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City Branding: What Role in Placemaking? #TheGlobalGrid ...

City Branding: What Role in Placemaking? #TheGlobalGrid February Chat Recap

Our February chat discussed city branding and its role in placemaking. City branding strategies are adopted by an increasing number of cities around the world to strengthen their competitive advantage. City branding doesn’t however only address image and marketing, its effects extend to spatial planning, economic and community development. This month, #TheGlobalGrid chat was co-hosted

by Sarah Essbai February 27, 2018
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Our February chat discussed city branding and its role in placemaking. City branding strategies are adopted by an increasing number of cities around the world to strengthen their competitive advantage. City branding doesn’t however only address image and marketing, its effects extend to spatial planning, economic and community development.

This month, #TheGlobalGrid chat was co-hosted by the Institute of Place Management (IPM) at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). Louise Platt, a fellow at IPM and a senior lecturer in festival management at MMU, led the conversation. We were also joined by three experts who contributed their insights and pertinent statements:

The discussion was further enriched by the contributions of a number of great participants who shared their local experiences and views on what makes a city brand true and authentic.

As in our January chat, we had five questions. Here is a summary of the main points discussed:

  1. A successful city brand is built on the strengths and the involvement of its community:

The recognition of a set of shared values, a well-defined niche and the involvement of all key stakeholders constitute the foundation of a strong and successful brand. These elements were key for places such as Singapore, Cork (Ireland), St. Petersburg (Florida), Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Melbourne, and Estonia to develop strong brands.

These same elements are also found when analyzing cities like Paris, London and New York City, which have no formal branding strategies but enjoy a worldwide resonance. In all of these places, brands have acted as vehicles to improve people’s quality of life and create quality spaces and environments.

  1. A city brand reflects a strong, yet flexible, core conceptualization within which the city’s diversity still finds means of expression:

Even if the approach and tools of city branding are similar, each city remains unique in terms of its values and offerings. A city’s brand is not its identity, it is rather a collection of stories and visions told by the different members of its community. As such, it is able to accommodate various identities and deliver value while providing consistency and enough room for growth.

But place branding cannot stand alone. It is only when integrated as a spatial planning instrument and coupled with good governance, that city branding is able to reinforce a place’s identity (or identities) and contribute to the community’s development.  

  1. City branding is not synonymous with growth, rather it can be used to drive development:

A city’s growth should be informed by a vision and supported by spatial planning documents and tools. Within this framework, city branding acts as a link that connects various development and planning efforts.

It is however important for city branding to be supported by a good understanding of the city’s assets, business and governance systems as well as by community involvement. Collaboration and leadership are key to ensure that a city brand is strategically managed and that its potential is fully leveraged.    

  1. City branding, as a tool, should be used to facilitate community participation and not to hinder it:

When a city brand has been conceived through a collective process that has involved all stakeholders, it is more likely to be accepted as a guideline for placemaking and community-based initiatives.

Communities usually have a hard time accepting top-down projects especially if they cannot see direct benefits. A city brand that doesn’t embed its residents' values and is not able to embrace their stories will only alienate them.  

  1. A city brand should permeate all levels of government and governance:

A city brand should be adopted and supported by the political leadership as well as by the community. It should also be rooted in the city’s shared values so that it transcends successive political cycles and advises long-term growth.


It is therefore critical for a city brand to focus on its resident's interests and well-being as much as on building an attractive image for prospective visitors and businesses. Investment priorities should first be directed toward improving the quality of life of the community in addition to building flagship projects and organizing international events.

What is your city’s brand? Do you identify with the message and values it carries? How does it influence your city’s development? Share your thoughts and your city stories in the comments area below.

Check more highlights from #TheGlobalGrid February chat in our Twitter Moment. And if you’ve missed this month’s conversation, join us for our next monthly Twitter chat on Wednesday, March 21st at 12:00 p.m. PST.  Do you have ideas for topics that you would like to discuss with us in future chats? Let us know. We look forward to your participation!

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Sarah Essbai is an architect, urban planner and independent researcher based in Zaandam, in The Netherlands. As of September 2017, she is leading the communications and marketing efforts of The Global Grid.

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