Unique Selling Points In Regeneration, Or Just ‘Special’ Ones?
Regeneration and development are often focused on what’s ‘unique’ and ‘special’ about a location. What does it have which others don’t have? This is a good question, but it needs a context. There are many ways to define ‘special’ – and even more to define ‘unique’. Not all of these special qualities translate well beyond local boundaries. Maybe it’s when locations work with outsiders to find commonalities and difference that they can make this ‘USP’ regenerational focus most effective? But how can this be done? And by whom?
Marketing and renewal have in recent times become closely connected in terms of what happens to areas which require ‘regeneration‘. Along with the basics of reasonable housing and facilities, there is often a clear focus on what sort of ‘unique selling point’ (USP) a location can offer, as plans are made to develop and energise a rather stagnant local economy / community.
As an initial strategy this is sensible. Asking people to reflect on the defining features of their locality is a good way to support emerging ideas about how to improve things. Direct stakeholders’ views are always crucial to the exercise.
It is not always reasonable to expect those who live in a place to be aware of what is unique about their location, and what may not be. How can we be sure?
But encouraging the view that a place is better / more interesting than anywhere else can be a political or cynical ploy, not a genuine attempt to move forward. How much easier to leave people in their comfort zone, than to challenge local assumptions which perhaps make a difficult situation more immediately palatable for those who have to cope with it every day…
One aspect of regeneration in practice is a responsibility by those who take the lead, to ensure that the wider picture is at least available to direct stakeholders. No-one can insist that everyone has a wider view, but it seems reasonable to require at minimum that this is easily available. (Not all regeneration powers-that-be would agree about this requirement, of course; and many of them are not equipped for various reasons to do it.)
Finding common ground
Suggestions that things could be better if we emulated others elsewhere – or indeed the proposal that, instead of insisting we’re unique, we acknowledge commonality with others who also do things well / have a given local attribute – need not be negative.
Offered positively, information about other places and ways of doing things becomes a strength. Why not share a problem or a benefit? Increasingly, disparate geographical areas are coming together in this way. The North of England Mills and Canals conferences have been going for some years; BURA has recently identified both the Seaside and Universities as shared challenges and opportunities for the towns and cities concerned; rural areas have long-time histories of sharing good practice in agricultural produce shows and much else.
Taking it to the people
These good ideas now need to become more visible. For regeneration to be effective ordinary people, the immediate stakeholders in the process – not just the experts – must understand what’s happening and why. And part of that much-needed understanding is sharing commonality (specialness) as well as defining uniqueness.
Is there a role here for new ways to reach regenerating communities on the world-wide web? And, if so, who’s going to make it happen?