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To Succeed, Cities Need to Be Themselves

2558066319_a2c7b7420d.jpgDetroit — and other struggling cities — should be themselves rather than trying to emulate urban "cool kids." (Photo: Sagittariuss via Flickr)

How should cities think about branding themselves?

Even if the whole idea of "branding" a city is distasteful to you,
keep reading. Because yesterday’s post about "The Authentic City" on
Aaron Renn’s The Urbanophile
is not about the kind of cute marketing campaigns that word might
imply. Instead, it’s full of important ideas about what it will take
for struggling cities to move forward.

For places like Detroit and Indianapolis, Renn argues, it’s not
about trying to be like "the cool kids" — the "world-class" cities like
New York, or the exceptional cases like Portland, Oregon. It’s about
building on a city’s history and its essential nature:

Unfortunately, most cities are still stuck in high school. They
think it is about having the accoutrements of the cool places, not
realizing that they are just like Charlie Brown trying to kick that
football. What’s worse, they actually seem determined in many cases to
downplay or leave behind many of their strongest brand assets in any
attempt to be like the cool kids. (For more on this, see my piece, “The Brand Promise of Indianapolis” ).…

To renew our cities, we have to build on what they are, not what
they aren’t. The lesson of Portland is not the physical things Portland
did. The lesson of Portland is that they went their own way and did
what was right for them. Other cities need to find their own paths.
That doesn’t mean you can’t do something or aspire to be something
you’ve never been. That’s how we grow as people and as cities. But
suddenly deciding to just chuck your whole heritage, history,
character, etc. and go in a radically different direction is probably
not going to work. One reason, for example, the 1970’s era amateur
sports strategy for Indianapolis worked is that sports was something
that was already compatible with the local culture. It was a reworking
of something that was already there, positioned for the future — and it
fit the city.

It’s well worth reading Renn’s piece in full.

More from around the network: Reimagine an Urban Paradise wonders why so many trucks park on the sidewalk in Pittsburgh. Transit Miami writes about how McDonald’s — and its staggering dependence on drive-throughs — influences in our energy policy. And The Overhead Wire has a post on the ongoing tension between housing density and NIMBYism.

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