What cities have been able to re-brand themselves?
March 29, 2011 7:22 AM   Subscribe

What are some small/medium-sized cities who have gone through re-branding exercises and come out successful?

I live and work in a city in flux, both in terms of its direction and how it chooses to promote itself. This has led me to want to learn more about the world of city marketing/branding. I don't have a background in this, I just am really interested in learning how a city transforms the way people (both its own, and external) look at it.

Are there good examples out there of small/medium cities (say, greater than 50,000 people but less than a million) who have been able to shed a brand they didn't like in favour of a new one? I know Detroit seems in the process of trying to do this, but any success stories (and any background you know for how it was successful) that you can provide me would be greatly appreciated.

Also, are there any well-known awards for this type of thing? I did some Google searching, and know the IEDC does some marketing awards, but wondered if there was anything else out there too. Thank you!
posted by dflemingecon to Grab Bag (19 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure how successful it is, but Louisville's rebranding is interesting and entertaining:

posted by ACN09 at 7:32 AM on March 29, 2011

Over here we have the European Capital of Culture. The main aspect of this award is that recipients receive a large amount of investment to enhance/change outward appearances and public-facing cultural institutions and often 'rebrand' themselves in the process.

As a result, it is a highly competitive award and cities often put in a lot of work in the run-up to their campaign.
posted by dumdidumdum at 7:34 AM on March 29, 2011

Providence, RI has done a decent job going from abandoned post-industrial wasteland to hip, artsy college town
posted by narcotizingdysfunction at 7:53 AM on March 29, 2011

Under Consideration's blog Brand New has a ton of rebranding case studies. I really enjoy them because they often discuss the reasoning behind the choices made. You might want to also look at country-level branding and Olympic pitches.

A few examples:
Rio de Janeiro (Olympics)
Sochi (Olympics)
Brazil (World Cup)

There are obviously a lot more but those were what I found just doing a quick search.
posted by halseyaa at 7:57 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

In the DC area, Tysons Corner is known primarily as a place to either shop in sprawling malls or (more likely) sit in nightmarish traffic jams. With a new Metro line linking the area to DC within 2-3 years, Tysons is attempting to reinvent itself as a walkable, cosmopolitan urban center. It will, they say, be a place to "Live. Work. Play." - a shameless appropriation from nearby Reston, a planned community which for many years has promoted its values as a place to "live, work, play and [more recently] get involved".

All of this is just talk at the moment, but with the Silver Line set to open in 2013, it will be interesting to see if they can pull it off.
posted by itstheclamsname at 8:05 AM on March 29, 2011

Providence, RI is attempting to rebrand itself from Renaissance city to Creative Capital. Whether successful or not, I don't know.
posted by quodlibet at 8:11 AM on March 29, 2011

Cleveland might be a good negative example. I was looking to move there a few years back, and the hype from the city boosters sounded mostly like "We're not as bad as you've heard."
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:12 AM on March 29, 2011

The quintessential example of this is Chattanooga, Tennessee. It was the most polluted city in America in the 1980s, but it has successfully redeveloped its riverfront, grown its population, and re-branded itself as "A Great City By Nature."
posted by jefficator at 8:32 AM on March 29, 2011

Pittsburgh is too large (population >1 million) for your criteria, but may be a good case study for Detroit's 'reinvention' efforts. In the past decade, it's undergone a transformation from a struggling steel and manufacturing center to a city focused on (bio)medical and academic development. It's cleaned up the dirt and smog, has a relatively strong economy, has recently hosted the G-20 summit, and been named the country's most livable city by Forbes and The Economist (they were able to look past the Steelers fans).
posted by genekelly'srollerskates at 9:11 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Baltimore might fit the bill.
posted by jgirl at 9:29 AM on March 29, 2011

Pittsburgh has tried tons of branding and marketing identical to other cities (work! live! play! imagine the possibilities!), but I think cities are too big and too concrete to change their brand with a website and bunch of banners on streetlights. Pittsburgh changed through tons of development, investment, time, and the good fortune that when the steel mills left, some of the biggest employers left were top-notch hospitals and universities (including Carnegie Mellon).
posted by the jam at 9:41 AM on March 29, 2011

I just read this interesting "open letter" from a Michigan business owner on Why sprawl makes it hard to attract skilled workers to live in Michigan.

I spoke to a resident of Grand Rapids Michigan who was describing some of the recent revitalization efforts there, partly driven by trying to open a big research hospital, and as part of that effort they did a survey of what young skilled workers want to see in a city (arts, walkability) and began to implement/fund improvements in those areas. She said it has been a successful program.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:42 AM on March 29, 2011

I was drafting a similar comment about Pittsburgh as 'the jam' posted. Despite the postive changes that have taken place, much of the world still sees the city as a smokey, industrial town. When the White House announced that the G-20 was being held in here, much of the press snickered as if it was a joke. I'm not sure if we'll ever shake that image.
posted by buttercup at 10:23 AM on March 29, 2011

I don't know that it's a complete rebranding, but Salem, MA has embraced their witch trial past and turned Halloween into a major event.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:36 AM on March 29, 2011

Madrid, New Mexico was built as a mining town. Until not too long ago you could still see the shells of the company houses. When the mines closed in the 1950s, it became a ghost town. In the early 70s, some artists started moving in for the cheap housing, and proximity to Santa Fe, and now the main street is lined with galleries. Painful site, but more history here. It wasn't exactly a deliberate rebranding, but may fit with what you're looking for.
posted by korej at 2:01 PM on March 29, 2011

You should look up Providence, RI and the changes made by former Mayor Buddy Cianci. Its downtown is very different and it is sort of a destination in itself. The city has a "cool place to live and visit vibe", which is pretty new.

In contrast Worcester, MA has been trying to reinvent itself for years and nothing seems to work.

Just speaking off the top of my head it seems that having a strong leader with a vision is required to make it work. He may have been corrupt but Cianci got stuff done. Worcester doesn't have a strong mayor, they have a weak Mayor- City Council style government and can't get anything done.
posted by JohntheContrarian at 5:25 PM on March 29, 2011

I think it worked out pretty well for Pig's Eye, Minnesota.
posted by marsha56 at 6:08 PM on March 29, 2011

Project for Public Spaces seems like it'd be a good place to do your research. Also, planning.org, the American Planning Association. Both are full of cities that have successfully turned around blighted areas and bad ideas and created places where people gather and work and play.
posted by eve harrington at 6:52 PM on March 29, 2011

Bilbao, Spain (as in "The Bilbao Effect").
posted by unsub at 8:46 PM on March 29, 2011

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