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Branding places is the way ahead

15/08/2019 Think Piece
Travelling into York, although mainly for business, I instantly feel like I’m on holiday. I find time to go for an early morning run along the banks of the river and grab space between meetings to wander the alleyways and visit small independent shops. I love to duck down unexplored snickets to discover a new view – one minute you’re in the 14th century, the next you’re on a cutting edge tech campus. When the Hemingway Design team spotted an opportunity to bid to create a place brand for York, I knew we had to find the best in the business – regionally and internationally - and forge a partnership worthy of the challenge. Working with a team of specialists from Creative Tourist and For the Love of Place, we beat the competition and are now getting to know York, its residents, businesses, community and leadership. I’m very aware that the word ‘brand’ instantly makes people think of logos and slogans, but in our opinion, the logo is the least important part of the process. Martin Boisen, from For the Love of Place, sums it up perfectly when he says, “places don’t need brands, they ARE brands. York’s brand is already there. Our job is to give focus to York’s purpose by defining a set of core values and behaviours that inspire and influence strategy, policy and decision-making." The crucial point to understand is that the focus of a place brand is internal – it’s not about advertising to outsiders, it’s about citizens, politicians and local organisations acting from a set of shared values in order to live the truth of a brand. This helps to build pride, breeds consistency and strengthens communities to ultimately improve York’s quality of life. York has to rebalance its economy. Though its resident base is highly educated, wages in the city are below the national average. Young people and key workers struggle to find housing and some communities we have met feel left behind. Economic growth can never be just about the numbers. It has to be about people and opportunity. York, with all its charms and successes, has a clear opportunity to become an even better and more inclusive place that offers opportunity to everyone. York Central, the city’s Enterprise Zone designated by the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Enterprise Partnership, could drive an economic event that brings about such opportunity. Historically, the Romans and then the Vikings established York as a power base for the north. The city survived a downturn when the Humber estuary took precedence as a northern port, rising again as a centre for railway expansion. With its Quaker roots, York drove social change that led to national evolution. York Central, with 200,000 sqm of high grade office and commercial spaces, the footprint for 2500 homes, and inclusive public spaces, presents a connection between York’s ancient roots and its modern day aspirations for good growth – growth that is responsible, sustainable and inclusive. But let’s look at the numbers. Should York Central secure government funding, the regeneration of this brownfield site could generate 6250 high value jobs. That’s a transformational promise that will reverberate across the region. Yet, a recent Centre for Cities report found that in the main Enterprise Zones have failed to meet job creation targets. From 2012 to 2017, the second phase of 24 operational Enterprise Zones created 17,500 jobs against a target of 54,000. How could York Central buck this trend? Nationally, city centre Enterprise Zones with enhanced transport connectivity fare better. These are plus points for York Central. As are the public/private sector York Central Partnership and resident engagement exercise that has bought the project to the precipice of initiation. I believe that by developing a set of shared values and a philosophy that the city’s communities, businesses and stakeholders take ownership of, this site can evolve into something really distinctive, inclusive and successful for York. This is what the place brand process must aim to achieve. One of the most important things we’ve found is that this beautiful city is also a hotbed for innovation and independent thinking. The answer to global challenges lie within its intellectual capital and the opportunity to grow in the hinterland. York has a long history of driving change for the North, so now is the time to put its foot back down on the accelerator. York Central is an opportunity that the rest of the UK would be desperate to have. With a strong place brand, York can show the world how modern, forward-thinking, socially-minded development can have a real impact on a place, its people and their futures. This piece was originally published in the Yorkshire Post on 15.08.2019
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