Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Sexing Up the City in the International Beauty Contest: The Performative Nature of Spatial Planning and the Fictive Spectacle of Place Branding

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Sexing Up the City in the International Beauty Contest: The Performative Nature of Spatial Planning and the Fictive Spectacle of Place Branding

Article excerpt

This paper responds to recent calls for more academic research and critical discussion on the relationship between spatial planning and city branding. Through the lens of Liverpool, the article analyses how key planning projects have delivered major transformations in the city's built environment and cultural landscape. More specifically, in concentrating on the performative nature of spatial planning it reveals the physical, symbolic and discursive re-imaging of Liverpool into a 'world class city'. Another aspect of the paper presents important socioeconomic datasets and offers a critical reading of the re-branding in showing how it presents an inaccurate representation of Liverpool. The evidence provided indicates that a more accurate label for Liverpool is a polarised and divided city, thereby questioning the fictive spectacle of city branding. Finally, the paper ends with some critical commentary on the role of spatial planning as an accessory to the sophistry of city branding.

Keywords: planning, branding, regeneration, economy, culture

This paper responds to Peel and Lloyd's (2008) call for more research on the relationship between spatial planning and city branding. The case study is Liverpool in the north-west of England, a city that has witnessed dramatic image transmutation. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Liverpool was a 'global city', resulting from its strategic importance in the British Empire (Munck, 2003); however, the 1970s and 1980s saw it transmogrify into a 'pariah city' following severe economic, social and political problems (Wilks-Heeg, 2003). Since the 1990s, on the back of major development projects, Liverpool was marketed as a 'competitive city' (Boland, 2007). Most recently, hosting the 2008 European Capital of Culture saw Liverpool (arguably) regain its status as a 'world class city' (Garcia et al., 2010). The theoretically informed empirical analysis of this paper illustrates how major transformations in the city's built environment and cultural landscape were used to re-brand Liverpool. The first part focuses on how spatial planning, defined in its broadest sense in terms of delivering urban change, has been instrumental in the physical, symbolic and discursive re-imaging of Liverpool into a 'world class city'. The added value here is a utilisation of Lovering's (2007) reference to the performative nature of spatial planning. The second, in analysing important socioeconomic datasets (absent in many studies), offers a critical reading of this re-branding, showing how it presents a grotesque misrepresentation of Liverpool. Evidence is provided that a more accurate and legitimate description of Liverpool is a polarised and divided city, connecting to wider debates pertaining to the fictive spectacle of city branding. The paper ends with some thoughts on the role of spatial planning as an accessory to the sophistry of city branding.

Theorising the re-imaging of the city: relationship between spatial planning and place branding

Planning has been subject to a number of important ontological and epistemological turns - spatial (Davoudi and Strange, 2009), cultural (Stevenson, 2004) and performative (Lovering, 2007) - and is central to the physical, symbolic and discursive transformation of our cities. Planning is no longer primarily concerned with narrow land-use decisions; rather it is focused on wider spatial planning issues such as the 'dynamics of places' and the role of 'planning action' in delivering 'place qualities' (Graham and Healey, 1999; Hall and Tewdwr-Jones, 2011; Healey, 2004). Academic attention is directed to how cityspace is planned, represented and given meaning through various stages of the planning process (Davoudi and Strange, 2009; Peel and Lloyd, 2008; Sager, 2011). From a relational perspective, place is a social construct combining the material and the mental, taking us into how we understand the city's built environment and cultural landscape (Healey, 2004). …

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