The Real Fake
Authenticity and the Production of Space
Maria Francesca Piazzoni
Thames Town—an English-like village built in Shanghai—is many places at once: a successful tourist destination, an affluent residential cluster, a city of migrant workers, and a ghost town. The Real Fake explores how the users of Thames Town transform a themed space into something more than a “fake place.” Piazzoni understands authenticity as a dynamic relationship between people, places, and meanings that enables urban transformations. She argues that authenticity underlies the social and physical production of space through both top-down and bottom-up dynamics. The systems of moral and aesthetic judgments that people associate with “the authentic” materialize in Thames Town. Authenticity excludes some users as it inhibits access and usage especially to the migrant poor. And yet, ideas of the authentic also encourage everyday spontaneous appropriations of space that break the village’s staged atmosphere. Most scholars criticize theming by arguing that it produces a “fake,” controlling city. Piazzoni complicates this view by demonstrating that although the exclusionary character of theming remains unquestionable, it is precisely the experience of “fakeness” that allows Thames Town’s users to develop a sense of place. Authenticity, the ways people construct and spatialize its meanings, intervenes holistically in the making and remaking of space.