Imaginaries governing change : branding towards ‘Sustainable Helsinki’

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http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi:hulib-202105202322
Title: Imaginaries governing change : branding towards ‘Sustainable Helsinki’
Author: Toivettula, Karolina
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Science
Publisher: Helsingin yliopisto
Date: 2021
Language: eng
URI: http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi:hulib-202105202322
http://hdl.handle.net/10138/330137
Thesis level: master's thesis
Degree program: Kaupunkitutkimuksen ja suunnittelun maisteriohjelma
Master's Programme in Urban Studies and Planning
Magisterprogrammet i urbana studier och planering
Specialisation: USP Peoples
USP Peoples
USP Peoples
Abstract: Around the world, cities are using branding as a discursive and strategic practice to adjust to intensified, ongoing competition of tourists, investments, events and skilled labour. Simultaneously, in the era of the societal turning point, sustainability issues have become a global topic, and cities have begun to brand themselves as ‘pioneer’ in sustainability. Gradually, place branding’s potential as a strategic instrument of urban development and change has been understood, and therefore, it is increasingly applied in urban governance. This thesis focuses on this change in place branding and explores the relationship between place branding and sustainable development in the context of Helsinki’s branding. More specifically, I study how place branding can be harnessed as a transformative and strategic tool to further sustainable urban development. The theoretical foundation is built on place branding literature that takes into consideration the diverse and transformative role of place branding. I reinforce the place branding theory with the concept of imaginary, which are visions of the future utilised to steer decision-making and further policies. The imaginaries can act as technologies of governance, through which cities delegate responsibility for the citizens to guide them towards a specific aim, for instance, ‘Sustainable Helsinki’. My research data consists of strategies and a website produced by the City of Helsinki. The material addresses sustainable development and the City’s branding cuts through all content. I analyse the content through frame analysis to find how Helsinki frames itself in terms of sustainable development and if any imaginaries attempt to steer the citizens to take responsibility for their sustainability actions. My research findings confirm the increasingly common perception in place brand research according to which place branding can be used as a comprehensive strategic tool in urban development. In Helsinki, place branding has moved over from mere city marketing towards a governance strategy whose objective is to both manage perceptions about places and shape the place according to the city strategies or policies. Also, what stood out was the emphasis on economic sustainability, which was visible even in sections that addressed the other two dimensions – environmental or social. This finding highlights how Helsinki’s branding is heavily influenced by the common narratives of economic success and international competition. Central findings in my research were that Helsinki uses competitive and cooperative ways of portraying itself in sustainable development and succeeding in global competition. In both of these frames, Helsinki uses imaginaries of ‘Sustainable Helsinki’, but in different ways. In the competitive tone of voice, the delegation of responsibility is more implying and indirect since the focus is on the objective, not the process. In cooperative framing, the imaginaries are more straightforwardly asserting responsibility to people and businesses. My research shows that there are several ways to guide people through place branding, but in Helsinki’s case, the city is appealing to the freedom and independence of its locals.
Subject: place branding
imaginaries
governmentality
sustainable development
frame analysis


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