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Does urban authenticity matter?

After yesterday’s post on Belval in Luxembourg, I started thinking more about authenticity. I ended the post by talking about some of the industrial elements – blast furnaces and so on – that will be preserved in the neighborhood and argued that those types of things are great for creating a sense of place. But I also said that it’s always better when those things are authentic.

But what does it mean to be authentic? What if some savvy developer created new blast furnaces and inserted them into their new neighborhood in order to simulate the feel of an old industrial steelworks? Would that change how you felt about the space and area?

Another example is Intrawest’s ski resorts. Intrawest is quite famous for creating attractive ski villages that give you the impression of being in some old European mountain village. They include a mix of uses and many people visit them even if they don’t intend to ski. But does it matter that it’s not really an old European ski town or that many of them look the same?

Clearly, in both of these examples, one is more “authentic” than the other. But all that really changes is the story. In one case, you get to tell yourself, and others, about an old steel mill that used to be where you now have your Scandinavian desk and Retina display MacBook. And in the other case, all you get is a simulacra or imitation of some blast furnace thing.

While this may seem immaterial to some, I don’t think it is. I’m not saying that customers always demand 100% authenticity. We don’t. But let’s not forget how much we all love a great story.

Image: Belval (Fräntz Miccoli)

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