysterious lights and sounds, and endless subterranean caverns.
While there is lots of theory and discussion of mobility, placelessness, non-places and interstitial modalities involving airports, I recently received an email about a bicyclist that was harassed and beaten by police when leaving an airport terminal on his bike. There's something interesting about the extension of airport security into the surrounding transportation landscape here that has to do with speed and the control over one's own mobility. It also reveals that the move into a society of control, where rules are enforced by means of preemptive design and architecture isn't a complete process. Meat cops will still show up and tase you if you do something unexpected... like ride a bike away from an airport.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

An Atlas of Radical Cartography

A new tool for critical tourism, or just people interested in mapping... NY based artists/writers Lize Mogel and Lex Bhagat are putting together an Atlas of radical Cartography. What is that, you ask:
"An Atlas of Radical Cartography pairs artists, architects, designers, and collectives with writers to explore the map’s role as political agent. These 10 mapping projects and critical essays take on social and political issues from globalization to garbage. An Atlas of Radical Cartography will be an important addition to the tremendous cultural momentum that links art, design, geography and activism through maps.
It will be published in Fall 2007 by the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest Press, Los Angeles, at a cover price of $25.00. Concurrently, an exhibition of the maps, titled “An Atlas,” will tour nationally. Participants include mapmakers / essayists:
An Architektur / Sebastian Cobarrubias, Maribel Casas-Cortes on migration in Europe;
Center for Urban Pedagogy / Heather Rogers on garbage flows in New York City;
Ashley Hunt / Avery Gordon on the global prison-industrial complex;
Institute for Applied Autonomy / Tad Hirsch on surveillance and “tactical cartography”;
Pedro Lasch / Alejandro DaCosta on migration in the Americas;
Lize Mogel / Sarah Lewison on geography, gentrification, and globalization;
Trevor Paglen & John Emerson / Naeem Mohaiemen on extraordinary rendition;
Brooke Singer / Kolya Abramsky on the contradictions of cheap energy in the US;
Jane Tsong / Jenny Price, D.J. Waldie, et al, on human impacts on LA’s water ecology;
Unayyan / Jai Sen on mapping the unintended city in 1980s Calcutta. "

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Touring Extraordinary Rendition

The Institute for Applied Autonomy have set up a fictional tourist (Terminal Air) agency based on the CIA's extraordinary rendition program. Based on their collaboration with artist-geographer Trevor Paglen, the installation "attempts to envision the CIA office cum-travel agency in Langley, Virginia from which the Extraordinary Rendition Program is presumably coordinated."

Pavement Paradise

The Travel Office is participating in an exhibition called Pavement Paradise at the Center for Land Use Interpretation in Los Angeles that began June 1. Included in the show is the Travel Office's Parking Public video tour into the politics of parking in the United States.