Mayor Advises City Planners to Drive Uniqueness

Duluth, Ga., Mayor Nancy Harris advises city planners to design based on local mojo.


By Mayor Nancy Harris

DULUTH, GA. -- Oftentimes municipalities struggle to identify their own uniqueness and settle on the generic amenities and attributes that can be found in the conventional “cool” cities. Bike lanes, coffee shops, startups, microbreweries, public art, boutiques and hip restaurants are all great to have in a city, but they are the standardized urban ante in today’s market. These amenities are the civic equivalent to best practices. As Harvard business professor Michael Porter puts it, “Competitive strategy is about being different. It means deliberately choosing a different set of activities to deliver a unique matrix of value.”

More Than a Brand

There is something warm and cozy about the word “local.” Perhaps it represents authenticity, honesty and high quality. Maybe this is true because one knows the merchant or perhaps the service is easily accessible and locally grounded.

Authenticity is attractive to people and represents relevant distinctiveness in a city. Place keeping is another way to identify a city that finds relevance and value in cultural heritage and embraces the historical backdrops from which it came. Place keeping is more than a brand—it means enhancing what is local and truly understanding local context.

So, for economic reasons, it is probably a good idea for a city to do a little anthropological work to unearth its distinctiveness and identify the “mojo” that makes each place unique. Being distinctive means one must identify the relevance of an area or city and embrace the quirky, old stories and traditions of the past. Creating a unique vibe that sets a city apart from others is a competitive strategy that finds value in relevance.

“To Thine Own Self Be True”

There are unique and interesting subtleties that belong to every city. Just as Shakespeare’s Hamlet quotes from the play, each city must identify its own self and be true to its local character. Traditional city planners have been talking about “place making” for years as they work with cities to develop new and significant projects such as a town gathering area, new buildings for retail and restaurants, sidewalks, street lights and so on. However “place keeping” is actually much different in that the search is for understanding the local culture by establishing its place within the context of cultural history and what is genuinely important to the locals. Staying true to the roots that give a place its mojo is critical to a projects’ success.

Continue reading the original story on the Georgia Municipal Association website.

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