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Categories of Place

Categories of place

Place is security, space is freedom” (Yi-Fu Tuan, 1977)1

There are many different ways that we can categorize places.  We gave already seen that place is a location with meaning.  The quote above also shows that people tend to flock to places that offer something comfortable, or security, but at times we need the uncertainty, excitement and freedom of unfamiliar spaces.  This sits nicely with the idea of insider and outsider perceptions of place.

One way we can categorise is to consider near and far or distance places;
Near places.
We can consider near places in a purely Geographic sense - the area or region near or about a place; the surrounding district or neighbourhood. However, it could also be a place near to your heart e.g. the town you grew up in but moved away from.
Far places
These could also be viewed in 2 ways - places that are far away geographically or have a distant connection to someone emotionally. Also known as distant places.  It would be very realistic for a distant place to be less than a mile away if we have no experience of it or it is culturally, economically and socially very different from where we live.

Some places can feel familiar to us because of our life experiences.  Others may feel totally alien, they are distant or far places.  It is the human spirit of adventure and search for those far places that drives a spirit of exploration in humans.  The need to go beyond what is known (the near places) and explore the far places tracks right through human history.  Some great examples of this come from the Age of Exploration (a period from the early 15th century and continuing into the early 17th century) to include the quest for the source of the Niger, or the search for the North West passage.  Others include the drive for the North and South Poles, which drove human beings to the very edge of their tolerances in some of the most extreme far or distant places possible.

Roald Amundsen South Pole
Roald Amundsen, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel and Oscar Wisting (l–r) at "Polheim", the tent erected at the South Pole on 16 December 1911.  As distant a place as you can get. Sourced at,_December_1911.jpg

Experienced places and media places

An experienced place is one in which a person has actually spent time within.  This could even be for a short period, but the person has the experience of being there.  The longer we spend in places, the stronger our sense of place.

Media places are different, these are places that a person has only read about or seen within various forms of media such as on film, in print, on social media or on the Internet.  Such is our exposure to social media today, that people can generate an experience of media places without having ever physically been there.  The use of Google maps, Street View and Earth is one way we can “visit” a place in a virtual sense.  We are however, robbed of certain senses “visiting” media places in this way – there are no sounds and smells for example, it will also feel a lot safer to see these places from our own homes.

In this sense media places are lacking Genius Loci2- the prevailing character or atmosphere of a place, literally means “the presiding god or spirit of a place”.

The media portray places in particular ways.  In travel brochures and websites, we are sold an “idealized idea” of a place.  The reality of the place when we arrive there on holiday may or may not live up to that image we have been sold.  There is even a syndrome associated with this.  Paris Syndrome3 is a temporary mental disorder exhibited by some individuals when visiting or going on vacation to Paris, as a result of extreme shock derived from their discovery that Paris is not what they had expected it to be as represented by media. These tourists can be let down by Paris, billed as the city of love.

Eiffel Tower

This is because the media push stereotypes - a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing, such as Paris is perfect and the city of love!  Other stereotypes might be all urban areas are centres of crime and violence and all rural areas are peaceful and idyllic.

We need to be careful when dealing with media portrayal of place – publicity media is trying to paint a picture and sell a product, from tourist brochures to estate agent listings to film trailers. These are Qualitative sources of evidence.

Similarly, social media offers more individual portrayal of places, so although sometimes more honest portrayals we can get a warped sense of place from someone else or they are trying to make themselves look good!
In addition, we now have lots of digital technology that locate us whilst visiting places.  The use of GPS software on mobile phones allows us to connect experiences like restraint dining or going to concerts to a specific place.

First, Second and Third Space

A final way to categorise Place is consider the work of Soja4. He categorized places into first, second and third spaces;

  • First space- the physical/material space which has limits and can be measured and described.
  • Second space- the ‘imagined’ representational space – i.e. how the space is perceived, seen and argued over.
  • Third space- the lived space, combines First and Second space to create what Soja describes as, ‘a fully lived space, a simultaneously real-and-imagined, actual-and-virtual locus of structured individuality and collective experience and agency’

Disneyland Paris

From media place to experienced place?

The castle below is a media place. A construct. An imagined thing.  It is the Sleeping Beauty Castle at Euro Disney which was inspired by the Neuschwanstein Castle in Southern Germany.5 It is a typical “media place” that draws on real life.  When at Euro Disney it is clear the castle lacks all of the authenticity of a real castle, it has a “fake feel” to it.  However, the castle is a symbol for the park and the Disney movies, and is representative of a holiday visit for millions of people.  Indeed, millions of people will form a very strong sense of attachment to Disneyland Paris and it is a “dream” to visit the park. This means that Disney moves people from media places to experienced places

Sleeping Beauty Castle

Image Credit - Laura Mullan (thanks for letting me use this!)

Disneyland Paris – Changing places
Beyond the symbolism of the castle, Disney have done an amazing job transforming the area around the site at Chessy, 32km east of the center of Paris. This was a rural area, which has been changed to include the attraction parks, hotels, transport links and towns.

The site covers 2220 hectares in Val d'Europe and has been there since 1987. At this time, a legal agreement was made between France and Disney. All of the development is found in Val d'Europe, the fastest growing sector in the "new town" of Marne-la-Vallée. The French government wanted this development as a GROWTH POLE to the east of Paris

By 1992 Disney opened the park and it has since become the largest resort destination in Europe. Eight years later in 2000 Disney opened a massive shopping centre. In the future, by 2037 Disney estimate that 15 billion Euro will have been invested, creating over 60,000 jobs. The management understand that they cannot move the park so want a great environment around. In addition, the government are supportive as they want the society and area to be developed.

Development foci;
1. Develop the resort – There are currently 2 parks which have attracted 320+million visitors. There are plans for a third park and €2 billion to expand the movie park to double its size with new additions based around Frozen, Star Wars and Marvel.
2. Increase hotel infrastructure and capacity – The area currently has 9000 rooms and will go to 25000 rooms in the future. It is the 5th largest hotel hub in France.
3. Increase conference capacity – there are 2 convention centres with 95 meeting rooms, and they want to add a third.
4. Disney village – this is the entertainment village, shops, bars etc. The MacDonald’s has the largest number of transactions in the world.
5. Develop Nature villages. These are new in September 2017 and cover 180 hectares. The idea is to develop sustainable tourism and the project started in 2000. There have been over 15 years of development and the theme is based on a Centre Parks theme with a Geothermal water park, horse riding, small farms, and a “man and nature in harmony” theme.

The model below shows the wider Val d’Europe area being developed by Disney.  The main park areas is found within the circular area to the north, with hotels, towns, retail and industrial developments around it.

Model of EuroDisney area

In terms of communication links, the park is brilliantly connected and has;

  • Road links via the A4 to Paris and eastern France.
  • TGV (fast speed trains) – it is the premier hub in France with 60 stations linked to Disney, and 88 to 100 trains per day. They also have a link to low-cost trains too.
  • RER (regional trains) train link - the RER train takes 30 minutes to the centre of Paris, running every 6 to 10 minutes. There has been lots of investment and by 2022 trains will go every 3 minutes.  
  • A link by bus from Esby in east will be developed soon.
  • Eurostar trains arrive at Disney too, and it is only 8 to 10 mins to Charles de Gaule airport

The towns, services and inhabitants
In the area surrounding Disneyland Paris there are several small towns who collectively have 30,000 inhabitants, with a goal of 60,000 by 2037. Disneyland Paris add 350 to 500 houses per year plus wooded areas (190ha), green spaces and cycle tracks. The land was owned by the French government, but Disney buy the land for the real estate they then sell it on. Disney also keep the land for strategic purposes ( e.g. the resorts). The urban areas are designed by Disney. They have people employed for the environmental impact of the project to keep it sustainable. For example, geothermal energy will go from the Nature park to the Disney hotels. Also have a data centre which recovers the heat energy to warm water for a swimming pool! There are lots of new areas under development, for economic and housing uses.

The Val d'Europe commercial centre has been developed with 190+ retail brands, 30 restaurants, and 18million+ visitors up from 6 million+ visitors in 2017. The area also has 115 high end brands offering reductions up to a third.

All of the local towns have very good public facilities too such as health, sport, education, culture paid for via local taxes. They can do so because Disney pay a lot of local tax.

Disneyland Paris and Place factors – Summary
Disneyland Paris is a great example to use on this Changing Places unit because…
1. It shows the impact of endogenous but mainly exogenous factors on places
2. It shows the categories of place – near and far, media and experienced
3. It deals with the concepts of meaning and representation
4. It demonstrates both changing demographic and cultural characteristics AND economic change for a location
5. It reveals how an external agencies, Disney, work with government and community or local groups to make attempts to influence or create specific place-meanings

NEXT TOPIC - Endogenous and Exogenous Factors

1 - Yi-fu Tuan (1977), Space and place : the perspective of experience, Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press

2- Edward Relph (2015), Spirit of Place. Accessed 27th April 2020 at

3 - Caroline Wyatt (2006), 'Paris Syndrome' strikes Japanese. BBC News. Accessed 27th April 2020 at

4 - Edward W. Soja (1996) - Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places, Wiley-Blackwell

Paris EuroDisney notes taken in February 2019 at a conference on a school trip!!!

5 - Imagineers (1998). Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look At Making the Magic Real. Disney Editions.




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