Reviews

Fantasy City

 

Following a wave of de-industrialization and cutbacks in public spending, North American downtowns are reinventing themselves in the best and worst images of Disneyland and Las Vegas. Where piers, factories, warehouses (and sex shops) once stood, today the central city exhibits an infrastructure of casinos, megaplex cinemas, theme restaurants, malls, simulation theaters, and virtual reality arcades which collectively promise to change the face of leisure in the postmodern metropolis. FANTASY CITY (Routledge; January 4 1999; A Trade Paperback Original), by John Hannigan, looks at this new city and what it means for its citizens and for the future of urban development.

 

Hannigan characterizes the growth of the "Fantasy City" as an ongoing search for risk-free mass entertainment by middle-class consumers preoccupied with and paranoid by the fear associated with "the inner city." This quest has been shaped and directed by a cohort of developers and leisure merchants who have sought to exploit brand synergies and extend them to urban landscapes. In the process, they have created a new American city center, which is characteristically thematized, commercialized, and privatized -- like the new Disney-style Times Square. While such change appears to have brought a sparkly new energy and hope to the urban landscape, it has yet to deliver an economic miracle to the surrounding residents and merchants, who rarely benefit from "spillover" or trickle down business.

 

By discussing examples from a wide variety of venues, including casinos, malls, and theme parks, Hannigan traces the rise of urban entertainment from the beginning of this century, its decline after World War II to its surprising renaissance in the 80's and 90's. FANTASY CITY uses examples from all over North America and in the final section looks at the entertainment business in the Far East, where in spite of the present distresses the future of themed entertainment is likely to lie. This approachable and provocative book shows that the growth of the "Fantasy City" signals not just the arrival of a new urban space, but also the eventual destruction of the real downtowns and inner cities we've known.

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Introduction

Joanne Massey, Manchester Metropolitan University, Critical Sociology, May 1, 2000

This fascinating account of predominantly American cities takes the reader on a journey spanning almost a century, from the drive-ins of New Jersey and the casinos of Las Vegas, to beyond the Pacific Rim. He charts the rise of the "fantasy city" and its place in the new urban economy rooted in tourism, sports, culture and entertainment. Hannigan's 'behind the scenes' revelation of contemporary changes in primarily North American cities is made all the more compelling by its grounding in the numerous examples of 'fantasy' developments, from 'themed' parks and restaurants to the 'palaces of consumption' which contemporary shopping malls and city centre 'designer quarters' have become.

 

…..In the final chapter, Hannigan states that the economic losers in many revitalization projects are those in local communities (the winners being the large corporations), that safe, random encounters are more difficult due to the restrictive nature of areas such as theme parks, and finally that distinctiveness is difficult to retain in the postmodern city. He concludes that "Fantasy City lacks the social and aesthetic unity of the descript community" (p. 199), and poses important questions. What is more important, cultural diversity or pre-packaged urban entertainment destinations? Do we want our cities to be overrun with tourists? More importantly, he asks in a similar vein to Zukin (1995) "are we willing to give up the attempt to create a descript city in which the "dream of public culture" (Zukin 1995: 294) flourishes?" (p. 200). In other words, when regenerating urban space, which in turn leads to the remaking of public culture, it is essential to identify whose 'dreams' are being realised, and whose 'dreams' should be placed highest on the agenda. Whilst Hannigan is clear that the current state of affairs has resulted in his rather pessimistic view of postmodernity, it has also led him (and in turn leads the reader) to ask important questions about the hierarchy of power in urban revitalization. Hannigan offers no ready solutions to the problems posed, though this approach has its benefits, as there is certainly plenty to contemplate. As with most good books on this subject, one is left a little dejected, yet simultaneously inspired by the quest for answers.

 

Publisher’s Weekly, November 1, 1998

In a devastating critique of what he terms the postmodern American city, Hannigan, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto, charts a growing trend: the spreading infrastructure of megaplex cinemas, malls, themed restaurants, casinos, music megastores and other large-scale entertainment complexes. In his skeptical view, such spaces transform the public world into insular commercialized spheres, allowing leisure and conviviality without real social interaction. Hannigan questions the alleged economic benefits these sites hold for local communities, arguing that they threaten the destruction of neighborhoods and local identities while creating a polarized metropolis catering to the overwhelming middle-class desire for predictability and security. He casts a dour eye on the overlap of ""eatertainment,"" ""edutainment"" and ""shopertainment"" and examines the alliance of players involved in building the postmodern leisure environment--real estate developers, corporate investors, retail operators and giant entertainment companies such as Disney, Universal, Sony, Warner Bros., Rank and Ogden. Looking back on the ""golden age"" of popular urban entertainment (1890-1925) when vaudeville halls, baseball stadiums, nightclubs and amusement parks blossomed, Hannigan argues that the captains of leisure maintained tight social control over a public culture that fostered the illusion of a democratic crowd where city dwellers mingled freely, regardless of race, class and gender. His provocative and far-sighted report will engage urban planners and all who care about the fate of U.S. cities.