SE City branding and civil society

Downloads: City branding and civil society
Link: TUWIS (Kulturvergleichende Architekturbetrachtung, course no 251.116)
Link: Poster
Kommentar: Dialogue

Course Language: English
Course participants: Master and PhD students in the study field of architecture

by Ian Banerjee, Sabine Knierbein and Andrea Rieger-Jandl


During the 1990s, there has been a strong debate predicting a general shift from urban planning to urban marketing, as traditional elements of planning seemed to fail (Helbrecht 1995). Today, the debate on city marketing is getting more and more replaced by a debate unfolding around city branding (Jäger 2009/10). Yet, it does not seem clear at all why city branding is emerging as a criteria characterizing urban agendas in different metropolises worldwide. More generally speaking, the turn towards city branding might be considered a part of a general transition towards the construction of the communicated city by making use of discourses.

Problem constellation

Recent studies often fail to take a critical perspective on city branding, as they rather highlight the new need for branding urban environments however taking pains to define only this need. Yet, first critical voices point to the disadvantages of the new reliance on the construction of discourses to foster cities‘ positions as regards to competitiveness. Further critique addresses the issue that city branding strategies and tactics are often implemented as top-down approaches where images are pre-constructed by image-experts without taking into account the potential of citizens‘, visitors‘ and inhabitants‘ imaginations to foster a collective, multifaceted construction of a strong image of the city. Civil society actors are not considered a serious partner within the construction of branding strategies which again points to the main criticism regarding the city branding debate, i.e. that a city is not just a product as in product branding strategies, where a producer of detergent does not feel the need to ask the washing powder about his opinion. In fact, citizens and washing powder are two very different issues, and that is why city branding has to come back to the crucial question of how civil society actors might be integrated into a new understanding of the discursive construction of the communicated city. The collective action around shared interests, purposes and values of people living, working or visiting a city might differ quite significantly from actions taken through agencies or governmental institutions. However, city branding still seems to shy away from every form of subjectivity but tries to stick to matter-of-factness, thus the way how inhabitants actually experience their environment is not integrated into the concept at all.

Central questions

How does a city emphasize its distinctive characteristics? Are there ways – in theory and practice – to build and manage the reputation of cities? Is it possible to successfully transfer such images as export products?

Which examples can be considered as outstanding cases for new and challenging approaches to city branding and how can city branding be translated into the Viennese context? Can a new understanding of City Branding from Below foster identification processes? These and further questions will guide the course of the seminar.

Case studies

Amsterdam (Failures and success of the iAMsterdam campain)

Barcelona (A shining example in Europe for successful urban renewal through public involvement in the creation of public spaces. But what problems are they facing today?)

Berlin (Currently finishing its first top-down internal branding campaign phase addressed to citizens before starting the externally oriented second phase; Holocaust Memorial as example for the construction of the communicated city)

Curitiba (The 1990s model city of South America – the ‚Ecological Capital‘ of Brazil applied a number of top-down and bottom-up marketing and branding methods)

Rotterdam (‚Skill City vs. Cultural City‘: how an alternative bottom-up branding approach was proposed by citizens)

Singapore (The ‚Knowledge City‘ – How one of the most innovative regions of the world is using education as their central branding and planning agenda)

as well as branding processes in medium-size metropolises and the current debate on city branding in Vienna.


Students are requested to actively participate in seminar debates by e.g. reading, excerpting and presenting texts, and to identify their special field of interest around the controversial relationship between city branding and civil society. The final output is expected to be a rich production of texts, films, acoustic collages, etc. offering nothing less than attractive alternative re-interpretations of the idea of city branding, especially regarding the importance of civil society in the Viennese context.


Anholt, Simon: Place Branding and Public Diplomacy. Quarterly review of branding and marketing for national, regional and civic development, Palgrave Macmillan, Hampshire

Helbrecht, Ilse (1995) Helbrecht, I. (1994) ‚Stadtmarketing‘ – Konturen einer kommunikativen Stadtentwicklungspolitik, Basel, Boston, Berlin: Birkhäuser Verlag – Stadtforschung aktuell 44.

Jäger, Svenja. Be distinctive. Be competitive. Be Berlin? A discourse on city branding. Weimarpolis. Multidisciplinary Journal of Urban Theory and Practice. (to be published in 2009 or early 2010)

Knierbein, Sabine. The postfordist production of public spaces and the politics of attention. Journal of Urbanism. International Research on Placemaking and Urban Sustainability (to be published in 2010)

Viderman, Tihomir. be BELFAST, be BERLIN, but I amSTERDAM ! Promoting cities‘ distinctiveness! Weimarpolis. Multidisciplinary Journal of Urban Theory and Practice. (to be published in 2009 or early 2010)