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Transformative Placemaking, Regenerative Tourism, and Trails

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

by Kelsey Johansen

Mink Creek Falls, Group of Seven Lake Superior Trail © Kirsten Spence, 2021

Adaptability and resiliency are long standing topics of discussion within the tourism and recreation industry, and have typically focused on climate change mitigation, and economic resiliency. Through the COVID-19 Pandemic, an increased emphasis has been placed on the importance of both regenerative tourism and socialising tourism to not only ensure the recovery of these interrelated industries, but to fundamentally change them in ways that ensure the environmental sustainability of their associated activities, while driving economic, social and community-based benefits.

As people's recreation and leisure opportunities were constrained by COVID-19 travel restrictions, additional importance has been placed on proximity tourism - a form of tourism that emphasises local destinations, shorter travel distances and lower-carbon modes of transportation such as active and multi-mode transportation, as well as the mundane exceptionality of the "ordinary" in our own backyards.

With this has come a greater appreciation for trails as outdoor recreation and nature-based tourism resources, and as means of ensure physical, social, and mental health and well-being. Enter transformative placemaking and regenerative tourism.

Transformative Placemaking

At a fundamental level, placemaking is a process that inspires people to collectively re-imagine and re-invent public spaces as the heart of every community. Taken a step further,

"Transformative placemaking is an aspirational endeavour to transform spaces into meaningful places through a process of deliberate and thoughtful engagement – as such transformative placemaking is fundamentally connected to sense of place".

In Western society, we tend to think of spaces in abstract terms, like distance, direction, size, shape, and volume, and as being detached from material form, as well as cultural significance or interpretation. Place, on the other hand is different, it refers to the socio-cultural meanings and attachments that individual people and groups have for, or place on, a specific spatial setting.

Placemaking is therefore about strengthening the connection between people and the places and spaces they share through a collaborative process that allows communities to shape and define their public realm while maximising shared value. In additional to promoting better urban design, placemaking facilitates creative patterns of use, while sharing the physical, cultural, and social identities that define a place and support its ongoing evolution.

With community-based participation at its center, transformative placemaking processes capitalise on a local community's assets, inspiration, and potential, and result in the creation of quality public places and spaces that contribute to people's health, happiness, and well-being while simultaneously contributing to the economic viability, and environmental sustainability, of a community.

Regenerative Tourism

Regenerative tourism requires a fundamental shift in how we view the world, and is similar to, but different from, the process of socialising tourism.

"Regenerative tourism is a commitment to tourism as a tool to create thriving destination communities and to regenerate and heal damaged resources".

It recognises the need to replace a capitalist economic system based on over-consumption, competition, and maximising profits, with new ways of economic thinking that emphasises caring for place, communities and people. In this sense, it parallels the ideals put forward by Freya Higgins-Desbiolles regarding socialising tourism for social and ecological justice after COVID-19, which has presented a unique opportunity to redefine the industry by rethinking and resetting tourism toward a better pathway for the future and to address issues of overtourism and unsustainable resource consumption.

Regenerative tourism is based on the concept of the regenerative economy - a regenerative economy prioritizes holistic thinking and patterns - and embraces the interconnectedness of place, culture, enterprise, government, and the Commons (or public realm).

Regenerative tourism is therefore intended to be a long-term revitalising activity as well as a commitment to a constantly evolving and emerging process that recognises tourism as a holistic and integrated system whereby social, environmental and economic factors are fundamentally connected to cultivating a healthy and vibrant place.

Building a regenerative destination culture, in turn, requires that destinations modify the way they measure success, what metrics they assess, and how they value resources. Instead of financial capital, and associated metrics being using as key performance indicators, community, social, natural, cultural, spiritual, trust, and experiential capitals are re-framed as either equally important or superseding economic returns. Regenerative tourism therefore seeks to grow value within all forms of capital, not just economic capital.

Furthermore, as a fundamental place-based activity, regenerative tourism recognises that each destination’s regenerative path will unique established by the community and therefore probably cannot be tracked by a standard set of indicators nor can it unfold using a pre-fabricated "regenerative pathway". In regenerative tourism, place therefore becomes central, and its sacredness is celebrated. The unique cultures and values associated with the place are rich resources to cherish and should be used as guideposts to determine metrics of success.

Transformative Placemaking, Regenerative Tourism and Trails

Transformative placemaking and regenerative approaches to tourism can play a unique role in preserving trails as outdoor recreation and nature-based tourism resources, while simultaneously telling the stories of the places and spaces they pass through. As such, transformative placemaking and regenerative tourism can contribute to the vibrancy of trail towns, revitalise trails as economic development ventures, and ensure that the "special-ness" or the mundane exceptionality of the "ordinary" in our own backyards is communicated meaningfully to trail-based recreationists and tourists.

Get In Touch

If you are interested in learning more about how transformative placemaking and regenerative approaches to tourism can help guide your trail development process or trail tourism initiative, please reach out to us at:

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