After a trip through European cities, the author suggests how a tourist map is not exempt from being a representation of an idea because it reflects the image of the city that we wish to project. In this context, why not ask what is the tourist map that we want to have as a tool to know what city we want to project?
This text is born from a trip and a question. The trip occurred two months ago over a two week period through seven different cities in Europe. The question is what is the map that we offer tourists in Chile?
Why is the question about the map? Precisely because on the trip in which resources and time were scarce, organizing the best route within the city seemed to be an efficient strategy and the tourist map was the simplest tool to identify that route. Because for those who visit a site for the first time or have very little time to spend in a city, letting oneself drift along seemed to be a luxury that we should not permit ourselves to indulge.
First of all, for those who want to answer my question, it is important to clarify that tourism maps are not an innocent and objective indication. This is mainly because – as many authors have declared on the basis of representation – there is a selection process that occurs in which institutional and cultural landmarks are shown, while others are hidden, such as residential ones. Landscape architect James Corner indicates this intrinsic subjective condition of the map in his essay “The Agency of Mapping: “Speculation, Critique and Invention” explaining that “Unlike tracings, which propagate redundancies, mappings discover new worlds within past and present ones; they inaugurate new grounds upon the hidden traces of a living context”(1). In this way, maps reveal forces such as certain political and economic interests, marking these or not, i.e., specific commercial areas. In this sense, like the landscape, the tourist map is a construction that in itself conveys an idea of a city or an idea of how to experience the city.
(1) James Corner, “The Agency of Mapping: Speculation, Critique and Invention”  in James Corner and Alison Bick Hirsch (eds.), The Landscape Imagination: Collected Essays of James Corner 1990 – 2010 (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2014), p. 198.
It is not new that the maps are usually shown as a road network in which the ‘must see” landmarks of a neighborhood or a city stand out with large icons, naming the sites, stations and streets in the local language; thus, my ascent to the Tour Eiffel was programmed at a certain time, determining spatially-temporally the movement of visitors, in this case, as a starting point towards the Champ-de-Mars and Tuileries bound for the Louvre. The fact is that tourism, especially for those older and bigger cities, focuses on visiting those outstanding parts, for their historical, artistic or cultural representativeness in general. As the American landscape thinker John B. Jackson said in 1980, “for many tourists the only correct itinerary is still a version of the Grand Tour of the 18th century: the monuments, galleries and ruins, as well as those sublime views that the educated young people of the past centuries visited and admired; they are the things that many of us still visit and admire “(2).
(2) John B. Jackson, “Apprendiendo sobre Paisajes”(Learning about Landscapes) in La Necesidad de Ruinas y Otros Ensayos (The Need for Ruins and Other Essays) (Santiago: Editions ARQ, 2012 ), p.28. Translation by Romy Hecht M. and Danilo Martic V. p. 22. Original essay published in The Necessity for Ruins and other Topics (Amherst: The University of Massachussets Press, 1980) [Translation from the Spanish].
The experience of map tourism is lived effectively as on a game board. On it, certain symbols and norms are exposed and arranged in such a way that they influence the way of understanding and moving in a place. Here, there are also restrictions on moving, physical restrictions or resource restrictions, and sometimes it is necessary to be accompanied while for others silence is required.
A particular case to exemplify how different a trip can be according to a map is the case of Amsterdam. Its tourist center is easy to distinguish by the historical layout, its buildings, and canals. Although there are interesting places on its edge, some maps focus just on the interior of the historic sector, where the house of Anne Frank, the red light district, shops and Amsterdam’s characteristic vertical continuous façade houses are located. Thanks to my hotel being on the outskirts, I received a different map, where the scale was able to show the urban plan developed in the mid-twentieth century for the expansion of the city, including parks, museums, botanical garden and the zoo, among others. It is interesting then to think about how cities have been integrating urban processes and imaginaries for a little more than fifty years, consolidating and renewing the experience in these cities and accentuating a certain identity.
So, what happens when the historical tourism model is replicated in Chile? What is it that stands out? How have we progressed in the representation of our own culture? Where are the featured sites concentrated? What have we done to open the possibilities of building a city that in itself and in its entirety we want to show our visitors? What is most surprising about Madrid, Amsterdam, Salamanca and, above all, Paris, is the urban scale of the interventions, the large parks, neighborhoods and those constant elements such as the profile of the streets, the buildings and any repetition of certain characteristic features that make these places unique. It is true that you can get to “know” cities at a distance through social networks, videos and photographs. You can “see” how they are. You can even “walk” through the streets with Street View; however, this remains a representation incapable of addressing the on-site experience of what the digital window cannot manage to present, such as immensity or fortuitous events.
As I see it, Chile has potentiated a tourism of immensity, promoting visits to its extreme landscapes of unusual climates for foreigners, seemingly untouched meadows, sublime mountains and golden fields, beaches for lovers of aquatic sports, as well as our sheer-faced rivers and extensive deserts. This is an apparently successful approach if we understand that through it we can differentiate ourselves. But we have more. We must consider that our cities continue to swell, and these are still a must for foreigners. Then, we should not forget that cities are an important part of the territory and of our cultural offering.
Arriving from the trip then, the question was about the map that exists today and the map that we should create. Maybe our goal should be to think what we might want to highlight in fifty years and on what scale we want our “identity city” to be, where the priority is not to continue filling our streets with cars or to abandon the southern sector of our capital. Thinking about the tourism map can be a tool to imagine our dream city, establishing objectives from the enjoyment of the experience, and as a long-term idea that prevails over immediate short-term needs. So, where would you take a foreign friend in the city?