How City Branding Can Support Sustainable Urban Development – Research Findings

Sustainable tourism for development is the topic which the United Nations have dedicated for 2017. Cities are at the center of both tourism growth and sustainability issues. In this post, Dalila Brosto, a political consultant with a Masters in International Affairs from Columbia University (USA), shares her research insights into city branding and how it can support sustainable urban development.

Dalila, what motivates you to research city branding?

In an era of unprecedented competition for knowledge, talent and resources, a consistent message that permeates the full breadth of a city’s uniqueness can be a powerful magnet for cities seeking investments, specialized human resources and tourism. As an urban policy specialist, I have always been intrigued by how cities manage to remain attractive in the fast-changing environment we live in.

More and more cities undertake city branding initiatives to increase or defend their competitive position as attractive places for citizens and visitors and increasingly, these initiatives are tied to urban revitalization processes and flagship sustainable projects.

My research is meant to serve as an input for decision-makers in the public sector that are considering city branding as a tool to develop sustainable urban policies, even in the eyes of tight-budgeted government administrations.

City branding has the potential to be a leading tool for the expansion of more sustainable-conscious policies in urban centers and should become an element in municipal policy-making.

At the IPBA conference in London last year you presented a paper titled “City branding: A tool for sustainable urban development”. Can you share with us your key findings?

My paper addressed the relationship between city branding and urban sustainability. Since the current literature lacks a comprehensive approach as to how these two concepts can be combined, I wanted to explore how city branding strategies can support cities to improve their sustainable urban development.

Urban sustainability remains widely considered by its detractors as a dream rather than an achievable reality. However, local awareness towards sustainability issues has pushed forward an agenda that strives to meet the three pillars of urban development: economic development, environmental preservation and social cohesion.

City branding theories and practices can effectively contribute to urban sustainability by providing a favorable management framework that encourages practices that revolve around innovation, revitalization, urban environment improvement and incentives for developing a “green-conscious” economy.

In your view, which are the main challenges with regard to using city branding to promote sustainable development?

The extent to which this relationship can have fruitful and long-lasting outcomes depends on the implementation of cooperation mechanisms between the residents and municipal governments, moving forward with common goals to initiate growth, development, and success for the city.

Successful branded cities receive support from residents: these cities brand themselves in ways their residents find believable, and in doing so the brand is reinforced as truthful. Most importantly, these cities implement a cooperation mechanism between the residents and municipal government, moving forward with common goals to initiate growth, development, and success for the city.

In order to be successful, it is key that those in charge of pushing the city branding strategy forward understand the system of actors – whether internal or external – that are within the public and private sphere.

How has your view on city branding and sustainable urban development changed since you conducted your research?

I wouldn’t say that my views have changed, rather my perspective has expanded. I have acquired new insights thanks to recent discussions with colleagues, findings from fellow researchers and successful examples around the world. For instance, I am exploring how urban sustainability can also be subject to marketing, making the relationship between city branding and urban development work both ways.

Do you know examples of good practice where branding tools or techniques were used for the purpose of sustainable development?

In my paper I present the case of Rotterdam – the second largest city in the Netherlands, whose branding strategy is helping the city to achieve a more sustainable way of building, planning and living, while at the same time promoting itself as a greener regional capital.

Rotterdam provides an example of a city that has international exposure as a core strategic goal reinforcing its presence in international networks such as C40, Eurocities and events like the Shanghai Expo. Through these forums, the city promotes Rotterdam’s Delta technologies, know-how and expertise on water management and climate related issues, branding themselves as a city that is able to use climate change issues to boost its economy and better address the challenges that its urban surrounding faces.

With a consistent urban vision elaborated by the Rotterdam city planning office, sustainable development strategies have been implemented using water as a tool aimed at improving the urban environment.

Are there any other observations which you’d like to share with our readers?

Place branding has been growing exponentially, both among researchers and practitioners. Its uniqueness is very much related to its interdisciplinary nature, as it attracts specialists from social sciences, marketing, hospitality studies and even gastronomy, among others. I greatly encourage scholars and consultants to share ideas and help this exciting community grow.

Thank you, Dalila!

Dalila is a political scientist and specialist in urban sustainability. She has a Masters in International Affairs from Columbia University, focused on urban policy management and has worked for more than 8 years as a political and strategist consultant to the public and private sector in her home country, Argentina, as well as in the United States. She is currently based in New York. 

Connect with Dalila Brosto on LinkedIn.

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