Interview with Eduardo Oliveira on Place Branding and Strategic Spatial Planning

Eduardo Oliveira in this interview shares his experience of using place branding as a complementary instrument in strategic spatial planning. He also discusses the digital challenges of city and regional branding and the increasing role of social media in managing place reputation.  

Topics covered:

  • Place branding as an instrument of strategic spatial planning;
  • What a valuable place brand is;
  • How local governance influences place branding;
  • Destination marketing through social media: including travellers as co-creators and opinion-makers;
  • Storytelling as a tool for place branding and examples of best practice;
  • How place branding contributes to sustainable regional development.

Eduardo, place branding is often perceived as something that communication agencies take care of. However, one of your principal research interests is place branding as a strategic spatial planning instrument. Where's the link?

I have been investigating the theoretical and empirical relationships between place branding, spatial governance and spatial planning for a long time. Two decades of both academic and practice-oriented research are just not enough for me to provide a clear answer to your question. There are various interpretations, perspectives and approaches to the linkage between place branding and spatial planning in general, and strategic spatial planning in particular.

My approach, which has been inspired by the great work of Gregory Ashworth, Mihalis Kavaratzis, Kristof Van Assche, Malcolm Allan and Martin Boisen, is that cities and regions would greatly generate economic and social benefits if they could link and find a fine balance between strategic spatial planning, city and regional development strategies, and thus concrete physical interventions in their territory with place branding strategies. Specifically, I advocate through my writings and conference presentations that place branding could (and, eventually, should) be used as an instrument in the strategic spatial planning approach.

As an instrument in strategic spatial planning, place branding would support the improvement of the social and economic conditions. It also helps reshape responses to contemporary challenges faced by cities and regions and to shape clearly envisioned socially responsible and realistic futures.

Strategic spatial planning is about setting frameworks and principles to guide urban and regional development and to support the location of infrastructure, such as of a new light rail, a cycling path or a public park. It consists of a set of governance practices for developing and implementing strategies, plans, policies and projects.

Given this definition, let us imagine a city associated with images of social and economic deprivation, numerous social issues such as criminality or illicit activities, unable to provide affordable housing, job opportunities or reliable public transportation. Can, in such a challenging context, strategic spatial planning solve all the problems and support a structural change, thereby contribute to reframing the image of the city?

I argue that strategic spatial planning alone would not be able to do it. And, can a place branding strategy provide job opportunities, boost the economic activity in general and at the same time communicate a positive image of the city? Again, I would claim that place branding alone would not be able to fulfill all the social and economic needs of the city.

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The Editorial Team

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