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Cities and territories: five top measures to make them more attractive

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Culture is a strong asset when used as a social and economic development tool. This inspiring topic has been widely documented. The many papers resulting from cultural policies or Agenda 21 for culture are particularly very explicit in this regard.

Nevertheless, our long practice as consultants lead us to broaden this thought process and present you with another perspective on territory attractiveness in relation to culture, leisure and sports.

We propose five measures for you to consider and define what actions to take to enhance your territory’s attractiveness.

These points rely on three findings:

  1. Today’s citizens are many, complex, ever-changing and constantly moving: demographic changes, fragmented lifestyles, new cultural communities, etc.
  2. Territory attractiveness is a team sport! No sector (sport, culture, urban planning, economic development, etc.), investment strategy, or asset (land, transportation infrastructures, etc.) can boast being able to increase a territory’s attractiveness all on its own.
  3. Municipal organizations, through their regulatory framework, are generally rather rigid organizations. What’s more, several factors lead them to develop in isolation, even when collaboration is implicitly encouraged.

With these premises in mind, we present, for your consideration, five measures to make your territory more attractive and retain your citizens and businesses.

These five measures are as follows:

1. Understanding the present and outlining the future

Today more than ever, our lifestyles are constantly changing: the profile, composition and lifestyle of our populations are in ferment. At the same time, never has there been as much information and so many tools available for obtaining a fair, real-time understanding of our populations’ needs, satisfactions and expectations. Municipal managers must keep a veritable scoreboard to properly monitor, or even get more ahead of, the parade!

2. Acting together

Having a wealth of information, regardless of how relevant, does not always guarantee success. There is a strong risk of getting overwhelmed and the challenge of translating this information into action is vital. There are three key factors to consider: Have a clear vision and positioning that are shared with the parties involved, have a well-scripted scenario (strategic planning) and, lastly, know how to integrate innovation into the processes and strategies.

3. Mobilizing all players

The key to successful territorial attractiveness strategies rests on the engagement of the parties involved (organizations, institutions, citizens, businesses, etc.) and their being in line with the vision. There are many interesting ways to increase engagement in the municipal arena. We’ve noted the growing desire to implement these new approaches. Nevertheless, we will have to make sure that there’s substance behind the glossy packaging with regard to these new citizen approaches. Furthermore, a fair amount of energy will be needed to engage the silent majorities (citizens or businesses).

4. Reinventing public spaces

One of the most important measures concerns equipment and infrastructures, because they are at the heart of our communities’ vitality. We believe there is a need to reinvent how we plan and design public, or even private, spaces and infrastructures. Given the significant amounts invested in this regard, we must ensure that added value is created for each investment. The vitality and dynamism of each community will strongly depend on how decision-makers interpret this measure. A large number of successes, but also failures, will have to be studied so that we can find the best.

5. Making the territory come alive

In our practice, we find that, historically, municipal managers (in leisure and culture) have had an approach that is limited to managing infrastructures (arenas, libraries, sports fields, etc.) and programs (day camps, cultural activities, etc.). Our observations lead us to design a new approach, one where they become true “territory facilitators” rather than equipment and program managers, and change our way of doing things. This shift is happening here and there, but it’s still only in the beginning phase.

In conclusion, we invite municipal players to ask themselves: “Are we well positioned for each of these measures?” If so, there is a good chance that your territory will come out on top in terms of attractiveness and retaining your various clients. However, if the answer is no, in order to move in the right direction, you will have to implement specific actions for each of these measures.

This article appeared in Le Sablier, published by the Association des directeurs généraux des municipalités du Québec.

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