Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Baltimore Convention Center: Open Tourism/Open City?

A great paradox that I think commonly reveals itself in today’s American cities is the re-use and acquisition of its downtown space, the Baltimore Inner Harbor being a great example.   Is the industrial center, what once used to be our cities’ prime resource for a fruitful economy, now just left to be a wasteland for our tourists and passive weekend suburbanites? How exactly “open” are such centers in the Inner Harbor towards their audience?  Which systems address the actual inhabitants of the city, and which systems only attract counterparts from the outside?  The center I have in mind is Baltimore’s Convention Center, also conveniently located in the Inner Harbor.  I argue that the Convention Center could perhaps be best example with the best intentions as the open city; however, I can also claim that Baltimore’s Convention Center also deters local residents away.  As Henri Lefebvre retrospectively states, “The city historically constructed is no longer lived and is no longer understood practically.  It is only an object of cultural consumption for tourists, for aestheticism, avid for spectacles and the picturesque” (Lefebvre 148). 

The Convention Center, which mostly is associated with tourism is, arguably, a great city resource for attracting new visitors, gaining new vacationer revenue, as well the hopeful potential for improving the city’s reputation.  I argue that Baltimore’s Convention Center does a considerate job in “opening” the city to the potential alien groups meeting each other, especially ones that are not indigenous to the area.  For example, a Baltimore Comic-Con Convention brings together people with similar interests in comic books and its characters, where nostalgic fans gather from all parts of the country.  The particular time and place specificity of the convention center bring common-interest groups together in a city that otherwise wouldn’t have met.  These people also get the opportunity to engage in a city that they are most likely not familiar with, as well as interact with other city-dwellers at that particular time and place.

Baltimore’s patterning of visitors also greatly depends on the particular waves of scheduled interests that can occur simultaneously.  An example would be from the very picture I included, taken of Baltimore Convention Center captured with the back headshot of a young boy, obviously an Orioles fan who is heading to the harbor after a Baltimore/Red Sox game.  Point being said, interactions have the opportunity to occur in the embedded scheduling of events as good examples of the open city.  The wandering convention goer has the window of opportunity to meet with the strolling Orioles fan.   

On the flip side, Baltimore’s Convention Center can close off what is arguably “the city,” to an exclusionary Disneyland zone that only separates what is open to only tourists from the locals that reside there.  The events at the Baltimore Convention Center only facilitates pre-paid and forecasted guests that plan to meet and use its space, however, there is no opportunity for any similar interaction in this closed group with the outside of it’s walls.   What comes to question is: How many of these convention center tourists only see the interiors of their hotels and their meeting rooms? Or, how many actually go beyond the invisible walls of the Inner Harbor’s tourist zones?  Is local-tourist interaction only dependant on the ambitiousness of its visitors? Baltimore’s harbor is very exclusive to who can stroll on its sidewalks, where Baltimore’s Inner Harbor police station their officers to ward off the “wandering bum” or the “hobo.”  Is the Inner Harbor, with the Baltimore’s Convention Center included, completely separate from the “true Baltimore city?”  The alien/native interaction may be questionable when it comes to analyzing where the convention goer goes after his events, but perhaps that really depends on the decisions of the attendee.  I believe that the potential still exists.  I contend that although Baltimore’s Convention Center may be at the heart of Baltimore’s deceiving center, the overall potential for its visitors make Baltimore’s Convention Center an inclusionary, open city example.

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