Sunday, 14 September 2014

Quote of the day - on city marketing

From Aaron Renn (who's always good value):

This is easiest to see in marketing videos put out by various chambers of commerce and convention and visitors bureaus. If you happen to watch one that isn’t of your own city, you will immediately be struck by how generic it is and how it tries to sell you on a list of purported amenities and attributes we’ll label “conventional cool.” A list that includes things such as coffee shops, bike lanes, trendy fashion boutiques, startups, microbreweries, skateboarders, silk-screen-print posters, hip restaurants, tattoos, public art and so on.

Add faux heritage, urban growing and farmers markets to get the set! Aaron's point is that cities need to be distinctive, different to succeed. The city has to offer something that the visitor - or aspiring resident - can't get somewhere else.  This doesn't have to be 'conventional cool' as Aaron puts it - he cites Nashville, home of country music, as somewhere that has got it right. In the UK there are places with that same distinctiveness  - I think of Hebden Bridge and Todmorden in Calderdale, of Brighton and of North Norfolk. But our cities - other than London - are way off the pace.

What we get, again and again, is the same generic solutions - an 'independent' or 'cultural' quarter, a budget for 'edgy' street performance and a slew of street art. Add to this a nice city centre mall, a series of chain restaurants and a more-or-less featureless town square to get the standard issue English city - it could be Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds or Birmingham. This isn't to disparage the efforts of regenerators, merely to observe that the marketing of cities has got itself stuck - we're still thinking about 'Grade A Offices' and high end retail when the nature of work and shopping is changing rapidly, pulling away from the world of the CBD and shopping mall.

The pitch we make to sell the city appears more as 'we're just like all the other really good places' rather than 'this is the home of...' something. If your city is the best place to shop, sell it as the best place to shop and don't pretend that you offer culture when you don't. And if you've been curry capital of Britain for years on end, doesn't that tell you something about your uniqueness? If you've a great pop music heritage, go for it - not just the kitsch remembering but getting the cool kids who want to make music to come there. And if your city's strongest brand is a football team, make that the point of difference.

As Aaron Renn concludes:

Rather than rejecting their actual selves, cities need to embrace -- but update -- who they are. Adopt best practices to be sure, but also be true to the native soil. A great city, like a great wine, has to express its terroir.


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