A variety of urban and cultural theorists have argued that the space of the city is produced not only materially and geographically but also in the social imagination, through changing modes of cultural representation.

Alongside the ‘real’ city exists an ‘urban imaginary’—one that can be described as a coherent, historically based ensemble of representations drawn from the architecture and street plans of the city, the art produced by its residents, and the images of and discourse on the city as seen, heard, or read in movies, on television, in magazines, and other forms of mass media.

For brand specialists and city councils concerned with urban branding, the challenge remains to select the urban imaginary on which the project will be based. As cities are usually divided along lines of business interests, class, race, ethnicity, and gender, there will be a number of urban imaginaries coexisting and competing with each other for dominance. The problem, however, is that these imaginaries do not function on an equal basis. Different groups of stakeholders with varying degrees of power have different resources available to them, and more powerful ones can represent and promote a specific imaginary that serves their best interests.

By branding their city, stakeholders seek to forge emotional linkages between a commodified city and its potential new ‘consumers’—prospective residents, investors, corporate partners, tourists, and so on. Dealing with stakeholders is always a challenge, especially since urban branding can be a politically sensitive issue that requires a great deal of ethics and integrity. Any fundamental divergence between some of the stakeholders and the project, no matter how small the affected minorities may be can result in a potential conflict that can seriously interfere with the process and the outcome of the urban branding.

In addition to this, it can be argued that the linkage between the place and the cultural narrative is crucial in the practice of contemporary urban branding. By their nature, narratives set cultural boundaries and with that they define certain audiences within a particular territory, while excluding others. With this, the aspect of ‘power’ is added to the fundamentals of architectural propaganda that has now taken the form of urban branding.

With this it becomes clear that urban branding is a political activity that involves selective storytelling, and as such it attempts to ‘re-imagine’ the city. Emplotted narratives (or stories) are central to any form of urban intervention. Even in the process of urban design, a story is constructed to motivate and legitimate the intervention.

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