I recently headed up to the seminar on place branding on the 18th floor at Westminster City Hall. As you walk down from Victoria station you are struck by the sheer scale of the development going on. And clearly glass is definitely the architects best friend with large towers springing up everywhere. I imagined what the people at the workshop might feel about doing a bit of place branding with an area like this. But maybe what happens in Westminster stays in Westminster as some place has recently stated.
My role was to do a session on what it means for Lambeth. As I thought this through I decided that I needed to state a view on what it means to me. I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on this subject and looking at some of the other rather more impressive speakers I was ready to be challenged. My view on place branding for what it’s worth:
It is a shared view of the potential which allows you to influence the outcome. But you can’t predetermine the outcome.
A fairly innocuous view you might say. But never wanting to miss an opportunity to get others to help me out I asked the group to work through this for me in a relation to Brixton. As a place we might have a view of Brixton and possibly not all positive. It is actually thriving with a healthy high street, an amazing market and a superb music scene. It’s still a bit rough at the edges but if you stand in the beautiful Windrush Square you can admire the newly restored Black Cultural Archive which is simply stunning.
We worked through my two short sentences over the period of an hour and I was struck by the collective talent in the room and the potential this shared thinking can bring to an issue which until that morning they hadn’t considered. I walked away with lots of ideas, some real insight and a feeling that my proposition wasn’t too far off. If I was to suggest anything to yourselves about doing place branding it is around three simple ideas.
Truth – the ability to be totally honest about what it is you are working with
Potential – everyone has a view on the potential of a place and you need to be clear what the collective believes it to be
Impact – the ability to turn intention into results and knowing that you have done so
The title of my presentation was Brixton – driving or driven? I have been wondering if Brixton is in some ways a victim of successful circumstances rather than managed intentions. It is an area that is thriving but still unique. As a landowner in the area with an administration holding a strong political vision we won’t step away and observe the changes but will want to keep nudging, leading and cajoling. So I guess my premise that you can influence but not predetermine feels about right. But I’d love to know if I’m right.