Coordinating the future of the city through Brand

I’ve recently finished a piece of work for a local council in the Melbourne area called Knox City Council. It’s a bit off the beaten track and if you squint, you could swear you’ve travelled to the US and are in Springfield, MO. Stripmalls, box stores and car repair shops line the Burwood Highway in a way that is not exactly enviable. Knox is the product of car-based urbanism, decentralisation and the death of the high street in the 1970s. Instead, Knox City Shopping Mall has become the heart and soul of this community. It’s a common story really, most of suburban Melbourne is like this, and most of Sydney’s west.

Our client, Knox City Council are an interesting bunch. Having realised that as a council, they had increasing responsibility over the coordination of future urban development in Knox, they commission Arup to develop a Brand Strategy for Knox Central, the core of the Knox community. The brand is designed to serve as a coordination mechanism for delivering the future of a community, a future that will, to a large extent be decided on beyond the walls of the council chambers. As the instigator of the Brand Strategy, the Council can become a partner with businesses, residents, investors interested in having stake in Knox Central in the future. The work is largely confidential, which is why I am only speaking of it in broad terms at this stage, but it is ground breaking in many ways.

First, it boldly adopts the corporate language of brand to show that investment in the brand value of Knox can surpass the value of the sum of its individual assets. This is concept often used in the marketing of products and has served brands such as Coca Cola very well, thank you very much. In a place that is very similar to other suburbs like it, building a viable and credible brand is a strategy for differentiation and competitive edge. City rankings have been around for a while, and they effectively rank the validity of a certain brand across several value buckets such as social, economic, knowledge, environmental capital.

Second, the brand is a mechanism for local government to deliver ‘action equity’, to go beyond the nice motherhood statements of a prosperous, equitable and diverse community and start committing to a particular version of that generic future.

Third, the brand is participatory, it is a novel mechanism for co-creation and community engagement in the future of a place. The brand provides the broad guidelines for wealth generation functions and supportive functions within the precinct, but participation in the brand is through the behaviours and environments the brand encourages.

With the arrival of the NBN in many suburban and regional communities in Australia, there is a unique opportunity for local government to think strategically about their brand story and use brand as a strategic tool for investment attraction and ‘action equity’ delivery. Unpacking the possible impacts of increased digital connectivity of business profiles and industry clusters is the first port of call, but digital connectivity will have transformative impacts on the expectations people have of services and products.

This area of work is just emerging for us, but it’s one we’re likely to see grow over the next year or so. We created a cool little book as an artefact of this project, snippets of which you can see below. The book is replete with references, case studies (imagined and real) and example anchor projects for the future of Knox.

 

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