Branding Minneapolis/St. Paul

I was on a recent panel for the Urban Land Institute in Minneapolis with Steve McCallion, Anna Klingmann, Hope Schultz, moderated by Molly McMillen. The panel was brilliantly assembled and organized by David Motzenbecker.

There was a lot of talk onstage about how to go about branding a city, and how architecture helps define and even resuscitate areas. Richard Meier’s “building on the lower West Side of Manhattan has reclaimed an entire area now on the upsurge. Frank Gehry’s museum in Bilbao was famously built in a partial slum to help restore livability to the area.

Much of the discussion afterward surrounded what is the sound bite for the Twin Cities with the coming Republican Convention in St. Paul? Problem is, there just isn’t one. At least, not one that everyone agrees on.

In branding, if you don’t figure out what you’re about, others will figure it out for you. So far, what everyone has figured out is, “Gosh, it’s cold up here!”. (Which is what is pictured on the GOP website right now.)

You betcha.

The default, of course, is any outtake from the movie Fargo.

There is much to claim in Minneapolis and St. Paul. As headquarters for Target, Best Buy and other retailers, it is a hotbed for store innovation and design. Softsoap was created in Minneapolis, which inspired a totally new category in personal care. Aromatherapy was given new relevance and growth thanks to Aveda and the many companies inspired by Aveda. 3M created Post-It Notes.

Advertising and design firms like Sharon Werner, Duffy Design, Fallon and others have put Minneapolis design in the global spotlight. Those companies and other locals have created or sustained brands like Harley-Davidson, Kohler, BMW, FedEx, Citibank, and dozens more.

Minneapolis has also been building a reputation as an architectural site. Gehry’s Weisman Art Museum, Jean Nouvel’s Guthrie Theater, Herzog & de Meuron’s spectacular new addition to the Walker Art Center, and Cesar Pelli’s Minneapolis Public Library are all recent additions to the Minneapolis landscape.

And let’s not forget that Target’s latest mantra “Design For All”, has put high-end design in millions of homes thanks to lamps, bedding, even Philippe Starck toilet brushes.

We won’t even get into Mpls being the spiritual (or actual) home of Bob Dylan, Prince, The Replacements and other music hits.

So why can’t the City Fathers design a plan to create their own creed? Cities that are brands resonate far more than cities without meaning. They are able to attract new people, new commerce, and create advocates in far away places like Washington, D.C.. If cold, dark places like Finland, Amsterdam, Iceland and others can create a halo of good things, the Twin Cities’ lack is simply the product of lazy thinking.

For some pretty good random views of city planning check out this.