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Urban Branding: Promise, Problem, Potential
Over the weekend, a letter from Ali Modarres, head of UWT's Urban Studies Department, on topic of Tacoma's image appeared in The News Tribune. The letter, titled "Life as a second city: Tacoma needs to find its own way to gain greater recognition," provides a thought-provoking look at Tacoma's efforts to define itself from Modarres' perspective as the new director of UWT's Urban Studies Department It left us inspired.
Modarres takes Tacoma's image and image problems head-on, with Mayor Strickland's appearance commenting on the State of the Union address in front of a Seattle cityscape.
He acknowledges the challenge of trying to compete with larger, better-financed cities like Seattle, but argues that Tacoma doesn't need another large (and expensive) iconic piece of architecture, or more "cultural fairs and gimicky tourist attractions." Instead, Modares says, Tacoma needs "an inclusively created branding strategy" to get itself out of the second city rut.
... for smaller cities, this level of economic competition is not affordable. This is where the notion of “urban branding” comes in. Cities need an internally generated and well-articulated narrative of identity before they can be recognized externally.
Modares goes on to argue that that branding strategy has to come from the citizens of Tacoma; it has to resonate with and clearly communicate the identity of Tacomans.
... Tacoma cannot be and should not be Seattle, in the same way that Long Beach is not and should not be Los Angeles. The identity of a city does not arise out of a formula calculated by the latest intellectual fashion, but from an inclusively created vision that seeks input from the public and asks help from experts, not the other way around.
Perhaps one the worst ideas of the last 20 years has been an excessive reliance on “best practices” and “experts.” We need to learn about each other, but we need to do it our way and articulate a clear vision of who we are. ...
Okay, we're intrigued.
If you are too, you might want to check out the upcoming UWT Urban Studies Department's annual forum, which just happens to be on the subject of urban branding. The 2014 Urban Forum, titled Beyond Urban Branding: The Promise. The Problem. The Potential., will be a chance for attendees to hear from experts in the field, and to ask questions.
Want to know how the experts think we could start to shape Tacoma as something other than Seattle's little brother? This is your chance. Want to challenge the idea? This is your chance for that too.
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