Designing for tourists – prioritizing the beautiful over the practical

Sara Pilote is completing a 6-month internship in our newest member city, Los Cabos, Mexico. Her work will focus on greenway planning.

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I think it’s the first time of my life that I am living in a city which can describe itself in the first place as a touristy destination. Even if Cabo San Lucas with its Arch and Hollywood stars is the most popular city for Canadians and Americans, and even Mexicans looking for sun and sandy beaches, San José del Cabo, just 35 km from Cabo San Lucas and part of the same municipality of Los Cabos, is also very popular. As such, big part of the city is designed for tourists coming for one week in an all inclusive resort in the “Zona Hotelera” (hotel zone) which characterizes itself with big hotels, broad streets, perfect green areas, well planted trees and broad sidewalks – among other things that might make people from abroad see San José as a well planned and developed middle-sized city.

Tourism is the base of the local economy here, and as such, Los Cabos doubled its population between 2005 and 2010, attracting migrants from all over the country to work in big hotels and other commercial activities dedicated to foreigners.


Many times, when a big project is on the table in terms of urban planificiation, tourists are among the first ones to be served by the changes to be made in the city. It is often said that “we want them to stay at least one day more in San Jose or San Lucas” (to nurture the local economy).

It is crazy for me to discover how those people, who often don’t even say a word of Spanish (and many times don’t even try, grrrrr….!!!), who come here for one week, and sometimes, don’t even get out of their fancy beach hotel, who often don’t even get to know the market and the real Mexican way of life with its music, its locals dishes served at the corner of the streets at night etc, it’s crazy to see how these people, without even trying to, without even knowing it, are taken into account in decisions that are going to affect locals on a day to day basis.

As I was doing surveys in the streets to found out about transportation customs of the population, I tried a few times to have tourists opinions (for only a few minutes of their precious time)…but was always rejected with a “No, thanks”.  On the other side, Mexicans were always open to answer the few questions I had for them. This experience made me feel ashamed of where I come from, and realize how cold we are sometimes. But here is not the point….

The fact that tourists and thus the aesthetic aspect of the city are so well taken into account sometimes make engineers and key deciders prioritize the “beautiful” over the “practical”…In this regard, I have been disturbed by the chaos that I need to face every time I come to a roundabout…..Here, when you come to a roundabout, sometimes, if you are lucky there will be a stop sign, pleasing you to at least come slowly…and see with eyes contact or feelings who (you or the one already in the circle) has to pass by first…but most of the time, stop sign or not, everybody arrives high speed and not knowing who should go first…..So even if those roundabouts are circular, well planted and look nice in those touristy areas, they don’t seem to be working at their best capacity….so I am questioning the fact that tourists and locals get to enjoy “nice things” over practical ones and how this mix in priorities can have a bad influence on urban planification as a whole….even if San José del Cabo is a small paradise pleasing me everyday with its waves, whales, sun, cactus…and crazy sunsets among many other things that make me want this internship to last forever!


About sustainablecitiesnetwork

Sustainable Cities International is a registered not-for-profit organization based in Vancouver, Canada. Operating since 1993, the mission of Sustainable Cities is to catalyze action on urban sustainability with cities around the world. We work by connecting and mobilizing people through the process of co-creating. We facilitate a thriving, international network of cities that act as urban laboratories: adopting, testing and improving on innovations. Ideas are accelerated through sharing of experience and cities are making transformational change a reality
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One Response to Designing for tourists – prioritizing the beautiful over the practical

  1. Great article Sara! You forgot to mention that your office is 4 blocks away from the beach. 😉
    You are right. Some mexican coast cities are thinking first on tourist comfort, than citizens that at the beginning and end of things, make the city what it is to be beautiful for the outsiders. They are usually the last thing in the priority list. Acapulco is having the same problem and other central cities. I wonder if this phenomenon can be found in other cities inside the Network. I think this has to be talk outloud, and our mission is to do that for those that can not do it, or simple they don’t know that they have to count. Great work… you are on the way on getting Mexican citizenship… I can see! 😉

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