Cities Feature: Urban Identity – How you shape your city and how your city shapes you.

We hosted our third #citytalk tweetchat on Wednesday with Philips Livable Cities and the discussion was as interesting as it was fast-paced – VERY. The topic under discussion was centred around the identities of citizens and cities and how these two relate (Read the full Preview) The resulting conversations were fascinating (and kudos to @harry_verhaar – Philips’ Head of Sustainability – whose first Twitter experience was this tweetchat.

We kicked off the discussion by asking how your identity has been shaped by the city you live in. @RunUrb expressed that ‘Living in London with so many different nationalities & creative people has made me more open to meeting and working with new people’. @C2MTL shared a similar sentiment, saying ‘Montreal seems to have a creativity-inducing power. Perhaps bipolar cultures (& confused weather) has something to do with it’. Almost everyone was able to pinpoint how their city had played a role in shaping their identity.


We then moved on to the identity of the city itself, asking what factors shaped a city’s identity. @buttermilk1 said ‘history plays a huge role in shaping a city’s identity’, which @what_up_son agreed with, adding ‘history is also shaped by location and trade’. @CarterLavin introduced the ‘sibling rivalry’ theory, suggesting that ‘a huge impact on a city is what cities are near it. philly/san jose’s self-perception is massively shaped by prox of NYC/SF’. @ghanscom got even more psychoanalytical on us, mentioning Baltimore’s ‘unshakable inferiority complex’. It seems the #citytalkers definitely believe cities have their own identities.

Our next question was: How can cities respect the past whilst forging a new identity? @harry_verhaar suggested that cities should ‘build the future on the past’, proposing that ‘cities can utilize landmarks & history as a core for social activities and attracting tourism’. @popupcity agreed: ‘Cities can base their new identity on the past. Revitalize the good things, maintain a decent mix of old and new.’ After further agreement, @futurecapetown noted ‘it is important to find the right balance between conserving and innovating’.

Cities often shape their identities with light, exaggerating their perceived best features. @Neighborhoodist celebrated the flaws by saying ‘while in LA, love or hate it, purple light pollution and spotlights from Staples Center is definitely part of the spectacle character’. @harry_verhaar commented that ‘good lighting has less lighting spilled, so people can actually sleep without being bothered by light’. The inneficient use of lighting in office buildings also came up in discussion, with @elyanaja calling it ‘ironic’ that ‘one of San Diego’s “sustainable” energy companies’ office lights are on 24/7′.

Next up we asked if cities are becoming the super brands of the 21st century, will nation states be taking a back seat? @futurecapetown said ’cities can become ambassadors for the entire country’, which @nameyourhood agreed with: ‘Cities are often all a tourist or business person has to judge a country by. A vital brand opportunity.’ Don’t worry, countries, you still serve a purpose. @CarterLavin reminded us that ‘war is still the concern of nations, not cities’. @MariettedTH added that nations should use their ‘big brand cities’ wisely abd should see cities as brand partners, with Istanbul and Turkey considered a good example.

The role of cultural diversity in shaping urban identities generated much discussion. I praised London (and most Londoners) for being ‘a world city and loving it’. @ghanscom mentioned that diversity is beneficial for urban regeneration, calling it ‘one of the main factors attracting Americans back to cities.’ @CarterLavin said ‘when people talk about how culturally diverse a city is, food is often the vehicle.’ Cue a lengthy and enjoyable discussion about world food.

We wrapped up our chat by talking about the potential threat of urbanisation and globalisation for city’s identity. @elyanaja said ‘urbanization or globalization don’t necessarily have to be about changing the face/identity of cities for the worse’, though @popupcity disagreed: ‘many typical globalization-driven urban regeneration projects have the same characteristics…’ @Neighborhoodist suggested the problem might be more local, saying ‘some *neighborhood* identities are potentially under threat from this, but city/metro ID is often played up/exaggerated’. @humestreet  wasn’t concerned, commenting that ‘like there are better results in collaboration, there are also better results in diversity – we just need to talk’.