Understanding the soft power attributes of cities is an essential part of arming civic leaders with the tools to create and communicate inspiring, talent-rich environments that attract people, business and investment.
Across the diversity and geographical spread of cities in our report, our research highlighted a number of factors that contributed to their soft power benchmark strength. Highlighting those strengths presents the opportunity for cities to consider what actions they may choose to both define and amplify their attributes.
In an environment in which public expenditure is often heavily scrutinised, we believe commercial, corporate and consumer brands might consider what role they play in helping cities meet these imperatives.
The following five imperatives make up what we call a City PlayBook.
Cultivating a city identity that leverages country attributes whilst giving itself sufficient latitude to create its own brand is difficult. Few cities have done it well. That is why we think it has serious potential as cities search for strategies to amplify their relevance both at home and abroad.
Understanding the aggregated value of a city’s soft power attributes is an essential step in building influence and reputation. But so too is knowing how to market those attributes selectively; and to whom. That makes identity a central part of city influence. Only when the identity of a place is clear can it become a reference point for future influence- based initiatives, as well as for the development of public spaces that nurture city life.
As cities grow with an influx of new people, cultures and beliefs, it becomes more challenging for civic leaders to articulate a reputation that is truly representative of its many and varied facets. That is why we think neighbourhoods are so important.
Neighbourhoods are culture-clusters that make the fabric of cities more accessible. They breed sector competitiveness and development in areas of retail, creative design and manufacturing, and these qualities make the people and personalities who work there more visible to those outside. Cities with a strong and well-understood neighbourhood network deliver a more authentic experience to visitors and residents too, on account of the fact that this is where many of its soft power attributes reside.
We think neighbourhoods have the potential to be the engine room of soft power influence.
In our research we saw positive confidence creep when citizens where asked about their own city. Consistently, they showed an intuitive willingness to amplify the attributes of the place they called home and to advocate on behalf of their own city; particularly when ‘competing’ with others.
Citizen advocacy is more abundant than many think and yet few cities appear to have leveraged it to their advantage. With millions of citizens in Asia Pacific increasingly moving between cities every year, we think this is a missed opportunity. These people have the potential to be a highly mobile and vocal means of projecting the soft power influence of the cities in which they live or where they have come from. With the right tools and a clear narrative behind them, citizen advocacy could be one of the most powerful forces behind a city’s soft power attributes.
The creative classes are a potent force behind city innovation. They invent ideas- led economies that bolster innovation in everything from music and technology to sustainability and design. Enabling their place in city culture and celebrating their success is an essential part of future-proofing a city’s influence.
Through our research we saw evidence that the regeneration of city districts often accommodates and incentivises the establishment of creative quarters. But as cities grow, creative quarters can become gentrified and the creative classes inevitably move on. More troubling for civic leaders is the fact that the relative ease of movement between markets in Asia Pacific means that those cities that amplify their creative spirit are more able to attract talent from other markets. As innovation hubs wilt in one market, so they erupt in another.
That means that the ability of a city to retain their talent hangs on its willingness to foster a more diverse, affordable and inclusive environment in which ideas can be challenged and different perspectives embraced.
Big investments in infrastructure can be undermined by a failure to deliver an engaging experience. Engaging experiences are invariably delivered by people.
International airports and major public sporting events are a showcase for the impact of people power. Whether they take the mantel of volunteer helpers or hospitality executives, public support teams put people at ease, heighten their sense of security and deliver an enhanced experience.
We think there’s a place for public service guides and information officers in cities. They provide a benchmark for service excellence and have the potential to elevate the perception of a city’s accessibility. People are often the overlooked attribute of any city; and because it will always be challenging to invent a service- orientated culture, a focus on establishing more structured gestures of service could well be the move that is needed to shift perceptions and external influence quickly.
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.