The crucial factor in creating a strong area brand is having a clear vision for the area’s development. An area with a strong brand stands out and has its own character.
Pispala and Kallio. That’s about it. That’s Juha Kostiainen’s response when asked about which Finnish districts or neighbourhoods have a strong area brand. Kostiainen is Senior Vice President, Sustainable Urban Development at YIT.
Kostiainen cites a comparison of European city districts based on three criteria: hipster appeal, creativity and tourism value. The top two spots went to Kreuzberg in Berlin and Miera Iela in Riga. No Finnish city district made the list.
Why is that? Kostiainen thinks it’s because differentiating between areas is not something we are accustomed to in Finland. He emphasises that differentiation is not the same as inequality – after all, people value different things. Pispala has a clear brand as a different kind of city district, but that doesn’t mean everyone wants to live there.
Creating a more unique character for an area requires a vision.
“City strategies are good and carefully considered, but they lack the courage to differentiate,” Kostiainen says.
A vision helps develop an area
To differentiate an area and build a strong area brand, we must consider many different factors beyond just architecture, for example. Creating an effective vision takes into account a long list of things that could characterise the area in question. What aspects of this area appeal to people? And what are those people like? What kinds of things would they tell others about? What would visitors to the area pay attention to?
Architecture certainly plays a role in making an area recognisable. One good example is the Central Pasila area that is currently under construction. It will feature not only buildings that are unusually high for Finland, but also an exceptional degree of mixed use development.
“It’s been said that, in the long run, it doesn’t really matter whether a particular building is very large. People might come to see it once for its sheer size, but not repeatedly. Genuine appeal is achieved through the combination of several elements and, for example, what the high-rise buildings are connected to,” Kostiainen explains.
Municipal authorities and developers can’t create area brands all by themselves. The effort needs people who want to make an area their own. Indeed, it’s important to listen to local residents and various stakeholders when planning and developing areas. The area vision must be loose enough to take interaction into consideration.
Kostiainen cites the example of the Vallilan Konepaja district in Helsinki, where he himself lives. The original vision for Vallilan Konepaja highlights the importance of bringing creative activities together in the area.
When an area has an effective vision in place, the vision can be used to determine whether a given proposal for the area is appropriate or not. Former U.S. Ambassador Bruce Oreck is in the process of acquiring a complex in the Vallilan Konepaja area that consists of a former train assembly building, painting shop and electric train building.
According to Kostiainen, Oreck’s thoughts on the area’s future development are in line with the original vision.
Infill development can improve area branding
Another way to influence an area’s differentiation, reputation and brand is infill development, says Eeva Hirvijärvi, Vice President, Marketing, at YIT. Even a single smartly designed city block can bring new spirit to the entire area. Renovating an old local shopping centre can also be a significant move.
“Ultimately, what’s most important is that the local residents are satisfied and full of praise for the area,” Hirvijärvi explains.
For the local residents, a strong area brand means that they identify with the area and, if they need to move, they will look for a new home nearby. They look after their neighbourhood and feel a sense of pride about where they live.
While Hirvijärvi highlights the importance of engaging the participation of local residents, good planning and design provide the foundation for an area that is genuinely distinctive and unique. An area can be made appealing not only by good overall architecture, but also by factors such as the placement of buildings, courtyards, shared facilities and special features that are significant to local residents, such as urban gardening boxes for useful plants.
There are also other ways to create positive interest in an area, such as pop-up businesses and creative structures. Structures can even become destinations for visitors, as in the case of lookout spots for taking in the local scenery.
“Awareness can be increased by getting people to come and visit the area and share their experience on social media. Having even one such destination can make a big difference to the level of appeal an area holds,” Hirvijärvi says.
Art helps an area stand out
Art is another way to influence an area’s differentiation and branding. According to YIT’s Art Coordinator Mari Kemppinen, the Arabianranta district of Helsinki, for example, has already begun to be associated with art in people’s minds. Kruunuvuorenranta, an area that is currently under construction, may one day be known as the district of light due to the large amount of light art found there.
“Around here, we have a tendency of building areas that are quite uniform and similar. Art can make an area more distinctive.
Kemppinen is pleased to see a growing amount of art created under the percentage principle, which means that a certain part of the project´s budget is used in art. The Kangas district in Jyväskylä and Kalasatama in Helsinki are good examples of using this approach. They also include performing arts, events and community art in the art created under the percentage principle.
“Art is one way to engage people in the development of their district,” Kemppinen says.
Art also makes an area more recognisable and creates meeting places that everyone knows about. In Helsinki, for example, it’s easy to meet a friend at the Three Smiths Statue in the city centre.
Kemppinen points out that a developer can take an even more active role than what is required by the percentage art principle, for instance. In line with its goal of being a pioneer in this regard, YIT is currently considering art-related projects it could take a more active role in.
Area brands are also in demand in Russia
YIT is building large new areas in Russia. The different aspects considered in planning their construction include what pillars their brand could be built on and how to differentiate them from other areas, says Venla Laakkonen, Marketing and Sales Director for YIT in Russia.
According to her, it’s a recognised fact in both Finland and Russia that the marketing and branding of areas can’t be based on isolated marketing tricks.
“You can’t create areas by starting with a vacant plot of land, building on it and only then thinking about who might be interested in living there and how the area might appeal to people,” Laakkonen explains.
She cites the example of Kazan in Central Russia, where different stakeholders have been engaged in the planning and design of the area right from the start. This included a design competition to generate ideas for the outdoor areas of the district.
“We came up with a lot of nice ideas, many of which are also aimed at engaging the participation of the local people. The ideas are now being put into practice and special attention is paid to ensuring that small children, teenagers and seniors all have stimulating and attractive outdoor areas to enjoy.
One important aspect of planning and the subsequent marketing can also be a well-known local feature such as a lake or historical building. Then again, in some regions, such as suburban Moscow, a differentiation can be made based on the area being very new.
“The most important thing is that marketing and branding efforts are based on a genuine foundation and that they involve the local people and character,” Laakkonen concludes.
For further information, please contact:
Juha Kostiainen, Senior Vice President, Sustainable Urban Development, YIT Corporation, tel. +358 (0)400 721 475, firstname.lastname@example.org
Hanna Malmivaara, Vice President, Communications, YIT Corporation, tel. +358 (0)40 561 6568, email@example.com
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