There are now more people living in cities than those who do not. By 2030, 60% of the world’s population (5 billion people) will be city dwellers. For the 3.6 billion people who currently populate the world’s cities, their rationale for being there varies enormously. The presumption is that the main driver remains an aspiration for better economic prosperity but there are other factors too. For all the diversity of purpose, one thing is acutely clear: the influence of this urban congregation of humanity is profound.
Nowhere is this more the case than in Asia. The migration of people from rural communities to cities is as pronounced in this region as it is anywhere else on Earth. We now live in some of the most densely populated communities on the planet.
Because of their size and complexity, cities have therefore become soft power hubs for countries. They are the engines of economic growth, the centres for innovation and ideas and can be the primary experience of a nation for citizens and visitors alike. How a city effectively defines, connects and projects its attributes matters enormously.
For products and corporate brands, the variables amongst cities in any one country are as important as the variables amongst the countries themselves. Cities take great pride in their cultural nuances and seek clear distinctions between each other. In Australia, Melbourne and Sydney are not just rivals on the nations sports fields. They seemingly vie for the number-one spot in everything from coffee to the creative conscience. It’s a similar story in China with Shanghai and Beijing claiming leadership of one soft power attribute over another.
In sovereign city-states like Singapore, competition does not come from within but from across its borders. Its ability to retain its status as the commercial hub of Southeast Asia is as much underpinned by its push to be recognised as the creativity and innovation centre for the region, as it is its investment in airport and shipping facilities.
These are the reasons why cities invest in the development of their own brands. For some, it’s about managing and influencing perceptions. For others, it means building a clear identity (often emotional and symbolic) to stand out from the crowd. In both cases, a sharper understanding of the role and influence of a city’s soft power attributes matters.
Cities are the proxy flag carriers for nations and, in some cases, the origin for brands. The services they provide, the people they attract and the pace at which they develop don’t just inform our perception of a country. They are pivotal in the ability of that country to define the future it wants to create and the role it will play in that future.
This is an excerpt from Engaging Cities: the Growing Relevance of Soft Power to City Reputations in Asia Pacific. For the full report, click here.