Placemaking and city branding are two important concepts that go hand-in-hand when it comes to creating vibrant and livable urban environments.
Placemaking is the process of creating public spaces that are not just functional, but also engaging, attractive, and reflective of the community's unique identity. City branding, on the other hand, is the practice of promoting a city's unique characteristics, values, and offerings to attract investment, tourism, and talent. Yet, both need each other.
In this blog post, we will explore how placemaking influences city branding. We will delve into the ways in which placemaking plays a critical role in shaping a city’s identity, reputation, and competitiveness in the global marketplace, and why it is essential for cities to integrate placemaking into their branding and marketing strategies.
Intangible values and interests
Branding a city is very different from branding a product. So we cannot simply copy and paste branding techniques that work for products and services. Branding a city requires us to focus more on soft selling factors and on involving different social and economic groups. Since it is their intangible values and interests that defines the city’s identity.
As a place marketing professional it is important to recognize that if the story of a city is not aligned with the values and interest of the different social and economic groups, those groups will become disconnected. When you filter out memory or attachment – as such can be the case with aggressive marketing of flagship urban regeneration launching a new urban vision – its local residents may loose their sense of place and become alienated from their surroundings.
Your audience includes the local community
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researched the successes of placemaking & provides a definition in her report “Places in the Making: How placemaking builds places and communities”.
The practice of Placemaking concerns the deliberate shaping of an environment to facilitate social interaction and improve a community’s quality of life.The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Often emphasis is put on the physical aspects of successful public spaces, forgetting the importance of the proces of placemaking. The most successful initiatives – however – transcend the “place” to forefront the “making”. The value of placemaking is using the social capital and enlarging civic commitment and social resilience.
But placemaking is not just a design or planning approach; it is a holistic and inclusive process that involves multiple stakeholders, including local communities, businesses, artists, and civic leaders. Therefore, integrating placemaking into a city’s branding and marketing strategies can bring numerous benefits and advantages.
Fred Dixon, President and CEO at NYC & Company, the official destination marketing organization for the five boroughs of New York City confirmed the importance of placemaking and authenticity in their branding efforts. He emphasized you should never forget your audience includes the local community.
When we want our cities to continue to tell the story that includes local residents who in turn will strengthen that story, the practice of placemaking and preserving local memory are a key elements we need to consider.
Benefits for city branding and marketing strategies
Placemaking is essential for cities to integrate placemaking into their branding and marketing strategies. It is a powerful tool for shaping a city’s identity and reputation, and for enhancing its competitiveness in the global marketplace. By creating attractive, vibrant, and people-centered public spaces, cities can showcase their unique character, history, and culture, and foster a sense of pride and belonging among residents and visitors alike.
The following benefits and advantages have been attributed to placemaking in relation to city branding:
- Firstly, by promoting and celebrating the city’s public spaces, cultural assets, and unique character, placemaking can help to distinguish a city from its competitors, and create a strong and memorable brand identity. This can attract more visitors, investors, and talent, and generate positive word-of-mouth and media coverage.
- Secondly, by involving local residents and stakeholders in the placemaking process, cities can foster a sense of ownership, pride, and attachment among communities, and strengthen social cohesion and civic engagement. This can enhance the city’s reputation as a welcoming and inclusive place, and encourage people to live, work, and invest in the city.
- Thirdly, by using placemaking to address pressing urban challenges, such as sustainability, mobility, and safety, cities can demonstrate their commitment to the well-being of their citizens and the planet, and position themselves as responsible and visionary leaders in the global arena.
Successful examples of narratives of the city
Integrating placemaking into a city’s branding and marketing strategies can help to build a strong and authentic city brand, foster community engagement and social cohesion, and demonstrate the city’s commitment to sustainability and innovation. By doing so, cities can enhance their competitiveness, attractiveness, and livability, and create lasting value for their residents, visitors, and stakeholders. We have rounded up some well-known and lesser known examples.
Example 1: The High Line.
One very successful example is the story of the High Line. An initially grassroots led initiative resulted in a broadly accepted urban regeneration project that tells the narrative of the city, its history and its citizens. Today that project is visited by 4 million visitors annually. It has become a favorite tourist spot and attracted new capital investments and development.
Example 2: Humans of New York
The city narrative is also being told – and increasingly so – by many others than those organizations officially designated with city branding. A great example of authentic storytelling – again from NYC – is Brandon Stanton’s “Humans of New York”. This extensive blog tells the local story featuring interviews with thousands of people on the streets of New York City.
Humans of New York
I always wanted to be a mental health therapist. Ever since high school, I’ve enjoyed encouraging people and giving them hope. But I lost my way. I got caught in a world of addiction. I lost ten years of my life to drugs. I never completely lost my dream. But I just put it on a shelf for thirty years. Then five years ago I took it off the shelf.
Emerging examples of narratives
Emerging placemaking – new ideas need old buildings
Placemaking is not always a pre-planned or guided process, but can emerge from trends and events happening within a city. In some cases, the creative industry has found treasure in old brick and beam buildings in historic quarters of old cities.
Due to the availability of cheaper and flexible industrial premises and consumption spaces (art and entertainment, cafes, clubs, street markets etc.)—the value of creative production in new sectors such as the digital economy, has extended the city brand landscape.Graeme Evans in Rethinking Place Branding and Place Making Through Creative and Cultural Quarters
These production zones, where companies generating new social and creative media are located, attract a young and mobile market. Largely due to the buzz and scene associated with “cool cities” and the vibrant club and cosmopolitan culture that comes with it. The visual imagery of these areas, including graffiti/street art, original billboard adverts, digital displays, and artworks on and around buildings, can be used for visual branding and destination marketing.
Design festivals and architecture biennales are bringing new visitors to these creative quarters, providing rich material for destination marketing. City marketers can benefit from supporting and jointly marketing these areas, as they can contribute to shaping the city’s identity, reputation, and competitiveness in the global marketplace.
Example 3: The Distillery District
Another great example is the Gooderham and Worts Distillery, finally closed in 1990 and a national historic site. It has now been redeveloped as a pedestrian-only village entirely dedicated to arts, culture, and entertainment.
Just a recap
Branding a city requires us to focus more on soft selling factors and on involving different social and economic groups, since it is their intangible values and interests that defines the city’s identity. If the story of a city is not aligned with the values and interest of the different social and economic groups, those groups will become disconnected.
When we want our cities to continue to tell the story that includes local residents who in turn will strengthen that story, the practice of placemaking and preserving local memory are a key elements we need to consider. Succesful examples of deliberate (grassroots) placemaking initiatives already lead the way. But just as important are those emergent events and trends that are happening in cities, that have now led to the rise of the creative or innovation quarters.
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