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Liverpool across the Mersey

Stoking city pride

Liverpool across the Mersey
photo credit: Sunrise over the River Mersey, Liverpool via photopin (license)

Placesbrands talks with Liverpool-based brand agency Uniform about galvanising citizen participation, rekindling a sense of civic pride, and keeping the smart cities of the future definitively people-focused.

Congratulations on being named twice in the City Nation Place place branding awards shortlist! How did you feel upon hearing the news?

Proud. These are two very different projects. Wirral Waters is a truly transformational project. Doing it right is more important than doing it quickly (the right considered approach is more important than rushing through the process to publicise a ‘logo’). Our client at Peel has been very supportive of the approach. Everyone is determined to make this the finest placemaking project that we’ve seen to date by working with the community.

As for Liverpool, this is a big city project on a city with an upward trajectory, but maintaining momentum can sometimes be more difficult than starting from scratch. It’s been complex but fulfilling to see the execution and support.

I’d like to talk first about the Wirral Waters regeneration project. Tell me about the approach Uniform used to get citizens on board with the project. What specific challenges did you encounter? And what are your thoughts on the importance of citizen participation for place branding as a whole?

The challenge was simple: 40 years of industrial decline, high unemployment and low aspirations. People had forgotten what it was like to be asked. Stimulating conversation in that environment isn’t easy – traditional workshops simply don’t work so we had to create our own tools that sparked debate, provoked comment and built aspiration.

We designed a multi-layered approach to maximise engagement. We held face to face meetings with many local community leaders, most of whom had been involved first-hand in Birkenhead for 20+ years. Also, we ran workshops with parents and groups of children from different schools across the town.

We also used the following approaches to inspire citizens and get them involved:

1.Create your own identity.

Take inspiration from the past history of the place to draw your own logo. Use photographs where you want. Create a name.

2. Who Lives Here?

People make a place, not buildings, so who do local people think will live in this transformed location? Sitting in groups, each person had to complete a profile of the person, giving the name, age, marital status, number of children, occupation, personality, and likes/dislikes.

3. Start Building Your City

We wanted to hear what local residents thought Wirral Waters would become, so we gave them a large map of the development and a sheet of stickers. They had to map out luxury apartments and family homes, schools and restaurants, affordable homes and sports centres, cinemas, – this was a starting point – they were encouraged to add their own.

4. What’s On Guide

We asked them to name the type of events that would local, national and international visitors to the new development? Again, we provided reference inspiration and highlighted the waterfront, green spaces, large docklands as ref.

5. Wish You Were Here!

We asked them to write a postcard from a tourist from this new development. What highlights would stand out? We encouraged ambition!

6. Imagine the Headlines!

Once the new place has been launched to the public, what do you want the media to say about it? We gave them an empty template with a masthead. The aim was to get a better picture of perceptions, which would allow us first hand information and allow us to take positive action, communicating feedback back to the developer, allowing local people to influence the future of the place, which it did!

How would you say Liverpool’s image has shifted over the last decade? 

Physical change is always at the heart of a project like this. People could see the regeneration underway. As a place, Liverpool has been an undervalued resource for decades and that sense of pride had diminished as a result. But a revitalised city returned that sense of pride. Major redevelopment, like the Liverpool One shopping centre, has been key, as it gave other businessmen and women the confidence to invest in the city. Liverpool suddenly had the footfall to support a flourishing independent sector.

Credit is also due to the Mayor’s ongoing investment in landmark cultural events, like the Giants, Liverpool International Music Festival and the variety of incredible festivals on the waterfront. Liverpool has rediscovered its place on the stage. It’s a great place to visit, to work and to live.

How has Uniform’s work with Marketing Liverpool helped develop the city brand? 

Stakeholders in the city were passionate about the Liverpool brand, but it needed clarity. What were they buying into? What were the benefits to them and to the city? By creating a clear offer and a framework everyone knew exactly what was expected and where it was going, while the creative look and feel built on the proposition of ‘dynamic creativity’ positioning.

In terms of effectiveness, it’s too early to say. But Marketing Liverpool has been committed to rolling it out across all touch points, so the visibility is high which is key to success.

What’s Uniform’s core place branding philosophy?

We have seven principles when it comes to place branding. At the core is the idea that places should be crafted by the people and owned by the people. It’s about experiences, and memories. You have to take everyone with you throughout the process.

Having a strong reputation and a clear sense of identity is now a pre-requisite for any city to be successful. If a city is consistently telling the same authentic, credible and motivating story, then in time it will start to achieve some control over its image. But ultimately it’s what you do that builds a reputation. As a place are you doing enough interesting things that express who you are? We live and breathe these principles.

Finally, in the wake of this double accolade, what are Uniform’s 2016 place branding goals?

We want to work on the most interesting place brand projects; outward-looking, future-facing and ambitious. We’re constantly in conversations with city leaders and developers about how they can develop. This includes how to create the framework to allow a sense of place to happen, naturally and authentically, along with the tools needed to allow this to continue strategically.

Uniform are advocates of the mantra that people make places, so it’s important that we don’t let the smart city agenda become a campaign for efficiency, forgetting the role of people! We’re just completing a report that looks at the role that technology can have on place. Play will become an increasingly important part of creating a sense of place.

Follow Uniform on Twitter.

Kingston Jamaica

From murder capital to cultural capital

Kingston Jamaica

Jamaica has experienced problems with its reputation for many years. But hope is on the horizon…

In particular, the capital city, Kingston, has suffered from severe negative labelling, that it’s only just beginning to shake off. Kingston’s regular appearances in lists such as ‘the world’s top ten murder capitals’ has helped cement its image as a mad, bad and dangerous capital city.

Although many problems remain, Kingston is taking steps to fix matters. Obviously, cosmetic changes won’t help shift a bad reputation. That has to come by means of deep-rooted policy changes that cause the city to gradually get cleaned up. Think New York two decades ago, with Mayor Giuliani’s ‘zero-tolerance’ policing approach.

Placesbrands editor Samantha North travelled to Kingston and wrote an article for CityMetric, examining Kingston’s current situation and its efforts to implement change. For the piece, Placesbrands interviewed the mayor, Angela Brown-Burke, along with prominent local business people and nation branding experts.

photo credit: Unclosed door via photopin (license)

Field notes from Jakarta

photo credit: Unclosed door via photopin (license)
photo credit: Unclosed door via photopin (license)

Samantha North, Jakarta, Indonesia

After just a few minutes in Jakarta, one thing really stood out. The traffic.

It took over two hours for the taxi to make the relatively short trek from airport to the diplomatic district, where my hotel was located.

This unfortunate fact is well documented. According to a recent survey by Castrol, Jakarta has the world’s worst congestion. Istanbul comes a close second. I was keen to compare the two.

I went to Jakarta to attend the 2015 New Cities Summit, organised by the Paris-based think tank New Cities Foundation. Delegates included academics, tourism managers, journalists, businesspeople and social entrepreneurs of all kinds. I met an interesting man who told me the story of how he created his own city in the hill stations of India.

The event began with a speech by the governor of Jakarta, in which he talked about the city’s challenges and what the government is doing to tackle them. Then the keynote by Greg Lindsay, of the New Cities Foundation’s Mobility Initiative, talked of the ‘Urban Moment’, and was followed by a panel discussion delving into that theme in greater detail.

As a result of major demographic shifts towards city dwelling, i.e. the ‘urban moment’, many cities are focusing on investing to upgrade their infrastructure and services. Combined with the latest advances in technology, as seen in the latest crop of ‘smart cities’, it appears that the future belongs to cities.

However, as might be expected, significant shifts such as these are not without their challenges. Many cities are already struggling to cope with large influx of migrants. Jakarta is certainly one of these, with its crumbling infrastructure already straining under the weight of 28 million residents.

As a casual observer, brand-new to the city, I was surprised by the distinct lack of mass transit systems, although I noticed construction work underway to build a light rail system. There is also the Trans-Jakarta bus network, which runs around the city using dedicated lanes, similar to Istanbul’s Metrobus.

Unlike the Metrobus, the pathways of the Trans-Jakarta are less regulated. Cars often use them to sneak ahead of other traffic. This behaviour compromises the efficiency of the whole bus network and does not help the congestion problems.

To overcome traffic issues, many residents of Jakarta rely on two wheels to get around. Small motorbikes fill the streets in abundance. There are also a large number of unregulated motorbike taxis, known as ojeks, which hang out on street corners looking for passengers.

photo credit: Ojek via photopin (license)
photo credit: Ojek via photopin (license)

Every year, the city faces another severe problem: flooding. Located in a valley within a network of eight rivers, Jakarta is a prime target for floods. When the monsoons come, certain areas of the city just cannot cope and experience substantial damage and loss of livelihoods.

At the summit, I discovered Peta Jakarta, a research project that aims to mitigate the flood problems by harnessing a network of social media users to provide flood warnings and information using Twitter.

On the second day of the summit I was fortunate enough to hear a talk by Nobel Peace prize winner, Muhammad Yunus, famous for his founding of Grameen Bank and his subsequent work to support social entrepreneurship worldwide.

The summit featured a variety of social entrepreneurs and researchers who showcased their projects. Some of them, like Peta Jakarta and Go-Jek (Jakarta’s answer to Uber, but for motorbikes), have been designed to tackle Jakarta’s particular urban challenges.

Jakarta has plenty of good features too. I don’t know if I was simply lucky with the people I met on the streets, but I found them to be among the friendliest I’ve known in Southeast Asia. While exploring Jakarta’s central square, my small group of colleagues and I were approached many times by groups of giggling schoolgirls, hoping to get their picture taken among foreigners.

I’ve encountered this phenomenon before in other countries, such as China, where it tended to become somewhat overwhelming after a while. But these young girls were so genuine and enthusiastic that it was impossible not to oblige their request.

In the same square, at the historic Café Batavia, I encountered some of the most incredible desserts I’ve ever seen. It was also my first opportunity to taste the famous Kopi Luwak, otherwise known as ‘cat shit’ coffee. This stuff is made from coffee beans that remain undigested after being consumed by the civet cat.

It apparently sells for £60 a cup (or even more ridiculous prices at Harrods) in trendy areas of London. Now was the perfect chance to try it out in its natural habitat. Sadly, the experience was a complete anti-climax, tasting like a slightly more watery version of regular filter coffee. No discernible special properties at all, although Indonesians say it’s full of powerful antioxidants.

The trip ended with a quick visit to the Istiqlal Mosque, where the smiling attendant told us there was no need to cover our heads, although we did anyway. The inside of the mosque was impressive, but less ornate than the ones I’ve seen in Turkey.

Jakarta currently seems to be making a name for itself as a place with fearsome congestion levels. But it’s so much more than that and I hope it can move away from the negative. Once the city has managed to sort out its transport network, which may happen over the next couple of years, it will surely become a much more enticing destination.

Hopefully that will be the point where more people decide to come and actually discover Jakarta for themselves, without being discouraged by the difficulty of getting around.

The hot tempered city

How do the characters of individual neighbourhoods affect the image of a city?

This week, we head to the US to explore the city of Chicago and some of its lesser-known neighbourhoods.

We’re in the company of Borough & Block, a Chicago-based brand agency who are engaged in the Whistlestops project, which aims to highlight the concept of ‘neighbourhood’ and explore how its nuances tie into the overall brand of a city. Placesbrands spoke to Chris Huizenga of Borough & Block.

Placesbrands: Chris, what are some of the best local tourism attractions that you’ve discovered in ‘lesser-known’ Chicago during the course of this project?

Chris Huizenga: Some interesting attractions show up as you explore each neighbourhood. For example: Superdawg by Norwood Park, Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar and Pleasant House Bakery in Bridgeport, City Newstand in Six Corners and the retro-era antique stores of Edgewater.

But the most interesting discoveries have been each place’s ‘functional identity’ and how that translates into brand. It is interesting to think of how these understated neighbourhoods have impacted local, national and global culture and shaped the history of politics, art, and even workforce relations here and abroad.

Take Bridgeport for instance. This neighbourhood in Chicago has always been a working class neighbourhood, but its name was originally Hardscrabble, a word that is defined as ‘involving work and struggle.’ When you’re there you can feel that tension, though you may not readily understand why you feel it, but there it is – it’s ethereal and present in the relationship between the streets and the people.

Dig a little deeper and you learn about the neighbourhood’s proximity to the former Union Stock Yard and the meat processing plants of the late 19th century.

Suddenly it dawns on you that this place, at one time, supplied an arguably overwhelming percentage of the exploited workforce Upton Sinclair describes in The Jungle. This not only changed public health thanks to the muckraking nature of the novel, but it also contributed to the chain of events that sought improvements in safer working conditions and the formation of organised labour the world over. And yet, this community also produced five of Chicago’s mayors.

Take all of this into consideration and you start to get a glimpse of the cultural DNA of this place, a sense that this surreal connection between (what amounts to be) royalty and surmounting work ethic is the brand that is passed on from one generation of community stewards to the next.

Has the Whistlestops campaign altered your personal view of Chicago in any way?

I love this project because it is absolutely changing how and what we think about this community, even having lived here for over fifteen years. When you move from one neighbourhood into another, you essentially enter into an entirely new world that has a symbiotic relationship with this larger hub of Chicago. These communities are unique, but they need one another. We are becoming profoundly aware of a (somewhat) tense and uneasy cooperation between the neighbourhoods.

For the most part these communities are warmly competitive, but there exists an opportunity for these neighbourhoods to translate their commonality and to pursue true equity with and for one another. Our methodology of immersive research has enabled us to stop seeing just block-after-block of buildings and shops. Instead we now see the city as a type of stage, complete with interesting and dynamic characters playing their part in a story that has been going on for generations. People make places fascinating.

One of our goals is to help community leaders and economic development groups see these fascinating characters as well and to understand what’s true about these places and the people that make them up. Recently we had a conversation with an economic development committee that represented one of these communities.

We were stunned to hear that they had never considered the residents living nearby as stakeholders in their ecosystem; they had only done so much research as to try and make improvements in the place that would attract certain types of visitors to certain types of retail and entertainment enterprises.

We see this as a terrific oversight on the committee’s part, where their approach was really all about place-marketing, which is fine, in theory. But historically we’ve seen time and time again how that approach can push out the very people it is trying to help.

Place-marketing aims, in part, to create/promote a place that may not exist based on what a certain customer base would want. Very little of the brand is grounded in more than economic data of what might be.

This approach is highly suggestive and largely (though not entirely) responsible for great swaths of single-use sprawl that make places indistinguishable from one another. These are the same places that become popular overnight but lack staying power and are outdated the further the sprawl reaches over time.

Borough & Block prefers to look at what is and what has been before creating strategies that draw out those positive assets of each place to set the community on a course with long-term stability and wellbeing.

Our job is to find and leverage those assets that are authentic, consistent, desirable, and ultimately inheritable – we must find those things that work and supply them with more fuel to sustain their momentum. We must always operate from a mindset that considers people first if we are to create communities and brands that are truly authentic and sustainable.

How can local residents contribute meaningfully to developing the identity of a place?

There is tremendous need for residents to participate in political and community endeavours. Unfortunately, Chicago’s political history is rife with mistrust, abuse of power, special interest and shady
deals. As a result, many residents have become passively aggressive with the government (and process thereof) and arguably the absence of their voice exacerbates the trouble.

Similarly, there are too few voices, too few ‘cultural characters’ (as Jane Jacobs describes them) to steward the unified identity of the neighbourhood, and as such, special interest developers fill that vacuum.

One recommendation is for residents to make an intentional effort at becoming neighbours. A recent survey indicates that 75% of Americans do not know their next door neighbour!

If residents organise, even informally, they will (by default) build a critical mass around ideas which can establish shared goals and help provide a vision for what the neighbourhood will (and won’t) stand for.

Residents and business owners will begin to outline the kinds of experiences they want for residents, workers and visitors alike. The neighbourhood will explore what it wants to be known for, what types of destinations and experiences it will want to make available. We must see more initiative from residents
and business owners to organise and determine the true identity of the place.

How would you sum up Chicago’s present identity in a nutshell?

Chicago is a beautiful and global city. It is a city that loves its dining, its sports teams, its cultural institutions and museums, its lake and its institutions of higher learning. It is a city that is in love with its architecture, which is constantly in (re)development.

Something is always being made, torn down and remade. It seems to happen overnight, to the point that wayfaring one’s route by landmarks is almost comical at this point. It is a city that loves to work. It has to. It can’t not work. After all, the poet Carl Sandburg called it the ‘city of the big shoulders,’ and it certainly is.

Unfortunately, Chicago is also wrought with inequities and hardship. As a couple who not only practice and teach branding, design and PR/marketing, but who live here as well, Chicago is, to us, a butcher writing love sonnets.

The butcher is surgically precise and intentional at both his crafts. He feels everything and he is impulsive, his impatience gives him little time to make those deeply needed improvements he knows he needs but struggles to grasp.

He is prone to wild mood swings, his hot temper finds solace in painting, sailing and fishing. He has a PhD in both cultural studies and street-smarts. He is as likely to show you his fine paintings as he is the scars from his fights, and he can show you how to be a blacksmith or a jazz pianist – he’s quite good at both.

Despite his faculties, he struggles to like himself. He knows he has it in him to be better, and he strives to be. His work ethic never tires, even if his soul does.

And that right here may be the grace that saves Chicago: it will never stop remaking itself into something better, try and fail though it might. Our hope with this project is to help Chicago learn a thing or two about its functional identity: who it is and why that matters. The city must have an identity to steer towards.

What gave you the idea to create Borough and Block?

Erin (my wife and business partner) and I both created and worked on EPIC. This is a nonprofit organisation that taps high-level creative talent from the design, advertising and marketing industries to volunteer their talents on behalf of other social organisations who provide incredible value but who ultimately lack the resources to pay for branding and marketing.

Both Erin and I love to teach, and part of that love is in guiding people towards making change happen. We also realised that we have highly complementary skills in design consulting, teaching, branding, advertising, public relations and marketing, and we decided to combine our strengths and see what kind of trouble we could get into.

We were compelled to look at place branding as a means to help large and small communities that are suffering from economic depression, but also from a lack of identity. We began wondering if helping a
community understand its identity could be the impetus for stability, if it could help stem the exodus of young people from leaving small towns for large metro areas, especially given that the world economy is available at one’s fingertips.

Can identity help communities become who they want to become? Can place branding unite and restore communities? Can it help centralise the population and make for a more sustainable, and even playful, society?

Finally, what do you hope to achieve by the end of the 100 days?

We hope to reignite a sense of wonderment in people about the story happening right outside their doors, and for which they have a role to play.

We hope to see residents, workers and visitors with an increased curiosity about their surroundings, and to be more aware of the assets of their community and their role in adding lines to the cultural narrative.

We want them to take the road less travelled, or in this case, the rail.

Finally, we’d love to inspire more desire to develop an entire poster series for #Whistlestops for the sake of Chicago tourism for not only out-of-towners, but also to inspire localised tourism.

Cities on the rise

Cities are becoming increasingly influential players in shaping our world. But will the growth of the city help solve global problems? Or will smaller cities get left behind in the wake of mega-cities? And how can city branding play a role?

The New Cities Foundation aims to address these questions and many more, in its global summit next month in Jakarta. Placesbrands speaks to Marina Bradbury, director of communications, ahead of the event.

How exactly was the New Cities Foundation concept created?

Marina Bradbury: The New Cities Foundation was set up in 2010 in order to provide a much-needed, neutral, cross-sector platform to shape the cities of today and tomorrow. Our belief is that cities are centres for economic, social and environmental progress.

In order to tap into this potential we need to adopt a more collaborative approach to city planning and governance. At the Foundation we foster collaboration through international events, research and innovation projects.

What are your thoughts on the rise of the city-state?

MB: Urban statistics prove to us that cities are becoming increasingly important on the world stage. Today, 54 per cent of the world’s population lives in cities and this trend is only increasing. The UN predicts that by 2050 the urban populace will rise to 66 per cent. As a result, cities are fast becoming major political and economic players, attracting business and investment and developing their own strong brand identities.

People often feel more engaged in their local environment. This can be advantageous in building more collaborative modes of governance and finding new ways to address social problems. Some urbanists and forecasters argue that encouraging the growth and dominance of megacities such as Tokyo or London can help solve national challenges.

However, it could prove detrimental to lay too much focus on the importance of megacities, without also fostering the creativity and potential of smaller cities. Smaller urban metropolises like Manchester and Osaka also play a significant role in the society of today and tomorrow, providing jobs and nurturing innovation alongside their bigger counterparts.

Do you think that cities will eventually overcome nation-states and reshape the world?

MB: In a world where technology is transforming the way we live and offering many possibilities to solve social issues, cities can act as important hubs for social progress and innovation. They are increasingly the key places where problems are solved and where new ideas are tested out. In this way, cities will definitely take a leading role in reshaping the way we live, work and plan for the future.

What’s the difference between running a city and governing a country?

MB: Since a city is a smaller geographical entity than a nation, the issues it deals with are more specific and local. The governor or mayor of a city therefore has the advantage of being able to listen more closely to citizens and respond accordingly with tailored solutions. Take the City of Paris, which has recently launched two fantastic citizen participation initiatives: the world’s largest-ever city-wide participatory budget and a global call for projects that will transform 23 derelict municipal-owned sites.

These are fantastic, highly ambitious projects that engage huge numbers of people, but still have an acute “local” significance. If these projects were to be run on a national level they would be completely different. They would take a lot longer to plan and manage, and it may be more difficult to engage people in projects that don’t directly impact them.

How do you think the world could benefit from a problem-solving approach that transcends national borders?

MB: In this digital age, individuals and communities across the world are able to communicate and exchange ideas in ways not possible before. The benefits of pooling expertise and sharing great ideas cannot be underestimated when it comes to urban development.

Take the Parisian Participatory budget: unprecedented in its sheer scale, with 65 million euros allocated between 2014 and 2020. Yet it isn’t a completely new idea. Recife in Brazil had already experimented with this innovative model beforehand, providing inspiration for other cities in Brazil, and indeed the world. This is a good example of how, if an idea works in one city, others can reap the benefits.

How do local communities help revitalise struggling cities?

MB: Community participation is absolutely vital. Take the fantastic initiative called Renew Newcastle in Australia, which allowed artists, artisans and designers the possibility to set up shop in disused buildings and go on to rebuild the city’s struggling economy.

Or take the many citizen participation apps out there, that connect citizens with responsive city authorities to help report and fix city problems: Colab in Brazil, PublicStuff in the US and QLUE in Indonesia are just a few inspiring examples.

The High Line in New York is also an interesting example of a decaying municipal site that, thanks to community residents, became a dynamic public space that has revitalised the neighbourhood and gained international recognition.

Is the future all about cities?

MB: Yes! Cities may encapsulate many of today’s challenges but they are also major drivers of positive change. It’s up to all of us to tap into this potential by fostering collaboration, innovation and openness.

And finally, how can developing a city’s image help make life better for its residents?

MB: Developing a city’s image or brand identity is crucial in order to instil a sense of engagement and belonging among citizens, and also to attract new residents, investors and tourists. A dose of healthy competition between cities is therefore a good thing.

City branding can ensure that city leaders think strategically about what they want their city to be now, and in the future. It goes without saying that citizens play a crucial role in shaping their city’s brand identity.

Shoreditch in London is a great example. Artists, designers and tech innovators began flocking to the area in the early 2000s and helped make it into a hub for creativity. By 2009, the ugly Old Street roundabout had become known as “Silicon Roundabout”. The government went on to brand the area “Tech City”, helping to draw in even more talent and tech-expertise.

This transformation couldn’t have worked if both local government and inhabitants hadn’t invested in and implemented the brand when making key decisions. City governance can help foster change and shape identity, but the identity also needs to grow organically.

The New Cities Foundation has a mission ‘to shape a better urban future for all by generating and scaling ideas and solutions through events, research and urban innovation projects.’ The foundation works with leaders from business, government, academia, civil society, the media and the arts. Find out more here, or follow New Cities Foundation on Twitter.