Platform Placemaking Machines: Neighbourhood Place-Branding in Kingston Ontario

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Fair, Lindsey
Economic development , Place management , Marketing , Place branding , Urban geography , Urban policy , Urban governance , Destination branding , Platform economy , Urban entrepreneurialism , Branding , Stakeholder engagement , Neighbourhoods
Scholars have been writing about the marketing and branding of cities for decades. Place-branding, they argue, is not just about logos or advertisements but rather what those logos and advertisements say about the social, cultural, technological, and economic processes that shape and are shaped by a city’s character and reputation. In recent years, these processes shaping place-branding have radically changed, especially facilitated by the introduction of the “smart” phone and the ability of everyday actors to quickly generate just-in-time place-branding material known in marketing as “user-generated content makers”. This thesis will unpack these new user-generated content processes in the urban landscape and explain what these new processes mean for place-branding in the city. Research questions include: do these new actors and platforms in place branding create and/or influence new growth agendas for cities? What role do they play in directing resources to particular infrastructure over others? Whose voices are included, and who may be excluded? And lastly, is the future of place-branding becoming less about advertising and promotion and more a policy-making apparatus? Using Aaker’s (1997) Brand Personality Dimensions framework, I apply a mixed-method, case-study approach using a novel social sensing methodology to answer these questions in three neighbourhoods in Kingston, a small city in Ontario, Canada. This included 25 semistructured interviews with key urban actors in the city, a digital social sensing exercise with online platforms, archival and other non-digital media collection and coding. The findings call for a “nested neighbourhoods” approach to place branding, helping city brands absorb and be resilient to external shock factors. Neighbourhoods contribute to a more genuine place brand and are more likely to lead to citizens and residents as brand champions. A new model for place branding assessments, Place Branding Strength Assessment (PBSA) is presented for consideration. The findings recommend policy approaches to place branding instead of using slogans or traditional advertising approaches, again contributing to a more genuine place brand. The thesis explores limitations including drawbacks of using social media data as well as the challenges capturing alternative voices in a still dominate narrative of a pro-growth and pro-development city agenda.
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