Naples: The anti-tourist city

IMG_5389by Ares Kalandides

I’m not often a tourist – a real tourist I mean. I usually travel to places for work or in order to meet friends. But last week I visited Naples in Italy for the third time in my life, as a common tourist. Just four days of sightseeing, eating and enjoying doing nothing in particular. Of course I could not avoid observing things around me that got me thinking about authenticity, place management, tourist promotion etc. Here are some initial thoughts that would need to be developed further in order to make any meaningful contribution to urban studies:

Napoli_-_Via_dei_Tribunali

Foto di Armando Mancini – Flickr: Napoli – Via dei Tribunali, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16235041

As usual, tourists concentrate in few areas of the city. In Naples it is a small part of the old town, mostly around the “decumani”, the ancient Greco-roman city and in particular around the two main streets, the narrow Via dei Tribunali and Spaccanapoli. It was the former that impressed me the most, because it managed both to hold the hordes of tourists and an array of shops that serve residents (fishmongers’, greengrocers’ etc). What often happens in tourist cities is that over time visitors displace locals, a phenomenon that becomes most visible through a change in retail structure. What also impressed me about that street is the fact that it was not pedestrianised. This is quite astonishing, knowing how pedestrian zones are a constant fetish among planners (now seconded by bicycle lanes) as some kind of panacea for cities. At first it is quite disturbing, as I found it hard to walk down the street without being disturbed by honking cars, but then it actually dawned upon me: the two above observations are probably related. People can still use their cars to reach their homes in the surrounding blocks (though they’d have to use an ice-breaker to get through the masses of people) and go about their everyday chores, like buying groceries or moving about with children and the elderly. The narrow street, the mass of people and the lack of parking, actually limit the use of the car to a minimum, but those who need it, can still use it.

IMG_5406

No information at the station

In general the lack of consideration for the tourist is a standard feature in Naples. Starting at the airport where you need to ask to find the bus to the city, the metro and the trains, signage is a disaster. Even ticket machines have their own mind and you can look in vain for instructions of use. This increases the visitor’s stress and makes it almost impossible for people of age or any kind of disability to navigate the city. But then once again I realized that I didn’t mind. Quite the opposite, really. The fact that the city is there mostly for the locals and not for the visitors makes it feel more real, less commodified. We have filled our cities with signs for tourists, marked “scenic walks”, “suggested sights” etc., that everything seems packaged and ready to sell. Recently, I have been trying to think of the concept of “place authenticity” as the opposite of place commodification and the Naples experience somehow made sense in the whole concept.

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I definitely don’t want to be treated badly as a tourist: I don’t want to fall into tourist traps, eat crap food and pay lots of money for bad hotels. But I also don’t want a place to turn its existence upside-down just to serve me, as it’s happened to some tourist destinations. It’s not good for the residents, but it’s also not good for me. I want to experience something authentic, not something created and packaged just for me. Can tourism management accommodate both?

 

About Ares

Ares Kalandides holds a PhD in Urban and Regional Studies from the National Technical University of Athens. He is the founder and CEO of Inpolis, an international consultancy based in Berlin, Germany and has implement several projects around the world. Ares teaches Urban Economics at the Technical University in Berlin and Metropolitan Studies at NYU Berlin.
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10 Responses to Naples: The anti-tourist city

  1. lastglass says:

    An Interesting and well-written article which photographs the ‘Naples paradox’ or more generically the destination development dilemma. Place authenticity and tourist comfort through place commodification are each at their extreme of the scale. However, an increasing need among tourists to experience the place ‘as the locals’ might turn destinations like Naples into pro-tourist cities. The dilemma is still on …

  2. Maren Postel says:

    How much I agree with you, Ares. I have lived in Napoli, Decumani (Piazza del Gesú Nuovo), in Venice – and I visited Valletta/Malta and Athens, Thessaloniki, Barcelona repeatedly as well. _So I have the experience from both sides: resident and tourist. Authentic life cannot be produced, it has to be lived, sometimes in contraddictions. And unfortunately, in these fascinatin cities I mentioned, it’s threatened and supported by tourism at the same time. We must try to find a balance. Your report inspires to the balance. Thank you.

  3. Thanks for trying to understand my city, I myself can’t say I have it figured out, and would doubt anyone could extricate such a paradox.

    Napoli is alive, and if you invest the time and the patience needed to survive there (even as a local), She rewards you infinitely. (In Italian, cities are of female genders 🙂

    It is hard for the locals as well, and a lot of -me included- us leave. Yet, our hearts ache at the thought of what we left and how people treat our beloved hometown.

  4. dansvidania says:

    Thanks for trying to understand my city, I myself can’t say I have it figured out, and would doubt anyone could extricate such a paradox.

    Napoli is alive, and if you invest the time and the patience needed to survive there (even as a local), She rewards you infinitely. (In Italian, cities are of female genders:)

    It is hard for the locals as well, and a lot of -me included- us leave. Yet, our hearts ache at the thought of what we left and how people treat our beloved hometown.

  5. the city it’s a coin, with both sides (good and bad) very bright, there is no middle, love it or hate it, but if you are a bit patience and you understand it’s flow you will find an unbalanced division between the two parts.

    from our government we are left to survival, but still the beauty of our lands and it’s people is pure force, signs: have you tried to ask for directions? locals will walk you there with a smile.
    our past is deep and mixed but we always welcomed the stranger due to our harbours, Napoli was a metropoli before London or Paris didn’t even exist, uncountable conquers or wars, not to mention our active vulcano, we are fully aware of it’s danger and that is why we sieze every single day:
    keeping it short (i hate my government but god if i love my region) from mothers you learn: where there is food for 2 can eat 4, what goes around comes around, this is what makes us this way.

    exept from taxi drivers, they spend too much time in the traffic, they need to relax a bit.

    f.

  6. I very much agree with the thoughts following from your observations/experience, except for the signage/ticketing machine aspects – in this regard there might be a feeling of “real”/”more real”, but it rather shows government’s neglect for serving their citizens (residents, visitors, …?) for the taxes/fees that they (supposedly) pay. Besides, it may be a sign of bad asset management. So the lack of ‘navigational’ information and ease of using public services (buses, registration forms, government counters/windows, health care, …) is, in my opinion, a big item on local government’s homework list. Often, tourists don’t perceive/experience much of such everyday hassles, because they opt for more convenient (and more expensive) means (such as hotel-organized cabs etc.)…it, however, shows a striking mismatch when these other means are in perfect state/shape, while the common person’s means are disregarded by the government…and there I would agree again with your argument related to commodification.

    • Ares says:

      Oh I totally agree with you. It is a very bad thing indeed (same goes with lack of signage at the station). I’m just trying to argue that locals and tourists are treated equally (bad). My problem is that we now have places were more funding goes for amenities that serve tourists than for the needs of the local population.

  7. Pingback: Naples: The anti-tourist city – Institute of Place Management (IPM) Blog

  8. Hi – what a great blogpost. As someone who works in tourism development and management and believes that keeping a place real is essential for sustainable tourism, this blogpost was a great reminder that over management and spoon feeding visitors can destroy the very authenticity you are trying to support.

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