Theme Park as a Link between Urban and Rural Territories

Dominic Lapointe[1]

Departement d’etudes urbaines et touristiques, Universite du Quebec a Montreal, Montreal, Canada


The theme park is a major component in the leisure and tourism systems of many tourist regions in the world, especially since the Disney revolution in the industry. The close relationship between theme parks and the urban phenomenon has been stated by many authors (Sorkin, 1992; Didier, 2002; Baron-Yelle and Anton Clave, 2014). According to these authors, theme parks are a spatial manifestation of dominant discourses about cities and their planning: mobility, individuality, consumerism and security. However, this focus on theme parks as an urban phenomenon neglects to address the many operations located on the fringe of urban agglomeration and in the rural zone. Looking at a theme park as a link between urban and rural environments for regional sustainable development raises questions.

Theme parks, because of their need for large spaces, tend to be located on the fringe of urban and rural space with highway connectivity. This major infrastructure can generate spectacular attendances, such as at Disney World, which hosted 19 million visitors in 2014 (Themed Entertainment Association, 2014). However, the integration of these infrastructures throughout a region is often ambiguous (Didier, 2002; Anton Clave, 2010). Indeed, theme parks are insular in their conception, imaginary worlds separated from their surroundings, but also dependant on local infrastructure, mostly roads, to thrive (Didier, 2002). This separation is needed to delineate the theme park’s imaginary world experience from the day-to-day activities within the local space. Three main dialectics can be identified in the academic literature: urban planning versus rural space; separation versus dependence on the surrounding landscape; and the imaginary versus local territorial narrative (Didier, 2002; Anton Clave, 2010; Pinggong, 2013). These dialectics can be explored through theme parks to understand the linkages between urban and rural spaces and their integration to regional dynamics of development.

This chapter will present a case study of a theme park in Quebec, Canada, and its regional integration. It will analyse the place the park takes in the evolution of local planning, the flows of visitors, the narrative that the park puts forward, and the narrative that the local rural environment puts forward in its promotions and experiences. Then, this chapter will use the three dialectics to discuss the role of theme parks as a link between urban and rural tourism and the perspectives they offer for sustainable development. However, first let us take a closer look at these three dialectics.

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