City Branding

19.03.2012, 16:04
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What makes up a city brand? Can there be one holistic campaign for the city, or is it a myth? How can different neighbourhoods reinvent themselves in order to adapt to the constantly changing environment? Students of the Urban Culture theme Marina Laba and Maria Semenenko talked to Ares Kalandides, the founder of In:Polis, a Berlin organization that offers integrated services for urban development, local economy, place management, and branding.

Ares Kalandides has worked as an urban planner and consultant in the field of urban development and place marketing in Berlin since 1990. He has implemented numerous projects on the national and international levels and consulted various districts, cities, and regions in Germany and worldwide.

I have been dealing with Berlin and place branding in Berlin since the 1990’s.After 2005 I started working a lot on the issues of creative economy. What interests me most in creative economy is three aspects: the first is how it can be used as an instrument for city branding; the second is its informality; the third is about migrants and the city. That’s what my research is about.

Just a year ago we put up a little project here in the Neukolln neighbourhood where we tried to combine all of these issues. This neighbourhood has the lowest social level in the city, with extremely high poverty and unemployment. It is also an area that has a very high percentage of migrants, mostly from Turkey. It has developed quite an interesting climate and also in the last years it has developed networks of artists and in the last 4 years – an extremely important network of fashion designers.

While we were doing some social research in the community we found out that a lot of women who live there are very good at working with sewing machines. So we thought: Why don’t we get these migrant women and the fashion designers in the neighbourhood and get them to work together and produce things? This is how the project was born and was subsequently funded by the European Union.

The idea was to understand how we can rebrand this neighbourhood that has a bad image. Not through advertising, but through real projects. Don’t just create a positive idea, but make the area better. The idea was to create a network that would be both economically and socially effective. The one that through its own work communicates what is happening. We didn’t want to make some traditional advertising or marketing for Neukolln, but we wanted to put together a network which is big – about 50 fashion designers and another 50 producers, tailors. All of them work together in the neighbourhood; we have showrooms, fashion shows there.

Mostly the women in the neighbourhood find out about this project through word of mouth. However, we also work with newspapers that inform people about it, we already had 2 big fashion shows. At the beginning we were looking for people to participate in the project, but we don’t inflict the project on them: they join in themselves.

The project initially was set up by us as a private company; then we went to the local government with our idea. They supported us and together we put forward an application for the European Union for social funding. So it’s an excellent collaboration between our initiative and the government.

Most of our projects are neighbourhood based, but this approach does have some weaknesses, because you cannot solve the problems at the level of the neighbourhood if they’re not created at the level of the neighbourhood. For example, migration is not a neighbourhood problem. It’s not even a problem at all, it’s an issue. Trying to deal with migration at a neighbourhood level when the issue is national doesn’t really work. We can’t replace high-level policies by neighbourhood policies, but it’s interesting to see where neighbourhood policies can be very useful.

Going back to the project in Neukolln, there are interesting things happening, recently a well-known television cook came to us and asked whether our network of designers would like to design some new clothes for their show. So he chose some design and we put up a small team which is working on it right now.

The people who are part of the project are not employed full time, but work as freelancers and get paid by the project.

The brand of this area has changed very much since the launch of the project. The media used to talk only about violence and poverty and migrants, but now they are mostly talking about tourism and creativity. But our project is one of a hundred that is being implemented in this area so it is really hard to tell which project made the change. In terms of place branding it is always difficult to estimate success or failure. So the people who pay for your work and who always want to know if you succeed or fail are often very disappointed.

But the people in the neighbourhood have had a very good reaction to our project, they really love it because it’s small but at the same time big in the background.

Before 2004, Berlin talked about migration as a problem, as a fact, and after 2004 it talked about migration as an opportunity. But the problem now is really not migration but poverty among migrants.

Perception of the city is hard to measure, but there are things you can do. You have to understand that perceptions are in your head, and every time you relate these perceptions there is a representation. It’s either language, or pictures, or sounds. You always have an indirect way of finding it, usually it’s language. But in creative workshops you can really make people tell you the perceptions of a city. You can either ask them very direct questions, or you can play association games, or you ask them to draw mental maps.

Finally, it’s a combination of things, but you rarely have the time and money to do all of these things. So you have to limit yourself. Just to give you an idea of what is creative: once we wanted to see what people liked about their cities. So we gathered a few persons in a workshop, told them to imagine they had a guest coming to their city. The guest, we told the participants of the workshop, would be staying with them for 3 days. They were to show this guest the places of the city they were most proud of. So the task was to design a three-day programme, a very detailed one, dedicated to what the participants thought was best about the city.

We did that in groups, so there was a dynamic and enthusiastic discussion. Then we made it slightly more difficult and asked to imagine that “Jack” just missed his plane and would be staying for another two days. What would they do then? What more would they show? The participants of this workshop loved this process because it was like a game, and they realized how much information they could give about the city.

People like to participate in such things because it’s their neighbourhood, it’s the scene of their daily life. You don’t ask them to think about the future of Europe; you ask them about the future of their street. That’s a big difference.

I admit, I don’t believe we can build a brand of a city. I don’t think we can brand Berlin. I don’t believe in all those strategies and campaigns, I don’t think it’s effective. I think we can only brand a city indirectly by focusing on small projects”.