Category Archives: Defining and Interpreting Geodesign

Creative Resilience: The Next Sustainability for Tourism?

by Alan A. Lew – this is a brief summary of a paper that I am working on – originally posted on my TG Tourism Place blog.
‘Sustainable development’ has really only been around as a popular conceptual framework since the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) issued its report to the United Nations in 1987 (Hall & Lew, 2009).  Also known as the Brundtland Report, its goal was to define a global agenda to deal with the deterioration of natural and social environments.
Today, 24 years later, sustainable development and sustainable tourism are widely accepted as appropriate philosophies upon which to base policy decisions and behavioral practice. Their wide acceptance is due, in part, to the flexibility used to interpret their meaning.  Unfortunately, that flexibility may have made both sustainable development and sustainable tourism meaningless.
Evidence for the failure of sustainable development is seen in many of the major news headlines of the past couple of years, including:
  1. Increasingly extreme climate events related to increasing atmospheric green house gasses (GHG).
  2. Increasing global population (reaching seven billion in 2011) putting more pressure on natural resources.
  3. Increasing extreme geologic events (earthquakes and tsunamis), in part due to growing populations in dangerous locations.
  4. Economic recession and financial crises, especially in the US, the Eurozone and Japan.
All of these changes, among others, are taking place despite widespread commitments to sustainable development across the globe.  It appears that sustainable development in general, and sustainable tourism as one of its forms, has failed to meet the demands of contemporary society, and are even being overwhelmed by them.
Resilience theory offers an alternative to the sustainable development paradigm. Community resilience is the ability of a place to maintain a normal level of service in the face of periodic or unpredictable external shocks or system failures.  One way to think of the difference is that sustainable development tries to prevent the shock event from occurring (by behaving more responsible toward the environment and society), whereas resilience planning focuses more on the response and recovering after the shock event.
From a human settlement of community perspective, three general approaches to resilience planning have been suggested (Davoudi 2012): Engineering, Ecological and Transformational.  Engineering resilience is the ability to return to a normal equilibrium after a disturbance and emphasizes the efficiency and predictability of bouncing back.
Ecological resilience is the ability to learn from an adverse event so as to be better prepared for future shocks, which may involve an alternative form of normalcy. Such learning includes institutional capacity building and understanding individual social capital opportunities and needs.  For example, the SARS epidemic decimated tourist arrivals in many Asian countries in 2003 because they were caught unprepared to address this type of catastrophe. Similar disease issues have arisen since that time, but policies and practices adopted since 2003 have successfully kept them mostly under control, protecting the tourism industry.  These practices include isolating travelers who are severely ill and regularly disinfecting elevators and other strategic locations in public places.
Engineering and ecological resilience represent the traditional goals of community resilience planning and both assume that there is a normal level of social equilibrium that can be achieved.  Most the new interest in climate change resilience has tends to focus on these traditional approaches. However, as community resilience planning has become more widely examined by social scientists and community planners, a third form of resilience has emerged.  It is define as the capacity of a community to invoke whole systems changes, reflecting different timelines and geographical scales, that evolve and create new adaptive models of response to changes in their natural and social environment (Planning Theory & Practice). I call this Creative resilience because resilient societies are those that are able to continuously re-create themselves to successfully adapt to an ever changing world.
Three basic tenets of Creative resilience are:
  1. Disturbances range from large, sudden shocks to gradual and consistent shifts, from the unpredictable to the expected, and from the undesired to those that are welcome.
  2. Communities and people build resilience by continuously responding to disturbances in creative and adaptive ways.
  3. Creative capacity building is occurs through effective leadership, individual social capital, and institutional social learning.
To me, a resilience approach makes a lot more sense in today’s world, with today’s challenges, than does a sustainability approach.  While much of sustainability also supports resiliency, resilience planning is more directly related to the immediate challenges of a community in a real and practical manner.  Creative resilience also offers a wider range of possible responses and visionary futures than does sustainability, which is more narrowly focused on conservation approaches.
For tourism, does this mean that we will replace green certifications (such as Green Globe) with resilient certifications, or at least incorporate resilience into the certification criteria?  I think that we may actually see this some day, though not in the near term as resilience is still an emerging approach.
For tourism destinations, however, the question arises as to what is the more important and effective policy for local and regional funding and political support: sustainability or resilience? Instead of sustainable tourism, should we be promoting resilient tourism? And what would resilient tourism look like?
My own fieldwork in Asia indicates that the answer to this last question is very much dependent on the context and needs of the tourism entities involved.  Figure 1 shows how four generalized types of tourism settings based on the degree of disturbance (from gradual shift to sudden shock) and the scale of tourism (from private entrepreneurs to shared public interests) that are involved.
Figure 1
2x2 chart
The Change Rate axis recognizes that people perceive and manage slow, but still significant, changes in the environment, culture and society than they do with sudden shocks to these systems.  In addition, the model recognizes that rates of change can be highly variable over time and at different social and geographic scales, which can require different modes of response.
Given the complexity of contemporary social challenges, a fully comprehensive approach to resilience planning is best approached from a creative resilience because it is the only approach that acknowledges and accepts the range of changes that a community faces. From the perspective of the tourism industry, this means:
  • 1-      All tourism destinations face a range of change pressures, including environmental (changing natural resources), social (changing cultural resources) and economic (changing economic conditions).
  • 2-      Some pressures for change are apparent and predictable, while others are opaque and unpredictable.
  • 3-      Pressures for change occur at a variety of time lines (speeds) — some are slow and gradual, while others require urgent responses.
  • 4-      Traditional sustainable tourism planning mostly addresses slow change issues. Engineering resilience planning mostly addresses major disruptions.
  • 5-      Pressures for change occur at a variety of geographic scales — some only impact an individual entrepreneur, while others impact an entire community or cultural group.
  • 6-      Lower geographic scale issues need to be incorporated into resilience planning that occurs at higher geographic scales.
  • 7-      Common change issues in tourism destinations include the modification, deterioration or complete loss of: (1) tourism facilities and services; (2) environmental and cultural tourism resources; (3) tourist markets; and (4) skilled employees
  • 8-      A slow change pressures may be transformed into a sudden shock event if it passes a tolerance threshold (or breaking point).
  • 9-      Comprehensive resilience planning should incorporate the full range of change pressures that a community faces, and encourage creative and flexible response.
  • 10-   The tourism industry needs to be included in community resilience planning.
Reference Cited
Davoudi, S. (2012) Resilience: A Bridging Concept of a Dead End? Planning Theory & Practice, Vol. 13, No. 2, 299–333, June 2012 –
Hall, C.M. and Lew, A.A. (2009). Understanding and Managing Tourism Impacts: An Integrated Approach. London: Routledge.

Crossing Chasms: Geodesign and the Role of Distance in Tourism

– By Alan Lew

Over the years, tourism scholars have come up with a many ways to segment tourist markets so that different products can be more precisely targeted to potential travelers. Probably the most famous of these is Stanley Plog’s division of the both travelers and destinations into “psychocentrics” (associated with security, familiarity and mass products) “allocentrics” (associated with risk taking, extocism and niche products).  Although many different terms have been applied to this safety-risk dualism, with the goal of showing nuances, the fundamentals of the dichotomy have remained consistent.

Like others, I am not going to venture far from the basic model, but I do hope to offer some insights by introducing a geodesign perspective that has not, to my knowledge, been suggested before.  That perspective is the concept of “distance”. There are essentially three forms of distance: Geographical, Social and Psychological. Each of these can tell us something about the different ways people travel.

Geographical distance is based on absolute measurements on the planet earth, measured in miles or kilometers. For tourists, it becomes quickly complicated by complicated roads and pathways between where we are and where we want to go.  GPS receivers and online maps help us to navigate in a mostly more efficient and timely way, assuming they are based on current and correct geographic information. 

However, for tourists, a more desirable route may be one that encompasses certain kinds of scenery or attractions, which can be highly subjective to the individual tourist. What is happening here is the transformation of geographical distance into social and psychological distance.

Social distance is how the majority of people in a society define the distance between one place and another. This can be totally different from geographic distance. Political borders, for example, are a more formal social structure that has a huge impact on travel distance – both actual and perceived. One reason, among many, is that political borders increase the time it takes to get to a place, which is often be a more important distance factor than actual geographic measurements. 

Another example is the distance between different socio-economic groups in a society. We talk, for example, about the huge distance between the privileged lives of those in houses on the hill (the upper class) and homeless street life on skid row. We talk about not wanting to go to certain neighborhoods for safety and cultural.  These perceptions, while grounded in society, also have major psychological components.

Psychological distance is how our brains perceive distance. We can only see clearly over a fairly short distance (even with glasses on). In addition, our brains can only comprehend and process a somewhat limited amount of information. Where we focus our eyes is what we cognize and remember the best.  While we see the background and larger context of objects, elements in that broader scan are not stored in detail in our memory.

For tourists, this means that we can only comprehend a selected part of the destinations we visit. To fully appreciate requires time, repeated visits, curiosity, an openness to the unexpected, and patience. Most mass tourists are not able to devote themselves to a place in these ways, and so the tourism industry does its best to help direct a short term focus on immediate objects in front of the tourist – not in the distance.

Together, geographic distance, social distance and psychological distance are key elements that reflect the integrated nature of geodesign. And together, the challenges of overcoming geographical distance, social distance and psychological distance  contribute to making a lot of travel a short-sighted experience, even when we travel far (for the psychocentrics among us).  On the other hand, some travel can traverse great chasms and lead to unknown worlds, even if the actually journal is very close (form allocentrics).  It all depends on distance to which the tourist is willing to go….

(this is a revised version of an original blog post at

Boundary GeoDesign Issues in the South China/West Philippine/East Sea

The South China Sea? The West Philippine Sea? The East Sea?  All of these are names that are given to the same body of water. Vietnam refers to it as the East Sea and the Philippines recently started to officially refer to it as the West Philippine Sea. Most of the rest of the world continues to call it the South China Sea.

Given the long simmering, and recently exploding, territorial claims to the small islands that sprinkle this territory, I would guess that we may see more new names emerge.  Perhaps the North Malaysian Sea, or just the North Sea, from the perspectives of Malaysia and Brunei, who also have territorial claims there? Taiwan and Indonesia also have interests in these waters.

Although it has barely been mentioned in the U.S. press, for those who follow international news in general, and Asia news in particular (as I do), the recent disputes over this body of water is alarming.  It started in May when a Chinese ship cut an underwater exploration cable connected to a Vietnamese oil survey ship in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone waters.  The Chinese claim that the survey was in its territorial waters and as such were illegal.

This resulted in anti-Chinese protests in Vietnam, followed by retaliatory attacks on Vietnamese‘s internet government websites by Chinese hackers.  Last week, Vietnam initiated live-fire naval exercises and also chased Chinese fishing boats in the disputed area.

Earlier this month, the Philippine government complained that Chinese ships were posting marker signs on a coral reef just off the island of Palawan, within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines (but also claimed by China).  This has resulted in public (not from the government) calls to boycott products made in China (most of which are actually smuggled into the Philippines to avoid import taxes).

Vietnam has suggested that the U.S. should help to settle these disputes, and the US government has expressed concern over China’s naval activities in the region.  China has rejected any outside intervention, although the issue is  likely to be a major topic of discussion at upcoming ASEAN meetings.

A good map of how China’s claims overlap those of the Southeast Asian countries can be found on the BBC website here:

I see this as a major geodesign issue. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCOLS) was an international effort to resolve spatial territorial claims over sea and ocean waters by establishing guidelines on where to draw territorial boundaries.  It was an effort at designing the earth in a way that would make it more clear and predictable for countries and their citizens.  It was signed in 1982 and became effective in 1994, though only 60 countries have ratified it.

Approaching the current South China Sea dispute as a geodesign teaching moment case study demonstrates the role of international treaties and law, nationalism, and international relations, especially in terms of political power, military power and economic power. Although seldom recognized, these are clearly integral elements of applying geodesign at a regional and global scale.

All territorial boundary lines were created, or are being created, through tensions between one side of the boundary and the other. While these tensions are seldom as dramatic as those of the South China/West Philippine/East Sea, they still exist and need to be recognized in designing a livable and thriving planet.

Alan A. Lew
My other blog: Tourism Place

Defining GeoDesign

I feel as though I have a good understanding of what Geodesign is.  However, like with most things, my definition is often different than others.  I searched for a few definitions and came across these from Philip Murphy….

1) GeoDesign is anything that has artistic visualizations of the landscape or features on the landscape

2) GeoDesign is designing actions that change a landscape (this seems to be Jack D’s favorite)

3) GeoDesign is using maps to tell stories

4) GeoDesign is any time you do landscape planning where you iteratively develop by a) sketching (prototyping, visualizing) a design on a map, and b)having an analysis capability that can calculate (in real time) consequences of that that sketched design, and c) elicit feedback (in real time) to improve the design.

Interesting how they cross over.  Our new undergraduate curriculum at NAU focuses on geographic sciences and community planning.  What do you think?  Sounds like geodesign to me……

– Mark Manone