Thursday, November 9, 2017

Football mobilities: Between the Scylla of ethno-racism and the Charybdis of neoliberalism



Football rituals are embedded in contemporary Gesellshaft structures (a-la Tőnnies), constantly updating the mechanisms with which societies change from within and without. Football is the maiden of globalisation: it instigates multiple mobilities of ideas, humans, emotions and technologies. This becomes even more evident when we look closer at the ways individuals and whole imagined communities use the sport to negotiate their place in globalised ethno-racist contexts.

It was football the ensured black migrants’ upward social mobility in postcolonial contexts such as those of Brazil, where originally black workers were seen as less human than white populations (hence not suitable to become professional players). Notably, their professional entry into the sport was equated with an entry into civilised Western modernity, thus bringing together questions of global class and racial hierarchies. Today famous players such as Pelé embody the Brazilian nation’s participation in Western and European mobilities, now supported by global corporations and international organisations. At the same time, such football ‘tokens’ of civility fuel nationalist clashes to promote individual nations in regional contexts – take for example how conflicts between Argentinian and Brazilian fans during matches are filtered through the worship of national players (Pelé  vs. Maradona – Carmo, July 7, 2014). 
  
If historically football is an aspect of soft colonialism (the English invented and imported the sport in the ‘developed’ world), its contemporary role in world societies as an arbitrator of (in)justice is far more ambivalent. As a technology of the body, it ‘flags’ the player’s (and his nation’s) ethno-phenotypical fixities, but as a technology represented, interpellated or simply mediated by other technologies (TV and internet industries), it places players and their nations on a global neoliberal map. And there is more: in more recent decades, players such as Pelé, used the power of neoliberal mobilities to also turn themselves into independent brands, thus allegedly escaping harmful ethno-racial stereotyping (as cosmopolitan professionals).[1] It seems that at least for black football players, the sport offers an either-or interpellation of agency: ethno-racialized or neoliberal.

Such interpellations have serious consequences in ritualist terms, both liberating and fettering. Take for example the loud disapproval of Colin Kaepernick’s ‘taking to one knee’ during the national anthem when he played for the San Francisco 49ers, in protest of police brutality against black Americans. Likewise, at the day’s first football game at Wembley Stadium this year, twenty-seven players from the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Baltimore Ravens dropped down and took a knee on the field to the sounds of the anthem (St. Félix, September 24, 2017). This ritualised performance, which both negates and worships the ‘nation’, transfixes audiences and fans: as a transgressive act in front of the camera, it asserts the players’ individualistic identity vis-à-vis that of a national collectivity. Note the tweet by Trump (ironically, a proponent of neoliberal risqué individualism) about the ‘son of a bitch’ N.F.L. players who ‘disrespect’ the ‘Flag (or Country)’ (ibid.) with their bizarre genuflection. 

This reaction missed the point: ‘there did not appear to be any white players taking a knee’ (Ingle, September 24, 2017). Hence, such defiance could also be read as a sign of deep respect to the ‘nation’, despite its historical and contemporary contributions to racial inequality – a need to both be a cosmopolitan individual and belong. It is as if, on and off the field, football’s ritualist ambivalence bears the mark of black strangerhood (a-la Simmel): never accepted entirely as part of the imagined community, it allows the player to move across semantic fields as a stranger or citizen, who, during the process is often appropriated by global audio-visual markets and turned into a mobility token.

References
Carmo, M. (July 7, 2014) Canção de “Maradona maior que Pelé” foi “ensinada” a argentinos um dia antes da estreia na Copa, BBC Brasil. Available at www.bbc.co.uk/portuguese/noticias/2014/07/140707_argentina_musica_wc2014_hb_mc.shtml.
Ingle, S. (September 24, 2017). Donald Trump defied at Wembley as Jaguars and Ravens kneel for anthem. The Guardian. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/sep/24/donald-trump-defied-wembley-jaguars-ravens-nfl-kneel-anthem.
St. Félix, Doreen (September 24, 2017). What Will Taking the Knee Mean Now? The New Yorker. Available at https://www.newyorker.com/culture/annals-of-appearances/what-will-taking-the-knee-mean-now.
Tzanelli, R. (2013). Olympic Ceremonialism and the Performance of National Character: From London 2012 to Rio 2012. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.





[1] ‘Pelé is known in print-capitalist circuits through his best-selling autobiographies, his starring in several successful documentary and semi-documentary films, and his composition of numerous musical pieces, including the soundtrack for the film Pelé (1977). In 2009 he cooperated with Ubisoft on arcade football game Academy of Champions: Soccer for the Wii in which he voiced-over the coach (Scullion, 2 June 2009). His sign value in global industrial systems makes him both a national and a transnational good – a new cosmopolitan subject’ (Tzanelli, 2013: 116).

Monday, November 6, 2017

From necrotopias to thalasso(to)pias: designing spatial (dis)continuities in Calatrava’s Museum of Tomorrow

Conference Presentation

2-5 Nov 2017, Lancaster

From necrotopias to thalassopias: designing spatial (dis)continuities in Calatrava’s Museum of Tomorrow

TO ACCESS THE PRESENTATION CLICK HERE

The Museum of Tomorrow is a neo-futurist architectural creation and an educational-touristic landmark erected in an abandoned and crime-infested port (Porto Maravilha) of Rio de Janeiro before Rio 2016. Situated in a heritage site that brings together the city’s past and future legacies, it was intended as a problematisation of humanity’s survival in the context of climate change and unrestrained capitalist development. Its principal conception by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, and completion with audio-visual installations by an international artistic contingent, including American artists and Brazilian filmmaker and ceremonial director Fernando Meirelles, showcase the complexities of global imaginaries of mobility.

As a multi-scalar initiative featuring local, state and international partners, the Museum showcases the ways concerns over ecosystemic erosion are addressed in performative/artistic ways. I argue that its artistic/architectural creators call into being a dual utopic method: as an artistic practice and a form of recreation of life from death. First, I speculate how, by enrooting the Museum in Rio’s built maritime environment, local heritage conservation and spatialized social inequalities, they enact a ‘choreotopographic tour’, a ritualistic journey through cultural sites for global visitors. Second, I examine how its installations produce dark travel through the mobilisation of technology: a haphazard esoteric audio-visual journey that concludes with a potential return to humanity’s roots, Nature. Combining embodied (walking around the Museum’s heritage environs) and cognitive mobilities (speculating humanity/earth’s end and potential ‘beginnings’ in the Museum’s interior, through its audio-visual installations/artefacts), the Museum produces utopian meta-movement. With industrial modernism as its core, this meta-movement compels visitors to oscillate physically, emotionally and cognitively between necrotopic scenarios (environmental erosion, slum pollution, Brazil’s submerged slave heritage) and thalasso(to)pic[1] fluidity (tourism, the possibility to attain good life, hope).


[1] From Greek thalassa=sea and topos=place rooted in heritage.

Monday, October 9, 2017

New Monograph: Mega-Events as Economies of the Imagination

Mega-Events as Economies of the Imagination
Creating Atmospheres for Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020
© 2018 – Routledge

Atmosphere, the elusive ambiance of a place, enables or hinders its mobility in global consumption contexts. Atmosphere connects to social imaginaries, utopian representational frames producing the culture of a city or country. But who resolves atmospheric contradictions in a place’s social and cultural rhythms, when the eyes of the world are turned on it?
Mega-Events as Economies of the Imagination examines ephemeral and solidified atmospheres in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and the handover ceremony to Tokyo for the 2020 Games. Indeed, highlighting the various social and cultural implications upon these Olympic Games hosts, Tzanelli argues that the ‘Olympic City’ is produced by aesthetic "imagineers", mobile groups of architects, artists and entrepreneurs, who aesthetically ‘engineer’ native cultures as utopias. Thus, it is explored as to how Rio and Tokyo’s "imagineers" problematize notions of creativity, cosmopolitan togetherness and belonging.
Mega-Events as Economies of the Imagination will appeal to postgraduate students, postdoctoral researchers and professionals interested in fields such as: Globalization Studies, Mobility Theory, Cultural Sociology, International Political Economy, Conference and Event Management, Tourism Studies and Migration Studies.

CONTENTS


Acknowledgments
CHAPTER 1 -- Staging the mega-event: Militourist imaginaries in an Olympic city
CHAPTER 2 -- Globalising utopias: Imagineering the Olympic event, making the world
CHAPTER 3 -- Tomorrow never comes: Rio’s museum of our futures
CHAPTER 4 -- Choreomobility and artistic worldmaking: Retrieving Rio’s submerged centre
CHAPTER 5 -- The Opening and Closing Ceremonies: Migration, nostalgia and the making of tourism mobilities
CHAPTER 6 -- Tokyo 2020: Urban amnesia and the techno-romantic spirit of capitalism
CHAPTER 7 -- The Handover Ceremony: Digital gift economies in a global city
CHAPTER 8 -- Conclusion: Dark journeys and hopeful futures


REVIEWS


Once again, Rodanthi Tzanelli offers a high-quality and promising book, where she theorizes on the cultural borders of the Olympic City in the ceremonials of Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020. With delightful prose, her development exhibits a fertile ground to understand media events as the juxtaposition of two economic forms: the artificial economy, which focuses on the doctrine of security; and the economy of imagination, more oriented to the production of architectural legacies as artificially fabricated and externally imposed.
Korstanje Maximiliano, University of Palermo, Argentina
This book makes a major contribution to understanding mega-events through a cultural sociological analysis. Grounded in a multi-disciplinary literature, it will appeal to readers coming from a wide range of perspectives. The central theme of Mega-Events as Economies of the Imagination provides an innovative and compelling lens through which to understand and explore mega-events.
Paul Lynch, Professor of Critical Hospitality and Tourism, The Business School, Edinburgh Napier University, UK
The planning of Olympic mega-events for Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 involved not just pragmatic aspects of logistics and engineering, but also what Rodanthi Tzanelli describes as imagineering. This fascinating study of global mega-events brings together recent theoretical approaches to atmospheres, aesthetics, technologies, economic development, infrastructural urbanism, hypermobility, and dark tourism to give us new insights into the staging of "mobile situations" and their symbolic "choreomobilities." It is an intriguing contribution to the literature on mobilities, global urbanism, and the performative arts.
Mimi Sheller, Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology, Drexel University, USA

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Ways of seeing: Bauman on strangerhood & the aesthetics of urban research




Rethinking Urban Global Justice: An international academic conference for critical urban studies

Image: Rodanthi Tzanelli 2014 

Open Session 11:15 – 12:45 / Exhibition Hall:

Liquid Cities? Exploring Zygmunt Bauman’s Contribution to Urban Studies.
Distinguished social theorist and longtime Professor of Sociology at University of Leeds, Zygmunt Bauman passed away aged 91 earlier this year.

The founding director of University of Leeds Bauman Institute, Mark Davis leads a discussion with colleagues (Adrian FavellThomas Campbell, Dariusz Brzeziński and Rodanthi Tzanelli) from the School of Sociology and Social Policy about Bauman’s legacy to the field.

Link to presentation by Rodanthi Tzanelli

13 September 2017


Abstract
Bauman’s legacy in urban studies has a distinctive political flair that connects to his critique of the ways urban strangers (tourists, migrants, vagabonds and pilgrims) become socially positioned, ‘interpellated’ or represented by various constituencies and groups (including researchers).

I argue that his reference to ways of seeing as political tools does not compromise his analysis of liquid urbanism as an aesthetic project, but works politics and aesthetics into a distinctive proposition on the ‘right to the city’ for all. This proposition forms (in the tradition of Simmel’s sociology), a moral basis for which cognitive and affective ambivalences function as epistemological tools. 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Seminar Presentation, Edinburgh Napier University: The Economies of Mega-Events


Business School, Graiglockhart Campus

14 June 2017

The economies of mega-events: Decolonising the Olympic norm of hospitality in social science scholarship 

Rodanthi Tzanelli, University of Leeds, UK
r.tzanelli@leeds.ac.uk  


My presentation considers mega-events as capitalist ventures, promoting re-organisations of time and space in host cultures to enable them to respond to various mobilities of business, technological and infrastructural development, tourism and professional migration, and cultural representation. I specifically examine the Olympic Games as a ‘hospitality enterprise’ still connected to the Olympic values of reciprocity and fair competition. However, contra Marxist and Foucaultian scholarship in the field, I argue that we should split this enterprise into two forms of economy that organise mega-event labour to ensure the provision of hospitality: the ‘artificial economy’ looks after surveillance, security and the control of leisure in the Olympic city; the ‘economy of imagination’ looks after the mega-event as a creative venture, thus producing architectural legacies and ceremonial art to enhance and circulate (broadcast) the host’s cultural atmospheres. 

The current scholarly focus on the ‘artificial economy’ as an economy of guest and heritage protection, and the progressive displacement of the ‘imaginative economy’ to the fields of tourism, popular culture, leisure studies and so forth, are normative through and through. They introduce a symbolically gendered division of labour that we also encounter in tourism and hospitality business, moralising economic flows and demoting mega-event leisure regimes (associated with the mega-event’s architectural and ceremonial art, or tourism imaginaries connected to the host’s cultural atmosphere) to superficial, ‘cosmetic’ pursuits. Such arguments reproduce old political discourses that valorise (masculinise) nationalism and feminise national culture that do (should) not belong to contemporary globalised environments of economic transaction, cross-cultural fertilisation and international policy exchange.  

Biographical note
Rodanthi Tzanelli is Associate Professor of Cultural Sociology at the University of Leeds, UK. Her research is on globalisation, cosmopolitanism and mobilities theory. Rodanthi previously held visiting fellowships at CEMORE (Lancaster University) and Oxford University. She is currently serving on the international advisory board of the Global Studies Community (University of Urbana-Champaign, USA), the Centre for the Study of Hospitality (University of Caxias do Sul, Brazil), the Ikarian Centre for Social and Political Research (Ikaria, Greece) and the EUMEDNET (Universidad de Málaga, Spain). She is also on the editorial board of international journals such as Cultural Sociology (BSA, UK), Athens Journal of Social Sciences (Greece) and Anuario de Turismo y Sociedad (Colombia). Rodanthi is author of numerous articles, book chapters and electronic essays, and 10 monographs. Her latest book, Mega-Events as Economies of the Imagination: Creating Atmospheres for Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 will be published with Routledge. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Manhandling the nation: Putin’s globalised imaginary of Russia



Digital image-coding and embodied power
A few decades ago, scholars such as Benedict Anderson argued that nations were imagined in the nineteenth century not through face-to-face communications, but via two channels of global mobility: print cultures (books, newspapers) and capitalism (international and national transactions). Fast-forward, in our digital age, we see at least a few similarities with this pattern of community-construction – although some may claim that, these days, ‘nations’ are primarily imagined as entrepreneurial machines happy to join the ‘right’ global networks so as to consolidate inter-state power and global domination. With the collapse of the Soviet Block in the 1990s and the subsequent rise of new Asian ‘super-power’ possibilities, alongside the re-organisation of titular state nationalisms in Europe and the emergence of a pro-capitalist New Russia, we are far from declaring the United States as the ultimate winner of post-Cold War geopolitics. Instead, we are left with an unstable global terrain, on which statist-backed global business disseminates and promotes various political projects. The projects are increasingly more attached to particular ‘charismatic leaders’. Such individuals are left to stand as signifiers, symbols of specific national and international policies. And once in this game, even business networks may lose control over those leaders’ decision-making.

The real power of these symbols rests in the way the process of mediation itself reduces any leader’s decision-making into a ‘style’. Although there are media networks keen to calibrate and encourage such individuals’ flamboyant attitude, several open new media sites, not necessarily attached to particular political projects of ultra-nationalist, racist or sexist content (all variants of nationalist mobilisation, as I proceed to explain), provide these charismatic personalities with opportunities to self-advertise the symbols that they come to stand for. Invariably drawing on image, these mediations provide a narrative of the ‘nation’ in global spaces of cultural, economic and political transaction. Trump’s much-debated twittering aggressiveness is one such case in point: on the one hand, it prompted deep psychological evaluations of the President, raising questions of planetary security. On the other, however, it tied individual political style to the power of this type of money-making machines that prioritise glamorization over conscience (Barber, Sevastopulo and Tett, 2 April 2017). So what, if Trump is a bit sexist, Islamophobic, homophobic and the likes? He is a good businessman with an iron fist – and it oils the press with his peppery, if inappropriate, shenanigans.

Putin no beaks on image-making
Putin is another frightening instance of globally networked glamorization that draws on the populist potential of open digital media sites. A quick view of his Instagram photographs can tell a story about concerted strategies of nationalist image-making. In online photographs of the leader, there is a pronounced split between two public personas: the first denotes a neat professional President in various civilised contexts of political negotiation; the second projects an athletic, semi-naked man mastering nature (through the performance of noble leisurely activities, such as fishing, hunting, horse-riding) (Reuters, 5 December 2011) – including the nature of his own athletic body (through body-building activities). The two personas obey to some conventions of masculine self-presentation, which are shared between Western and many non-Western and non-European cultures. Therefore, do not be fooled: these are not photographs of a man, but of an idea. The idea is the hegemonic image of a valorised Russia, ready to expunge any natural impurities we may associate with variations of symbolic, cognitive, physical and emotional diversity. From killing wild animals to taming a rare tiger (Instagram, 23 November 2010), to defeating a Japanese Judo expert (Instagram, 5 September 2000), Putin’s image-coding is dedicated to a relentless adverting of New Russia political empowerment as a Darwinian-like process of natural selection.

But then, this self-advertising strategy clashes with other reporting about the leader’s ‘sensitive’ side: Putin is caught on camera crying at the movies; surrounded by friendly dolphins in the water; or hugging dogs. Media set to subvert his carefully stylised image have produced explicit associations of his nakedness with queer sexuality, even alluding that the President is gay (see Buzzfeed, 24 July 2013). But such humorous discourse simply inverts political reality: it releases the negative of a violent representation, which will, surely, see the published world in all its vivid colours one day. All we have to do is remember the conviction and imprisonment of pro-LGBT and feminist Pussy Riots punk band (Maria Alyokhina, 24, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30) over anti-Putin protests in 2012. The sentence for ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred’, which was allegedly engineered by Putin himself, had, at the time, provoked widespread European and American political outcry (Elder, 17 August 2012; BBC News, 17 August 2012). So, lest we consider such events as isolated episodes, we should better place them in chrono-spatially mobile, global chains of violence: if Putin imprisoned the Pussies back in 2012, Trump would proudly declare in 2016 that, as a famous man, he can grab them any time he wants (Jacobs, Siddiqui and Bixby, 8 October 2016). Apparently, fame and a ruthless style of manly transaction in world politics can buy you anything – for yourself and those for whom you allegedly stand: the hoi polloi. It is ‘the people’ or ‘the nation’ such charisma leads that needs to be convinced this is the right form of conduct – and the ‘righter’ this gets, the better for the future of home-grown, and retrogressive populism.

The globally mobile chain of violence secures the future of retrogressive political establishment in global contexts in alarming ways. In her first visit to Russia after about two years, Angela Merkel pressurised Vladimir Putin into investigating reports of the torture, persecution and subsequent deaths of gay men in Chechnya (Connolly, 2 May 2017). Putin’s anti-LGBT action had previously established Kemlin’s corroboration of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s denials of anti-gay purge. Like Kadyrov, who insisted that no ‘hard’ evidence of human rights violations were provided, Putin shunted aside the matter. Notably, such Chechen violent ‘activism’ is backed by Islamic organisations in the country, which see the presence of gay communities as an insult to the ‘centuries-old traditions of Chechen society [and] the dignity of Chechen men’ (Walker, 21 April 2017). In fact, it has been argued by others with great clarity that making LGBT identity visible in a society resting on hypermasculine codes is seen as an intolerable act of rebellion that calls for punishment (Estemirova, 22 April 2017). Unsurprisingly, only foreign satire of Putin’s sexuality can go unpunished.

Trumping on dignity and the sport of pussy-catching
Although the ethical epicentre of such state-sanctioned violence appears to be gender and sexuality, its core is, in fact, a broader plea for diversity and equality. The damage such populist strategies cause on a pretty frail matrix of international cooperation is serious – never mind the good laugh at Trump’s or Putin’s ‘antiques’. The normalisation of insult and the concerted purging of what global leadership considers as private ignominies (sexual, ethnic, racialized, gendered or physical/mental difference) is felt on a planetary scale. Unfortunately, this dehumanising action finds ample support within pro-hate media channels.

Note, for example, that one of Russia’s biggest newspapers, the tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda, felt free to comment in hateful ways about Manchester’s Gay Village, just after the international outcry against Kremlin’s gay persecution. It is such a pleasure ‘that there are no such gay streets in Moscow’, or ugly women ‘having rolls of fat “hanging from their bodies” and wearing leggings and miniskirts’, the reporter noted.  ‘Let’s remain Russian…Start normal families. Have children in wedlock. And not confuse love with debauchery’, she concluded (Dearden, 5 May 2017). The legitimation of ethno-national purity through denigrations of Western everyday style and custom are standard populist press strategies directed to patriotic consumers. But where will the honourable Russian nation-family stand on crucial international negotiations, after the downright rejection of its significant global interlocutors’ banal cultures? And what does such resentful speech achieve in terms of peace-making and international cooperation?

References
Barber, L., Sevastopulo, D. and Tett, G. (2 April 2017). Donald Trump: Without Twitter, I would not be here — FT interview. Financial Times. https://www.ft.com/content/943e322a-178a-11e7-9c35-0dd2cb31823a.

BBC News (17 August 2012). Pussy Riot members jailed for two years for hooliganism.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-19297373.

BuzzFeed (24 July 2013). The 16 most homoerotic photos of Vladimir Putin.

Connolly, K. (2 May 2017). Merkel presses Putin over anti-gay purge in Chechnya. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/02/angela-merkel-vladimir-putin-russia-investigate-lgbt-torture-claims-chechnya.

Elder, M. (17 August 2012). Pussy Riot sentenced to two years in prison colony over anti-Putin protest. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2012/aug/17/pussy-riot-sentenced-prison-putin?newsfeed=true.

Estemirova, L. (22 April 2017). In macho Chechnya, being gay is an act of intolerable rebellion. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/22/chechnya-gay-intolerable-rebellion-repression.

Dearden, L. (5 May 2017). Russia's biggest newspaper attacks Manchester over “disgusting” gay couples and “many fat people”. The Independent. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/russiakomsomolskaya-pravda-newspaper-manchester-attack-gay-couples-fat-people-alisa-titko-disgusting-a7719131.html.



Jacobs, B. Siddiqui, S. and Bixby, S. (8 October 2016). “You can do anything”: Trump brags on tape about using fame to get women. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/oct/07/donald-trump-leaked-recording-women.

Reuters (5 December 2011). Putin’s macho image. http://www.reuters.com/news/picture/putins-macho-image?articleId=USRTR2UVJN.

Walker, (21 April 2017). Chechnya leader rejects reports of anti-gay purge. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/21/chechnya-leader-rejects-reports-of-anti-gay-purge.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Go Ape with style: From tourist leisure to securitisation

Image: 'Roundhay Park', by Rodanthi Tzanelli (May 2014)

Leeds is experiencing its own evolutionary moment on the Darwinian scale of global urban development and competition, and its City Council is not taking a back seat on this front. The ‘Go Ape’ tree top adventure centre is advertised as a forthcoming development in the expansion of leisure at Roundhay Park, one of the biggest urban parks in Europe. The Park, which is the leafy pride of North Leeds, is bordered by the suburb of Roundhay to the west and Oakwood to the south, two affluent areas of the city. Stretching across about 700 acres, including two lakes, two adventure playgrounds, two cafes, a skate park, sports pitches, and the famous Tropical World with its surrounding gardens (all owned by the Leeds City Council), Roundhay Park is visited weekly by tourists and schools as an educational and tourist attraction.

‘Go Ape’ is an exciting project that bears the potential to put Leeds - a Northern English city too far from the capital that gets all the glamour of creative industrial development, and yet close to some of the most physically beautiful parts of the country -  on the map of global urban retreats. But we should also read the smaller letters in this enterprise, to realise how it may alter balances between technocratic, social and environmental complexities in the area. Technocratically, the project hits all the right strings when it comes to lifting the city out of recession traps and an impeding ‘hard Brexit’ that threatens whatever tourist profile it managed to acquire next to the historic city of York – an old domestic and international cultural tourist destination. The three planned ‘Go Ape’ entertainment sites compensate for any lack of historic interest with innovative leisure close to nature – a revamped eco-friendly touristic experience. Councillor Lucinda Yeadon, Leeds City Council’s Executive Member for the Environment and Sustainability, stated:

Due to ongoing significant reductions in government funding, we are always looking for new ways to be enterprising and the work that we plan to undertake at the three sites underlines our ongoing commitment as a council to help ensure that each attraction continues to thrive and offer visitors from the city and beyond a great experience for many years to come. Our recent investment in Tropical World which has seen visitor numbers rise by 45% compared to pre-development is a great example of what can be achieved by investing in one of our sites to raise the quality, boost income and in the long-term save money for the council. This is something that we now want to replicate again at Tropical World, Lotherton Hall Bird Garden and Home Farm, Temple Newsam.

No such ambition can evade criticism - including reactions from those it claims to benefit in the long term. Different interest constituencies will read different things into such initiatives. A recent petition appeared on Change.org to stop this project from going ahead because of its potential to destroy what Roundhay Park represented for many decades: a haven from the noisy urban life of Leeds and a little Paradisiac escape for families and other groups seeking respite from busy mid-week environments. Framed as the potential loss of a real, earthly utopian spot to the demons of business-orientated development, the petition gathered over 3,000 signatures and is about to be sent to Councillor Yeadon. A relevant article on Yorkshire Post (13 October 2016) had previously initiated a vivid conversation amongst readers over the benefits and problems of having such a multi-sited development in the area, including risks for its potential users. Plans to build a high-wire adventure course featuring aerial zip wires and rope walks raised concerns about noise and traffic problems. A BBC report featured Richard Critchley, Chair of Friends of Roundhay Park saying: ‘We are frightened that we are commercialising and selling off the park bit by bit’.

With 29 locations in the UK and 12 in the United States, Go Ape, which promises to generate about 30 jobs in Roundhay, Leeds, is the business venture of the Mayhews family. Set up in 2002, with inspiration from the couple’s holiday in France, it grew as a theme park enterprise so much, that today it can be associated with other touristic ventures we find in remote countries such as Japan, where artificial islands serve as leisure zones next to overpopulated urban centres. The benefit of the ‘Go Ape’ project is that, unlike artificial resorts, it is based on the reorganisation of natural landscapes, thus prioritising the user’s imaginative connectivity to nature. The idea is to allow visitors to activate the inner child in them, to be a carefree tourist for a few hours in a day, before becoming worrisome urbanites again. Proof that this is amongst the objectives is that, in addition to expanding ‘Go Ape’ into the US, the couple also launched in 2014 ‘Air Space’, an indoor trampoline business in two locations (Wolverhampton, West Midlands, and East Kilbride in Scotland). More explicitly orientated towards combinations of sports activities with childhood memories, trampoline gaming engages visitors in adrenaline-pumping rituals usually reserved for children.

There are issues to address here, especially with regards to the Ram Wood development of ‘Go Ape’ resorts. Yes, most of the development will upgrade empty grounds visited only by hard-core walkers. But concerns over of sound pollution or environmental modification, though the easiest to capture the public imagination (it certainly attracted my attention as a peace-seeking adult) are probably the least damaging to consider (and did Roundhay Park not commence its life as modified landscape, after all?). More important is the intrusion of business into the community’s common space, where environmental heritage with a social angle is concerned. Roundhay Park was created in an Act of Parliament, which was obtained on 21 June 1871, passing the land on to the City Council. Part of the Park’s public inauguration was to donate to localities a gift of leisure, thus designating a few square miles as common space for free walks and family or friend gatherings. The commercialisation of parts of this space redefines this history, thus taking away from locals what they thought of as part of Leeds’ autonomous autobiographical record.

There are even more pressing concerns to address. Some surviving Yorkshire Post readers’ comments suggest, for example, that there are risks involved in turning an area neighbouring ‘disreputable’ Harehills into children’s playground. Add perhaps to this the uses of ‘Go Ape’ by teenagers, young women and other ‘vulnerable groups’ to complete a picture of environmental racism. By this I refer to the designation of whole territories as leisure enclaves in need of segmentation, not only on the basis of ‘race’ or ‘class’ (an obvious connection, given the mention of Harehills resident profiles in Yorkshire Post), but also of age and gender. The securitisation of leisure zones in the developed world is now a common occurrence, where independent business casts its promising and much-needed nets. This involves surveillance run by corporate agencies and barely controlled by local authorities. We can just cast a look at the proliferation of contemporary phobias and philias (Islamophobia, paedophilia and the likes) across the world today to consider where this is going, if left unattended at this early stage. If newspaper readers point to ‘risks’ of this type at this stage, then we may not be talking about leisure innovation but about the militarisation of a once common space. And these are just the thoughts of a concerned citizen before any expert auditing.