It's a freaking mall, people.

BlogTO yesterday raised an interesting topic: the differences in travel styles. Emphasis is mine.

Yesterday, the New York Times published yet another one of their great travel articles on a Toronto neighbourhood that doesn’t get much play from the powers that be who promote our city. Titled Skid Row to Hip in Toronto, the article isn’t a comprehensive look at the area, missing favourite spots like Crema Coffee, Smash and The Beet to name a few. Here are the ones they did mention:

Which is to say that it’s a good start and exactly the sort of story the city should be trying to get out instead of the crap about Ontario Place and Casa Loma.

I’m of the same opinion as BlogTO on this: for Toronto, or any tourist destination, the real soul of a place isn’t in the big tourist attractions, it’s between the lines of the Fodor’s guide. For many cities, and especially for Toronto, it’s in the neighbourhoods.  That you could wander from Chinatown to Kensington Market to Little Italy to the Annex to U of T (to take just one example) in less than an hour is fantastic because they’re all such different neighbourhoods. That’s what I want from a city, to get a real feel for it.

Obviously lots of people want to see the big attractions. When I lived at Dupont and Spadina I had tourists ask me every other summer day how to get to Casa Loma (which was always fun ’cause I could just point to the giant castle on top of the hill) and now that I live downtown I’m often asked where the Eaton Centre is. It always horrifies me that this is what tourists want to see, but that’s what’s in the guide books and, as BlogTO points out, the tourism promotions.

Should there maybe be two sets of promotion materials and guidebooks? Or is this the kind of thing that guidebooks just can’t keep up with, due to the rapid emergence and decline of neighbourhoods? Is this the role of the internet now? Until now a guidebook has just been an easier thing to carry around a city, but GPS-enabled devices could change that. I’m sure there’s already an iPhone app that points out cool insider tips about the neighbourhood you’re wandering through. If not, there should be. Damn, I wish I knew how to write those things…

0 responses to “It's a freaking mall, people.

  1. I think that there are a few options now to avoid the big-site syndrome. I’m more familiar with travel guides here in the UK, but many of them – especially ones like Lonely Planet’s – strike a very good balance between the big-ticket highlights and smaller places that give a taste of a neighbourhood. There are guides (like the UK “Hidden Places”) series that specifically aim for out-of-the-way spots.

    And I do think that online user-generated review sites like Yelp and Qype provide excellent opportunities for finding out about not just good businesses but entire guides.

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