My latest piece is online in City Lab. It’s another look at urban branding. Here’s an excerpt.
The problem with the typical approach extends beyond just marketing. It has tangible consequences. A brand is really a city’s conception of itself. By selling itself as a facsimile of something its not, a city ends up turning that into reality. Thus, so many urban places today seem vaguely the same—a blur of Edison-bulbed eateries and mid-rise “one plus five” apartment buildings (in which up to five stories of wood frame construction are built atop a concrete first floor). These buildings, which all look vaguely the same with their multi-shaded exterior panels that seem destined to date quickly, are now obligatory elements in densifying urban neighborhoods, as critics have observed,
In a much-discussed New York magazine essay, Oriana Schwindt dubbed this “the unbearable sameness of cities.” Traveling to the city nearest the geographic center of each state, she described how she constantly kept seeing the same Ikea lights in coffee shops she’d visit. “And it wasn’t just the coffee shops—bars, restaurants, even the architecture of all the new housing going up in these cities looked and felt eerily familiar. Every time I walked into one of these places, my body would give an involuntary shudder. I would read over my notes for a city I’d visited months prior and find that several of my observations could apply easily to the one I was currently in.”
She’s not the only one who’s noticed that urban neighborhoods seem to be built from the same box of standard components: Vox recently explored the ubiquity of “the metal chair that’s in every restaurant.”
There are always fads and trends, of course. We all take part in at least some of them, and having fun doing so is part of what it means to be human. (I, for one, am happy that so many American cities now have a “barbecue place with lacquered-wooden tables” that Schwindt noted.) But there’s a thin line between fashionable and fashion victim. Cities need to sell something more than just the trends.
Click through to read the whole thing.