Gert-Jan Hospers, Professor of Economic Geography at the University of Twente in the Netherlands, in this interview discusses different urban and regional development policies applied to old industrial areas. He also gives an insight into his work on demographic shrinkage and place marketing.
- Place branding trends in the Netherlands;
- Key factors of sustainable urban and regional economic development;
- How to plan a place marketing program for ‘ordinary’ places;
- The difference between ‘cold’ and ‘warm’ place marketing;
- How to measure the success of place branding programs.
Gert-Jan, do you remember what first attracted your interest in the study of place branding as a tool for economic development?
For me, the story of the Ruhr Area has inspired me to pay more attention to place image and identity. Since the 1960s, the well-known German old industrial area has tried to reverse its image with campaigns suggesting that there is more in this region than coal and steel. This policy did not pay off – the audience simply did not believe it, people stuck to the cliché of a smokestack region.
Only at the turn of the century things seem to have changed in the Ruhr Area. The trick: the region started to promote itself by making use of its rich industrial legacy instead of denying it.
While the ‘industrial culture’ – connecting the area’s past and future – has not been the holy grail for regional economic development, it gave the Ruhr Area a more credible image.
As a scholar with strong background in the economic geography of European territories, what role do you think place branding plays (or could play) with regard to sustainable economic development of cities or regions?
In my view, place branding should be less ambitious than is sometimes suggested in the literature. As I see it, sustainable urban and regional economic development is a result of the interaction of the place-specific ‘hardware’ (economic-spatial factors), ‘software’ (social-cultural factors), ‘orgware’ (government and governance) and ‘mindware’ (image and self-image).
Against this background, place branding is a tool to bring the mindware of a place in line with its hardware, software and orgware. To put it in a metaphor: place branding offers an area an authentic, unique and credible profile, like a Facebook profile does for us as individuals.
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