Saturday, May 8, 2010

AutoWorld and Penguin Parks: Tourism at Home and Abroad

I was reminded of Flint's brief but expensive flirtation with tourism in the eighties when I read Hiroko Tabuchi's story in today's New York Times about Kyoto's attempts to attract vacationers:
A dolphin pool, a penguin park and a giant wave pool could soon join the imperial-era townhouses and ancient Buddhist temples in Kyoto, Japan’s former imperial capital.

As early as June, work will begin on a mammoth aquarium complex in central Kyoto, in leafy Umekoji Park at the center of the city. A brainchild of the Orix Real Estate Corporation, the project could breathe new life into Kyoto’s tourism industry by attracting more than two million visitors a year, developers say.

But to opponents, the proposed aquarium, set to open in 2012, is a misguided enterprise that threatens to destroy Kyoto’s historic ambience. Adding to the disgrace, they say, is Orix’s plan to showcase dolphins in a 19,000-square-foot pool at a time when the nation is under fire for hunting thousands of dolphins and porpoises each year.

In the postwar period, Kyoto has shown little concern for preserving the traditional neighborhoods that would most appeal to foreign tourists, he said. The pace of destruction gathered speed in the 1990s; more than 40,000 old wooden homes disappeared from central Kyoto that decade, according to the International Society to Save Kyoto.

Though ancient temples and gardens remain in the city, they are overwhelmed by the sprawling mass of gray buildings and neon signs that dominate the skyscape — the product of ineffective zoning policies in the city, Mr. Kerr said.

If you've forgotten the misbegotten experiment called AutoWorld, here's a video reminder:


  1. wow... that's all I can say... just wow.

  2. I don't think there was any rational person in the Flint Area who thought that Autoworld was going to be a big success. Besides, the number of jobs created was miniscule compared with automobile manufacturing, even back then.

    Perhaps it would have worked if it had other types of transportation, or if it had been along the I-80 corridor for tourist convenience.

    Most of the people I knew just shook their heads when this was announced.

  3. I did exit interviews for the Flint Journal at Autoworld on opening day and it was devastating ... one person after another emerged and told us that the experience was either lousy, disappointing or so-so.

    One little fat kid said, "No rides, no fun. Write that down, mister."

  4. Yeah, we all know the news slants the way they want it. I learned that in high school when my choir was interviewed when coming home from London after the Hyde Park bombings. I had said in my interview that we were calm and it wasn't a big deal. My friend said, we were scared and panicky... and only she got on the air. :)

    So am glad you wrote about that, Anonymous. Because I was thinking that same thing... how many people did they have to interview to get all those positive reviews. :)

  5. The scale of its dumbness was so vast, so breathtakingly condescending, that to tour Autoworld was to come out depressed and wounded. To me it was hurtful that the designers actually imagined that someone would want to see a 2-D engine block 20 feet tall, with a piston that went up and down. The implication was that the designers thought people were so stupid they would somehow be entertained by this. Not to mention the brilliant mind who conceived of the mascot, a "carriageless horse." Apparently they sought to prove Barnum wrong, and succeeded.

  6. There were many mistakes, and, yeah, there always are mistakes when trying something new. But I think the killer was featuring "Six Flags" before the AutoWorld. Six Flags led to the realistic expectation among my friends that there would be rides. Fun rides. Roller coaster rides. When it became obvious that there was no such thing at AutoWorld, that was that. What's the expression? People stayed away in droves.

  7. I was sure it would fail and kept the full special edition of the journal announcing the grand opening,thinking it might be worth something later.Well it's later and I doubt if it has any value to anyone.

  8. Successes have many parents, failures are orphans.

    Would that it had been either a museum and car collection venue, or a regional exhibition center.

  9. Easy to say now, but I've long thought that a sliver of the money could have created a Sloan Museum on steroids that would have succeeded on a smaller scale. All that money could have purchased an amazing classic car collection that could have tied into a Back to the Bricks type event every year. But at the time everyone was looking for something huge that would replace G.M.


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