If asked to name an "imaginative community", what would you say? Who comes to mind? Some city, town or neighbourhood close-by perhaps, or one you've visited recently? Imaginative communities - admired cities, regions and countries is the topic (and title) of Robert Govers' new book.
The book has been my loyal companion on many train trips over the last months. I've read it on the TGV from Barcelona to Paris, had it in my bag in Antwerp when meeting Robert for a chat over a good Belgian beer, and then again on the Eurostar from Brussels to London (meeting old and new friends at the City Nation Place conference).
The book reappeared on my digital nomad desks in Berlin, in Porto and Lisbon. I even have it next to me right now, in a friend of a friend's apartment located in a working class neighbourhood of the (otherwise picturesque) town of Faro in the Algarve. All of those places tell a story of imaginative communities - or lack thereof, which is why Robert's new book has become such a great companion.
Plus, Imaginative Communities is refreshingly accessible thanks to his non-academic, no-jargon writing style, which makes it a good read especially for those new to the topic, and also for those who don't really like the terms "brand" or "branding" in connection with communities (even though what the book describes is essentially state-of-the-art place branding).
I also like the many cases used to illustrate key points and observations.
But why the book in the first place? And how does it relate to previous books on place branding, and how it is practiced around the world?
Robert, how did the book come about?
That is quite a funny anecdote, actually. Believe it or not, but it was Frank Underwood, POTUS in House of Cards, who triggered me to write this book; quite literally. In episode 8 of season 3, Underwood defends daring new policy that he invented. He explains to the bystander behind the camera – i.e. us, the audience, in the way that is so typical for this Netflix series – that in order to attract attention leaders need to come up with imaginative initiatives. They need to do things in an original, extraordinary, inventive and captivating manner. It is not so easy to do that, Underwood explains. He tells us that ‘imagination is its own form of courage’.
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