By Aurelien Reynolds.

During my master’s program in Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Amsterdam, I became particularly interested in the communicative approach used by places and organisations in urban planning. I realised that the content of communication was the product of careful and strategic work that aimed to influence peoples’ perceptions especially when it came to public-private partnerships on new urban developments. This interest in the underlying strategy of communication led to my thesis research question: How is the public interest communicated in place branding?

The cases selected for analysis included Zuidas, a brand new central business district in Amsterdam host to some of the world’s most prominent multinational firms; and De Hallen, an urban regeneration scheme of a tram depot that currently serves as a multifunctional space for residents and visitors—also in Amsterdam. The study focused primarily on the communication strategies used in both projects in relation to public interest in the forms of liveability, social inclusion, and public amenities. One of the key aims was to find out whether discrepancies could be found between the formal image projected by accessible content and the actual reality of the respective areas.

My method consisted of a triangular approach which included the formal intentional communication provided by reports and official websites and two complementary approaches including brand experience (the physical experience of the place) and words of mouth (the reputation of the place in the public eye), as can be seen in the figure below.

Analytical framework: place branding social construction of reality.

Analytical framework: place branding social construction of reality.

From a public-private perspective, the research findings indicate a strong connection with the city of Amsterdam’s 2040 vision document that was considered as an indicator of the abstract concept of public interest. De Hallen which was originally a community-based scheme had some strong international resonance due to the presence of the food court thus leading to a broader idea of “public interest” in line with Amsterdam’s vision of becoming an international metropolis. On the other hand, the community-based approach desired by the international Zuidas business district was not apparent during the fieldwork despite its vision to become so. This could be due to the fact that Zuidas is still a project under construction and building its identity. What is clear however is that concepts such as environmental quality and community life, which contribute to the public interest, are used to make places more attractive. Perhaps this suggests that quality of life is what is worth branding.

The interior of the renovated tram depot now called De Hallen.

The interior of the renovated tram depot now called De Hallen.

Images from top:
Zuidas by Massimo Catarinella (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
De Hallen by David van der Mark (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)], via Flickr.

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