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Classifying Landscapes

The earliest approach the geographic study of leisure and tourism landscapes was
the classification of scenic quality and land use. This approach was most popular in
the first half of the 20th century, though is still widely used today. It involves classify-
ing landscapes into different types (such as retail districts, public parks, open space,
amusement parks and wilderness) and then assessing and evaluating the condition
of each landscape type, as well as the overall situation. The major tools used in this
approach are land use maps and demographic and other social and economic data
that lend themselves to quantitative and spatial analysis. This approach to landscape
research continues to be dominant in environmental studies and in the design profes-
sions (urban planning and landscape architecture). They reflect an assumption that
tourism and leisure management involve hard facts and clear typologies, and follow
predictable economic models – which is not always the case.

Resort Morphology

Geographers have long been interested in the distribution of land use in a com-
munity and what that can tell us about the past and future development of a place.
Standard land uses include industrial, retail, residential and open space, although these
are often further divided into many additional types. Urban morphology refers to the
shape or pattern of land use in a community – which types of land uses are located
where. This approach is also quantitative in nature, but is more interpretative in appli-
cation. When applied to tourism and recreation, it has mostly been used in the study of
resort communities, and island and coastal landscapes. How retail, attractions, accom-
modations, and residential land uses have changed over time in these areas has given
rise to the concept of the Recreation Business District (also known as the Tourism
Business District) as a distinct land use type in many coastal resort communities.

Another way that social scientists study tourism landscapes is from the perspec-
tive of structuralism. Structuralism focuses on larger social norms, belief systems, and
societal practices that shape and force certain forms of behavior and decision mak-
ing (and resulting landscapes) on society. Economic, social and environmental policies
established by national governments, as well as decisions made by multinational cor-
porations, are examined as the primary actors in local landscape modification.
Structuralists have focused on the nationalization and globalization of cultural and
social norms, through mediums such as Hollywood movies and pop music videos, and
how they have contributed to a homogenization of landscapes (placelessness). They
examine how big money interests override local small money interests, commodify-
ing local uniqueness, and making destination landscapes more alike than different.
For the structuralists (of which there are several different approaches, including
Marxism), the principle struggle is between the individual and society, and between
local culture and the dominant political and economic structure.
In tourism this is often seen in stories of the struggle between authentic villagers and
multinational hotel developers, or between local mom and pop hotel and restaurant