TACOMA, WASH. — A constellation of city-image experts from around the country will convene at UW Tacoma for the fifth annual Urban Studies Forum. This year’s event is entitled “Beyond Urban Branding: The Problem, The Promise, The Potential.” During the day of presentations and panel discussions, attendees will hear about regions that have gained national awareness and enhanced their reputations through focused attention on a fundamental “story” that underlines regional strengths and distinctiveness.
The Forum is the first step in an emerging community effort, facilitated by UW Tacoma, to advance a new and authentic “story” of the South Sound region, one meant to capitalize on the phenomenal transformations of the last 15 years. Revived neighborhoods, an entrepreneurial spirit and unrivaled community pride—combined with a world-class natural setting—afford a compelling opportunity to reframe the South Sound brand.
The opening speaker at the Forum will be Ken Greenberg, an architect and urban designer, and the former director of urban design and architecture for the City of Toronto in Ontario, Canada. He will emphasize that metropolitan revitalization efforts are more than a marketing campaign: they need a real vision, inspired leadership and an authentic story. “Words, images, logos, concepts do matter a great deal but not without corresponding deeds. You can’t just graft on a false story or an empty one,” said Greenberg.
The first panel presentation and discussion of the day will feature Jim Throgmorton, city councilman for Iowa City, Iowa and professor emeritus of urban and regional planning at the University of Iowa; Aaron Renn, founder of The Urbanophile urban-affairs blog whose work has appeared in the New York Times, the Economist and the London Daily Telegraph; and Anne Taufen Wessels, an urban planning and policy scholar in UW Tacoma’s Urban Studies Program. They will discuss national and international examples of urban storytelling and how the conventional business strategy of “product differentiation” plays out in urban branding efforts.
An afternoon presentation and discussion will feature Anne Trubeck, founding editor-in-chief of Cleveland’s Belt Magazine whose work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic and Wired; Bill McGraw, veteran reporter for the Detroit Free Press, with work published in the Washington Post, Newsweek and the Toronto Globe & Mail; and Pamela Glaser, senior planner with the Chattanooga Regional Planning Agency. Topics will include the tension between competing regional “stories” in Cleveland; how a city like Detroit can simultaneously be an international cautionary tale as well as a perennially “up-and-coming” urban center; and the massive effort that went into the “rebirth” of Chattanooga, Tenn.
Community interest in the topic is demonstrated by the number of local organizations who are sponsoring the Forum. Stan Selden, owner of Seldens Designer Home Furnishings, says his sponsorship reflects his long interest in regional promotion. “My family has been here for 130 years. We know the South Sound is a great place, but we’ve got to get the word out. We suffer from a second-city syndrome.” Selden says he hopes this Forum is just the beginning of the conversation.
If Ali Modarres and Fern Tiger have their way, the Forum will indeed be the beginning of a regional rebranding conversation. Modarres is the director of UW Tacoma’s Urban Studies Program. “Given the importance of our topic, we believe that a single day event is not enough. Starting this year, we’re extending the conversation with our Urban Public Policy Lecture Series.” The first lecture will be on March 12, 2014, featuring Robin Hambleton of the University of the West of England, arguing that through place-based and inclusive civic leadership, cities can take decisive action to shape their image and operate according to progressive values. Hambleton will offer a number of examples from cities across all continents.
Fern Tiger, professor in Urban Studies, and organizer of this year’s Forum, agreed that the region is ready to have a branding conversation. “Urban branding is about a process, not a product. It’s a process that involves all sectors within the region in a practical and meaningful way—a process that eventually uncovers an authentic vision.”
What: 5th Annual Urban Studies Forum – “Beyond Urban Branding: The Problem, The Promise, The Potential”
When: Thursday, February 20, 2014, 8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Where: William W. Philip Hall, UW Tacoma campus
Who: From UW Tacoma – Ali Modarres, director, Urban Studies; Fern Tiger, professor, Urban Studies; Ann Taufen Wessels, assistant professor, Urban Studies; Linda Hurley Ishem, assistant professor, Urban Studies
From community – Lyle Quasim, South Sound civic leader
From Toronto – Ken Greenberg, former Toronto urban design official
From Iowa City – Jim Throgmorton, professor emeritus, University of Iowa
From Indianapolis – Aaron Renn, founder of The Urbanophile
From Cleveland – Anne Trubeck, founder of Belt Magazine
From Detroit – Bill McGraw, veteran reporter at the Detroit Free Press
From Chattanooga – Pam Glaser, Chattanooga Regional Planning Agency
Cost: FREE, but registration is required – tacoma.uw.edu/urban
Sponsors for 2014 Urban Studies Forum: Pierce County Regional Council, Seldens Designer Home Furnishings, AHBL, Inc., BCRA, Business Examiner, Dwyer Pemberton & Coulson, P.C., Exit133, Helix Design Group, Inc., Korsmo Construction, Neil Walter Company, VIA Architecture