merijn oudenampsen on Tue, 16 Mar 2010 15:41:35 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-nl] To Brand or not to Brand do 18 maart, de Balie Amsterdam

You are kindly invited to:

To Brand or not to Brand
The Electrosmog Global Citybranding debate

Thursday March 18th, 21.00hrs – 23.00hrs De Balie | Kleine-Gartmanplantsoen 10 | Venues: De Balie, Amsterdam / Eyebeam, New York / Medialab Prado, Madrid For ElectroSmog events in Amsterdam two types of tickets are available, day-tickets are 10€/5€, passepartouts 20€/10€.
Online participation possible, see:

Branding strategies are the object of extensive critical research, mostly from the area of urban sociology. This research tries to figure out how such large scale urban and regional product-packaging strategies are affecting local economic structures, land and real-estate, local tax provisions, social housing, traffic flows, and other conditions that have an immediate impact on the daily life of residents.

In this debate, designers, artists, activists, architects and sociologists will look at the relation between branding and sustainability. Citybranding - or nation branding - attempts to hook up a location to the international flow of tourists, goods, workers and capital. It makes a lot of sense from a short term economic point of view. From the point of view of sustainability, however, these branding strategies are highly questionable. They add to the problematic of hypermobility that is being discussed in the Electrosmog festival.

In a broader sense the critique of city branding addresses the question of whether it is a good idea to profile places as products in an international market instead of living environments for their inhabitants. On the other hand, one could ask, whether cities and regions are economically viable at all without effective branding and promotion strategies. Are there alternative branding strategies?

Contributions by:

Merijn Oudenampsen, Amsterdam
Ana Méndez & Isidro López, Observatorio Metropolitano, Madrid <>
Beka Economopoulos & Jason Jones, Not An Alternative, New York <>
Daniel van der Velden,designer and writer, Meta-haven, Brussels / Amsterdam <>
Eva Ramos López, Town Planning and Housing Area, Madrid City Council


Merijn Oudenampsen
The smiling facade: building the brand of Amsterdam

Amsterdam started branding itself in the eighties, through the already forgotten /Amsterdam// Heeft ‘t/ campaign. It appealed in popular slang to existing residents of Amsterdam, instructing them to become proud ‘sellers of the town’. The campaign was part and parcel of a paradigm shift: a new entrepreneurial policy took over from the old Keynesian way of running things. Presently, Amsterdam is one of the best brands around. The city sells itself through the I Amsterdam campaign. A slick, life size billboard pops up on prominent tourist locations. Tracing the history of the Amsterdam branding campaigns, we can see that they are not simply superficial promotion campaigns but the linchpin of a new urban policy that sells cities as products in the international marketplace.

Merijn Oudenampsen is a political and urban researcher. Besides working on issues such as citybranding, the creative city, and urban redevelopment more broadly, he is currently concerned with the spectacular ascendance of Dutch populist politics.

Isidro López and Ana Méndez de Andés (Obsevatorio Metropolitano)
Madrid, Global City?

In the last ten years Madrid has become, to the surprise of it’s inhabitants, a true global city, an important node in the shortlist of competitive cities. By 2009, it had the fourth airport in Europe as to the transit of passenger's (after Heathrow, Paris and Frankfurt). It also occupied second place in terms of International Trade Shows, after London. It is the eighth city in of the world with regard to multinational headquarters and, in fact, sells more hotel nights than Barcelona.

This economic development has, nevertheless, not been accompanied by a focused branding strategy. Unlike Barcelona, Madrid has not built a clear 'brand' to sell, an identity beyond the simple idea of a city full of (economic) opportunities. But this lack of a global image is compensated by different and quite situated projects that, together, can be used to outline the principles behind this next phase of urban development in Madrid. The two (and counting) bids for the Olympic Games <>, the regeneration of the city centre in order to attract business tourism <> (average hotel stay is less than 1.5 nights) or to create revanchist projects in 'black holes' of the city, and a new will to create and promote Madrid's creative industries, are very much trying to take advantage of Madrid's global characteristics while exploiting its metropolitan cultural production.

The Observatorio Metropolitano is an activist research group that has been studying these global processes and the way they shape our city in order to provide the social movements with the theoretical, analytical and politic tools that would help us to face the transformations Madrid is experiencing.

Beka Economopoulos and Jason Jones, Not An Alternative, New York
Rebranding Williamsburg

In 2005 the neighborhood (Williamsburg/Greenpoint) where Not An Alternative is based was up for NYC's most aggressive rezoning in history. Not An Alternative took part in a rezoning/gentrification campaign, of which they will show some specific interventions, such as:

A video project that inserts community members into the city's Autocad rendering of what the future Williamsburg would look like if their zoning regulations pass. I.e., the city and developer's advertisement for the future. See: And in that same vein, a big billboard using a modified still / screenshot of the city/developer's ad, placed on the main street, Bedford Avenue, as a means to publicize the campaign. Not An Alternative took polaroid pics of passersby who'd insert themselves into the image, created a photo petition wall for city council, and had folks signs postcards to legislators with the same image. It functioned like a traditional activist campaign in that regard, but with the intervention on the city ad campaign we aimed to produce an ad for what our future neighborhood could look like: one in which the creative class subverted its traditional role, and engaged in fighting gentrification: <>.

Not An Alternative is a non-profit organization based in Brooklyn, New York, whose mission aims to integrate art, activism and theory in order to affect popular understandings of events, symbols and history/


The branding of places belongs to image politics today. While the theoretical foundation of branding – 'soft power' – is being put to the test across the board, today's geopolitical world order and its hasty single-issue coalitions reveal imminent shifts in global influence which place branding was never prepared to deal with. In a series of short observations based on the dynamics at play at the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit, we will address a few of the most urgent changes.

Metahaven is a design office based in Amsterdam and Brussels. Their book Uncorporate Identity (Lars Müller Publishers, 2010) presents an epic series of narratives on the relation between politics and design./

Eva Ramos (Oficina del Centro of the Madrid Town Hall)
The Future Image of Madrid

The Office for the Centre (Oficina del Centro) is currently drawing-up a Strategic Project for Madrid City Centre. The main objective of this project is the characterization of the central area of the city, laying out a final model for it. A model based in a new cultural organization that would become a symbol of the future image of the city.

We are, therefore, looking for the identity of the city, through the strengthening of its qualities, i.e., working for and from citizen's visions, and setting up the tools needed to improve their quality of life to make Madrid more attractive for its own inhabitants.

This improvement of the standards of life entails a better response to the most demanding needs from the Madrid population. The population we want to attract and settle, is one which has been shown to improves the city's competitiveness: the creative class.

Eva Ramos is an urban planner working for the Madrid City Hall.

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