Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Can Sense of Place be Choreographed?

When asked to describe the community’s personality or brand, many people describe a physical attribute as I did when place branding expert Bill Baker first asked me to describe Durham, North Carolina, where I live and I responded with “architectural brick relief.”

Then as he would later do through scores of personal interviews and focus groups carefully balanced to reflect every aspect of the community, he patiently continued to ask questions until the hundreds of people involved were able to drill down past activities, etc. to the very essence of this community's distinct personality, its temporal character and values.

It then took a lot of scientific generalizable research to confirm that Durham truly owned these attributes that were identified both in the minds of its residents, but also external stakeholders such as visitors and potential visitors and businesses and executives looking to relocate and talented people they pursue.

But for anyone who focuses on “place” only through the lens of the “built environment,” there is an interesting new book, a very quick read by Dr. Avi Friedman entitled The Nature of Place –A Search for Authenticity.

Through a series of stories about various places he has visited and studied, Friedman, an architecture professor at McGill in Montréal describes what make these places unique and lasting while also describing why so many place lack what he calls “soul.”  He's very clear that you cannot “choreograph place.”

If, like me, you've grown accustomed to reading e-books I think you'll have to buy an actual book this time, but it is available in paperback.

Dr. Friedman helped me understand why various Durham architectural elements such as its unique tobacco warehouses along with the Neo- Gothic West Campus of Duke University are so treasured by residents and visitors alike. In his words, what makes places like Durham, authentic is that “they age gracefully.”

The tobacco warehouses now in adaptive reuse as offices and restaurants and stores, feature architectural detail and relief that distinguish them from similar buildings in other communities.  Friedman notes the buildings such as these and centerpieces such as Duke Chapel (which is really a cathedral) were a challenge to build but the people who built them took care in building them to age gracefully.

Place-based assets such as these, along with those that are environmental and cultural when blended with distinctive personality and character traits are all part of the community’s overarching  brand.
Durham and the way it is reflected by its community’s destination marketing organization and its partners “got it right.”  The real challenge though is continuing to shape an ever-evolving community that continues to “age gracefully.”

For those not into reading, to hear a brief broadcast interview about the book with Dr. Friedman on PRI’s The World click here.

No comments: