6.11.2007

(Still) Made Here: Support


The last of the three subtrends of (Still) Made Here has a much more straightforward connection to urbanism. Support is about "the importance of community...[and] supporting one’s neighborhood, one’s city, one’s region, to regain a sense of place and belonging and to safeguard future access to the special and original, vs. the bland, the global and the commoditized." What the Trendwatching.com folks are talking about here is brand loyalty, with geography as the brand.

A big part of creating an attractive public identity for a neighborhood involves canceling out worries about the perceived hassles and drawbacks of urban life. One of the main complaints about urban life (and suburban life as well) is that traffic and congestion will make life more difficult. While city governments can encourage walking and transit usage all they want, this is not enough. Creative solutions must be found to make life at least seem simpler.

Pop to the Shops, which is covered more thoroughly in the TW report, is one of these such solutions. This online service allows residents of select cities in South Wales to shop at small local businesses for fresh food and other products and have them delivered straight to their door. On top of chipping away at perceived congestion problems by eliminating a shopper's time spent traveling to and from the grocery store while simultaneously raising the quality of the food they are eating, this service rather brilliantly taps into the story component from the previous subtrend. Even after the novelty wears off, living in a neighborhood where fresh produce and milk are delivered to your doorstep every few days still earns bragging rights. In other words, it's something that people will tell their friends about, and something that their friends will then look for themselves.

Support for independent, locally-owned businesses has always been a part of urban life. In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs described patronizing the shops that were owned and operated by her neighbors. Neighborhoods are only as strong as the communities that are formed within them. Communities, then, are joint ventures between groups of people who live within close proximity to each other to make something beautiful out of their surroundings. Again, I'm getting overly clinical, but if you consider all of the people in a community to be partners within a joint venture, it becomes easier to see why stengthening ties between the residential and commercial interest-holders is a vital part of creating the kind of place where people want to be.

People take to local stores. Coffee shops, restaurants, convenience stores -- all of these things become very important (if taken-for-granted) pieces of their neighborhoods' urban fabric. This happens because no one is going to brag about their neighborhood Starbucks or McDonald's. Well, I suppose there are probably exceptions to that rule, but I'd be willing to bet that the number of exceptions is by no means large enough to create buzz around a city neighborhood. So to promote local businesses in any way -- especially by helping them to compete with global conglomorates by connecting them to their customers through the internet -- is to improve the health of the neighborhood overall.

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To sum up this little exploration of the (Still) Made Here trend, I've paraphrased the questions posed by TW's editing team to entrepreneurs to make them more applicable to the marketing/public perception problems facing many urban neighborhoods. These are questions that, I hope, can be used by neighborhood groups to examine what people like about their neighborhood, how to tell its story in a captivating and compelling way, and how to get that story out there, into the proverbial ether. "Asset-based" planning has been a part of the planning vocabulary for a while now. The next step is to realize the potential of the intangible -- the cultural story of a place -- to neighborhood revitalization. And so:

Who might enjoy knowing more about our neighborhood, and would be interested in accessing our neighborhood's history, from an eco or ethics angle? How could we embed our cultural story to the public's perception of our neighborhood?

Is there an opportunity in creating a bold statement piece (manifesto, etc.) or turning an aspect of our neighborhood's current reputation into a distinctly local play, including a compelling local story? Who can we partner with to help us highlight this part of our neighborhood's story?

Can we promote unique and obscure local businesses, helping our neighbors to tell our cultural story to others in a more compelling way? Should we create new and/or innovative services that do this, if many local businesses are similar to those found in other, nearby neighborhoods?



Links:
(Still) Made Here (Trendwatching.com)

Pop to the Shops

Part I: Eco and Ethics

Part II: Story and Status

3 comments:

Thomas said...

Geography as a brand is brilliant. Last summer, my partner and drove our way up the West Coast of the United States from San Francisco to Portland, Oregon. We went into lots of little, local boutiques of a certain type and aesthetic sensibility. After about the third one, I was able to predict what specific merchandise the stores would carry. While none of the shops were chains, and none of the merchandise were mass brands, the repetition of the same small brands in indpendent shops was a little disappointing.

A related issue is how homogenous certain consumer goods have become across country and continental borders.

Of course all of this suggests that I should rely less on shopping and consumption as an important activity while traveling...

Jennifer said...

Really great post! I've been working on an article idea related to the decline of community but it's so confusing as to what's been going on in our neighborhoods and cities that takes away from our pride of being a part of something larger, it would probably take a book to explain. However, I think you covered ans summed up lots of neat points about how to help preserve community pride, or as you said create a neighborhood "buzz".

Really very cool writing.

Brendan said...

I read an article once about cotureism, aka tourism (specifically the international variety) focused on shopping. I can't find anything about it online, nor can I remember what magazine it was in, but it certainly struck me as interesting. I suppose this is the height of capitalist society; not only do we shop for goods, we also shop for places -- or, more importantly, the experiences they provide us with.

I tend to look for solutions in the form of subtle subversion -- i.e. working with the system at the same time that you go against the grain. Using postmodern capitalism as a way of promoting the renewal of industrial-era urban cores that the system so efficiently drained of life and resources is right up my alley. :-)

At any rate, I'm glad you both liked this one...and I'm sorry it took me so long to respond to the comments.