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Tourism use of old neighborhoods: Between economic, cultural and urban planning challenges

Book review of: Barrera-Ferrandez D. (2015) Attracting Visitors to Ancient Neighborhood: Creation and Management of the Tourism-Historic City of Plymouth, UK.
François Bédard
Bibliographical reference

Barrera-Ferrandez D. 2015. Attracting Visitors to Ancien Neighborhood: Creation and Management of the Tourism-Historic City of Plymouth, UK. Groningen, InPlanning.

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1In the introduction of his book Attracting Visitors to Ancient Neighbourhoods, Daniel Barrera-Fernandez states that since the 1970s, historic urban areas have been recognized for their usefulness for enhancing people’s lives. Furthermore, the historic urban fabric has been widely used since the 1990s as an economic resource and to achieve urban regeneration. Today it is recognized that urban heritage contributes to making a city more sustainable. Urban cultural tourism is a growing phenomenon in the world and in Europe in particular. One of its advantages is that it can take place in non-traditional destinations. It is also a useful tool to counteract the decline of other types of tourism and urban activities, all the while being less seasonal than these other segments. Among the singular models of tourist-historic cities, those featuring waterfronts are particularly relevant for this research. In those cities, the port has been gradually losing its initial function and, when entirely obsolete, becomes integrated in the tourist-historic city by being endowed with new commercial and recreational functions. The main values traditionally associated with old neighbourhoods revolve around aesthetics and historicity. The aesthetic value has, at times, increased in a context of unattractive new urban environments, often leading to the museification of the historic urban core.

2Daniel Barrera-Fernandez argues that European countries share certain patterns in the protection and management of historic cities, although some differences in planning and management can be observed. The aim of his book is to analyze the tourism use of the historic city and how this process affects the urban heritage. More specifically, the objectives are to analyze the specific framework of heritage preservation and management in United Kingdom; to study the historic evolution of urban tourism and the relevance of tourism-related activities; and to examine how different stakeholders and initiatives affect the tourist use of the historic city, the latter of which is divided into the four aspects heritage and culture, tourism, urban planning, and economy.

3Barrera-Fernandez takes us on a comprehensive case study of Plymouth, a city located in a region in United Kingdom that is the most visited by nationals and one of the most visited by foreign tourists. Indeed, tourism is seen as a solution to the loss of jobs and other urban activities. The tourism development strategy builds on the city’s rich heritage alongside the creation or upgrading of other attractions. For example, Plymouth has engaged in an effort to rebrand itself as an open and cosmopolitan city.

4The general work plan of his book applies an approach to the concept of the tourist-historic city developed by M. Brito. As such, the work plan includes an analysis of the historic city as a heritage asset, a study of the urban cultural tourism phenomenon, and work on the definition and management of the tourist-historic city. More specifically, the book is divided into three parts as follows: 1) the presentation of the evolution and current framework of heritage; 2) the analysis of the history of tourism and the current model; and 3) the study of actors and initiatives intervening in the tourist use of the historic city.

5In part one of the book, the author describes the evolution of interest in heritage preservation in this historic city and presents the current framework of its heritage protection. He outlines that for the past decades the city has been improving its attractiveness thanks to the development of regeneration and enhancement plans on the waterfront and historic neighbourhoods; the introduction of recreational activities in the ports; the upgrade of cultural, commercial and leisure attractions; and the organization of major events. Other topics in this section include the close relationship of Plymouth and the sea, a city of navigators and emigrants; the importance of military forces in Plymouth’s history and urban shape; local government and the socio-economic approach; and the city’s urban history from “The Three Towns” to the merger creating the Borough of Plymouth. Regarding the evolution of interest in heritage preservation in Plymouth’s historic urban core, the author examines six stages, namely: the conditions and activities prior to the Second World War; the consequences of the war; the considerations included in the plan for Plymouth; the reconstruction carried out; an initial phase of regeneration plans to focus on economic development; and a subsequent phase centred on the participation of the communities.

6In part two of the book, the author presents the history of the tourism sector in Plymouth and describes in detail the presence and significance of the city’s tourism-related activities. Four stages in the history of tourism in Plymouth can be distinguished: the conditions and activities prior to the Second World War; the damage caused by the war and the resumption of activities; the changes in the market from the 1960s until the 1980s; and the new management strategies and priorities since the 1990s. Apart from these periods, two aspects were treated separately; the first one refers to the achievements of the Plymouth Marketing Bureau and the second one is a review of historic guidebooks from the 19th century until the end of the 20th century.

7Part three of the book is entitled “Actors and Initiatives Involved in the Management of the Tourist-Historic City”. The author argues that tourism development of the historic city consists of, beyond marketing policies of preserving and enhancing the built environment, linkages with a number of organizations and initiatives that play a direct or indirect role in improving the attractiveness of an area. These policies and linkages involve different regulations, plans, programmes, projects, and actions. According to Brito, three groups of policies and linkages can be distinguished, namely tourism, urban planning, and culture-heritage. The author added a fourth group – the economy – since the maintenance and success of urban regeneration, built heritage preservation, and tourism promotion policies are strongly linked to economic development in general. Economic development is also directly linked to city marketing and branding and to the development of the creative industries in particular. The four groups are strongly interconnected. Most of the initiatives cater to a variety of interests and affect different issues. The inclusion of each policy in one or the other group is determined by which aspect is the motor of the initiative.

8To conclude, this is a remarkable book which, thanks to Berra-Fernandez’s comprehensible case study of Plymouth’s ancient neighbourhoods, helps us to understand the creation and management as well as attractiveness of tourist-historic cities. There is no doubt that this book is of interest for both practitioners and scholars in the field.

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Electronic reference

François Bédard, Tourism use of old neighborhoods: Between economic, cultural and urban planning challenges Articulo - Journal of Urban Research [Online], Book Reviews, 2018, Online since 24 July 2018, connection on 21 September 2021. URL:

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About the author

François Bédard

François Bédard is professor at Department of Urban and Tourism Studies at Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). His areas of expertise concern the management and development of tourist destinations as well as international tourism events.

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