(Still) Made Here: Story and Status

While yesterday's post examined the (Still) Made Here trend from the Eco and Ethics angle, today's looks at another subtrend that Trendwatcher.com's editors call Story and Status. In their words: "An obvious example of the link between locality and story/status is the perception of location-specific quality."

Location-specific quality is hardly a new concept in urbanism. However, it is most commonly used to attract tourists. Think about the French Quarter with its penchant for decadence, or Temple Bar's hybrid cultural/drinking scene, or Ginza with its blinking, frenzied energy. The previous references are to New Orleans, Dublin, and Tokyo, respectively, though the fact that you most likely didn't need clarification there speaks to the success of these places in positioning themselves as authentic and unique. But places like these can sell their story with minimal effort; they are veritable monoliths. Perhaps they just got lucky, but that's neither here nor there. What other neighborhoods must figure out is, "how can what is already here or has been here in the past help this place to become better in the future?"

In TW's report, the first part of Story and Status is titled "Inspiring global production trends: quality made here." The case studies include high (percieved) quality goods made by companies such as Ermenegildo Zegna and Rolex. These companies operate smaller factories or workshops, overcoming the challenge of higher production costs for skilled labor and materials by charging much higher prices than the competition for their product because they have earned a reputation for quality. So if we set up an analogy where neighborhoods are the factories and workshops, and a distinct "sense of place" is the product (I admit this is a cynical way to view communities, but bear with me), then the high production costs are the ills associated with aging architecture and infrastructure.

City neighborhoods are already status symbols in most places. If you live in Los Angeles, for example, you can identify yourself as being from The Valley, Hollywood, or Watts and get completely different reactions. By associating ourselves with a certain place, we are associating ourselves with the cultural story that has been created about that place, and that cultural story is the quality that will allow a place to overcome its challenges. To increase investment in a community, neighborhoods can focus on the most exceptional aspects of their local culture (which can be just about anything) in order to craft a favorable cultural story. And in a society where "individuality is the new religion" (credit TW) it seems that marketing a neighborhood's most unconventional aspects would be the best way to go about promoting it.

Here, though, we come to the problem of gentrification and one of its most infamous side-effects: culture drain. When neighborhoods become popular for their distinct local culture, the fear is always that scads of yuppies, hipsters, and other fad-crazed demographic groups will invade, price out current residents, install a Starbucks and a Gap, and erase the culture that made the neighborhood popular in the first place. It's Chinatown as "CHINATOWN". Also: it's gross. Also also: it has happened far too many times already.

The second part of Story and Status is "Purchasing ingredients for a story." And this, I'm afraid, is where I'm at a loss for compairisons. City neighborhoods cannot go out and purchase a unique history (though they can work toward creating one in the future by fostering progressive and creative communities. Keep Austin Weird would be one famous example of this sort of long-term planning.) Instead, cities must do what is commonly referred to as Asset-based Planning, taking, as suggested above, existing assets and positioning them as engines for neighborhood revitalization.

The "Purchasing ingredients" section does provide this interesting quote: "[We've] seen a rising interest in the truly different, the obscure, the undiscovered and the authentic. These new status symbols thrive on not being well known or easily spotted. They don't tell a story themselves, but require their owners to recount the story." So unconventional neighborhood features, then, can be used to either puff up a place's civic reputation or can be kept vague and slightly mysterious in order to give residents a sort of edge. (This would certainly explain all of that whining New Yorkers do about how they miss the good old days, when getting mugged was part of the daily routine.) Or whole neighborhoods could, themselves, be the quietly tucked-away spots that provide residents with secret satisfaction (though I'm not sure how you'd pull that off.) Either way, this concept seems to provide a way for neighborhoods to sidestep the culture drain process while still improving their local communities. As for how that would all play out, well...

Again, I ask: any ideas?

(Photo from Flickr user Anole.)

(Still) Made Here (Trendwatching.com)

Keep Austin Weird

Evaluating neighborhoods in terms of assets of all kinds (Rebuilding Place...)

Part I: Eco and Ethics

Part III: Support

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