Heiko Schmid: Economy of Fascination. Dubai and Las Vegas as Themed Urban Landscapes. Berlin, Stuttgart  (Urbanization of the Earth 11) 2009. 272 pp.

Heiko Schmid's study on "Dubai and Las Vegas as Themed Urban Landscapes" is being published as the 11th volume in the series "Urbanization of the Earth", a series of urban geographies with an explicit focus on urban structures, forms and functions in regional contexts. Previous volumes in this series covered broad geographical analyses of African, Latin American, Indonesian and Australian cities, followed by more regional surveys on urbanization in China, Saudi-Arabia and Russia and finally by a very focussed study of the city of Istanbul (see review Erdkunde 61 (3), 300).

Thus, the present volume marks a distinct shift, not only in its scientific theme and topic, but also in its scope and prevailing research interest: Cities no longer as expressions of regional diversities and historical and/or geographical differentiations, but as expressions of rapidly growing artificiality in an increasingly competitive globalized world.

The very title of the book "Economy of Fascination" and its focus on two more or less artificial urban creations sets the frame: Dubai and Las Vegas. In line with globally developing new lifestyles - especially in societies and economies of advanced standings - an increasingly great number of globally thinking and acting individuals as well as groups (actors) demand and produce new forms of urbanities and urbanisms: Cities as commercialized entertainment centres or - vice versa - commercially attractive entertainments as new forms of everyday life experiences in urban environments. These are the preconditions of an "economy of fascination", in which "themes" (theme parks, themed shopping malls and/or thematically focussed attractions of different kinds) go hand in hand with increasingly distractive demands by people and the commercial interests of investors, developers and urban administrators. Themed cities - themed urban landscapes - experience orientation - attention and fascination: These are just a few key-words of a new form of urban geography in which the analysis of artificially created urban attention setters and entertainment centres, their successes and failures, are the focus of the research.

Not surprisingly, on the contrary: With good reason and remarkable conviction, Heiko Schmid puts the emphasis of his study on both theoretical and methodological considerations of this new phenomenon of urban developments. After a short characterization of what is to be understood by a "themed city" (Chapter 1), the following more or less theoretical discussion of the research potentials of an "economy of fascination" may well be considered as the crucial and focal chapter of this study (Chapter 2). Based specifically on Franck's in-depth analyses of "attention" as a "new currency" (real and virtual!) and "mental capitalism" as an economic resource, Schmid convincingly outlines the monetary impacts of both attention and fascination on people's perceptions and behaviours. Their transfer into (urban) semiotics and - from there - into a "theory of symbolic consumption" in combination with basic ideas of action theory create a logical and well-argued foundation for an "Economy of Fascination", exemplified and summarized in Fig. 10 of this transdisciplinary based and knowledgeable discussion. Its methodological consequences and its empirical implementation conclude this thoughtful chapter, which goes far beyond its "themed cities" approach, but can claim general validity for forthcoming studies along the lines of an economy and geography of fascination. Chapter 3 is no more than a descriptive introduction and exemplification of what is to be understood by a themed urban landscape, introducing Dubai and Las Vegas as case studies and conspicuous examples of this new form of urban development and economy. As such, however, it serves as an indispensable introduction into the chapters on "Corporate-driven Governance: Actors and Alliances" (Chapter 4), on "Attention-Binding Strategies and Media Staging" (Chapter 5) and finally the sobering and almost contradictory analysis of "The Dark Side of Success" (Chapter 6). In an admirably coherent way, the author succeeds in scrutinising the often very clandestine decision-making processes of different and superficially unequal actors, their elaborate pursuits of marketing strategies as well as their often blunt and simple, yet effective strategies in selling their seemingly attention-deserving and fascinating urban attractions. The more one might have expected a somewhat closer look at the ecological, economic and social problems of these partly virtual, in any case artificial, urban worlds. Their sustainability and their capacities to survive in an increasingly fragile and ecologically and socio-economically vulnerable world may have deserved a somewhat lengthier discussion, especially in view of the fact that both Dubai and Las Vegas have been more or less seriously affected by recent crises.

Volume 11 of the old-established series "Urbanization of the Earth" marks a shift, if not to say a break in the philosophy of that series. It also marks the beginning of a new, different understanding of urban geography. As such, Heiko Schmid - at the same time new editor of the series - presents a refreshingly different and admirably coherent look at the phenomenon of urbanity in a post-industrial economy and society. Not an analysis of regional urban landscapes nor a specific case study, but a problem is the focus of this study. By combining research results and theoretical considerations of a great number of disciplines and amalgamating them into a convincing research design of an "Economy of Fascination", the author endeavours and succeeds in proposing an innovative approach to urban (geographical) research. The question, however, remains to what extent "attention", "fascination", "theming" and related developments will shape urban landscapes in the future and for how long? Increasingly rapid changes of attitudes and behaviours, increasingly short lifespans of specific lifestyles, economic crises: Fascinations come and go! This, however, may be an interesting perspective for the future of "Urbanization of the Earth". It remains to be seen how this series will develop in the future, to what extent new themes and topics of urban geography will replace the regional approach of the past and what specific aspects of post-modern urbanization trends will be shaping the new profile of "Urbanization of the Earth".
Eckart Ehlers

Quelle: Erdkunde, 65. Jahrgang, 2011, Heft 1, S. 94-95

 

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