People think that geography is about capitals, land forms, and so on. But it is about place – its emotional tone, social meaning, and generative potential.

– Dr. Yi-Fu Tuan

Nation branding is much more complicated and it’s much harder to manage…, it is not good for a nation to have a perception that is miles and miles away from its reality.

– Wally Olins

Places (cities) are built to last, but many have vanished and none survives today in exactly the form of its initial construction. A genius for regeneration distinguishes the most ancient of existing places (cities), fostered by the political ambitions, or economic might, of leading citizens. In China, an idealised concept of places (cities) transcended and survived its physical realities. In Europe, ruins evoke images of past glory.

– John Reader

The 21st century will redefine the world landscape, an era of Great Reset. The world is still in the midst of an age of worldwide economic expansion when governments leading and investing heavily in building massive infrastructures, subsidising suburban development, and rationalising city centres as locations for skyscrapers – an age, in short, that was typical of the United States of America and Europe after the Second World War and appears a lot like China now. The business of place traditionally defined as a place to learn, live, work, and play, but it had grew into abject capital gain which ultimately contributing to placelessness and the economic crisis in the Western world – deep socio-economic problems remain.

What is sense of place industry? It is a global industry including but not limited to the location of home-grown industries, economies of local agglomeration (also known as linkages), transportation, international trade, economic development, real estate, built environment, gentrification, ethnic economies, gendered economies, core-periphery theory, the economics of urban form, the relationship between the environment and the economy (tying into a long history of geographers studying culture-environment interaction), and globalisation.

Today’s governments and capitalists are still trying hard to maintain status quo at the expense of the natural environment, declining places, and disenfranchised communities. The local communities today are facing a globalised world with great uncertainties, leaning toward decentralisation and deindustrialisation. Self-importance symbols whether tangible and intangible are dangerous. Political driven projects on place making and place branding are often aggressive and arrogant symbols of power and ego, selfish and hermetic. In truth, successful place making and branding is about telling real stories, expressing visions, retaining its soul, and sentimental values are part of it. In recent years, we witness the growing voices to facilitate the understanding between local inhabitants and content of a place. We need to make places that do not shut people out, one that respond to local, as well as area-wide needs.

Sense of place is an umbrella term encompassing all place-based economic sectors, is actually a multi-trillion-dollar marketplace. It is the world’s largest ‘industry’, invariably related to the notion that places compete with other places for people, resources, and business. It is a segmented fraternity with hundreds of definitions which could be easily concluded as a single discipline – sense of place. The main concern is never about the understanding and defining of various terms under the sense of place fraternity. The manifestation of ‘territorial’ mind-set has infected the need to be seen larger or greater in perception through graphic identity and sloganeering. It is simply about expressing the true content of the place, supported by its inhabitants with pride. Sense of place is not a zero-sum game; it could be equitable and less complicated. For example, many unreal ‘nation branding’ campaigns have failed and to be replaced with a new re-branding exercise. The amount of time, money, and effort could be better spent on enacting meaningful sense of place for positive inward and outward sense of belonging toward a place, through celebration of diversity.

Embracing the Asian Century

After the global financial crisis in 2008, Asia grew at more than 6 per cent each year, outperforming a troubled world. Not just East Asia moreover, but also South Asia, South-east Asia, Africa, and Latin America. While the United States and Europe floundered, the gravity defying feat substantiated the idea of Asia’s rise to close the gap with developed economies. Now, gravity seems to be catching up with Asians, Africans, and Latin Americans.

In the Asian Century, the triumphal regions of Asia, Africa, and Latin America are expected to thrive economically but will face the immense challenges of poverty, burgeoning populations, vast slums, housing demolitions and natural disasters. The rise of Asian economies over the last 50 years – which started with Japan in the 1950s and then spread to Korea, Taiwan and Singapore, and later to the rest of Southeast Asia, with China and India taking the lead since the 1980s – has been mainly a story of production. With the notable exception of India, Asia’s rising prosperity has been largely driven by an export-oriented economic model. Asia has been the world’s biggest factory, a gigantic, increasingly integrated production machine churning out everything.

For the last half century the West and, above all the United States, has voraciously consumed what Asia produced. In the process, Asian countries have almost uninterruptedly run trade and current account surpluses. United States, by contrast, has run deficits that have ballooned in recent years. Between 2003 and 2008, for instance the US current account deficit averaged US$700 billion, equal to around five per cent of GDP. Almost half of the US deficit was with the countries of East Asia. In short, the last several decades, United States has been the main consumption engine and Asia the main production engine for the global economy.

But this dynamic is now changing. Asia’s pro-export policies – essentially low wages and cheap currencies – are becoming increasingly obsolete and unsuitable. This has become increasingly evident after the global financial crisis of 2008/2009. Asia is in the midst of changing its growth model. The previous almost single-minded focus on investment and production for exports is shifting towards domestic consumption and local infrastructure development. Yes, we are talking about the arrival and the rise of the global south as world’s next generation of travel, trade, investment, and talent destination.

Make Way for the Asian Century and the Rise of Global South

The rapid growth of past decades is written into the present landscape. Socio-economic growth has transformed cities, raised income levels, spurred urbanisation and technology: changing the way we live and work. And just as the transformation of the region has generated a tremendous amount of wealth for Asians, Africans, and Latin Americans over the past decade, the developments of the coming decade are likely to generate new opportunities for trending place making and branding across the world. More wealth will likely be generated as a result of demographic changes, urban and infrastructure growth, the continued rise of the middle class, and the expansion of Asian consumerism in the foreseeable future. The shift in economic gravity from the West to East is the biggest structural shift underway in the global economy today.

Over the coming years, Asia, Africa, and Latin America will play an even more influential role in the global economy, as its economic engine switches gear from production to consumption. In the Global South, the socio-economic growth continues despite political uncertainties in many countries. The secular growth of Asian, African and Latin American places and middle classes fuels both global investment and consumption in sense of place enactment through tangible and intangible assets building. The re-emergence of the Global South on the global stage is a huge drama with many sub-plots. Despite myriad issues, the growth in the Global South has become organic. Hundreds of millions of people are on the move, determined to do better for themselves and their future generation. Everything is in short supply – social infrastructure, mobility, public amenities, clean water, utilities, resilience, and happiness – the list is very long.

Therefore, the opportunities are huge. It is by tapping into Asian Century that the advanced economies of Europe and North America will re-invent themselves and un-do the flaws of easy capital. The great reset of the world, which is what it all amounts to, will not be smooth. Despite the efforts and deployment of global strategies, there will be financial, economic, political and social turbulence. There is much to be concerned about challenges and opportunities, of dangers and hopes. By sharing perspectives and insights, our coming summit – World Sense of Place Summit – MYPLACE MYBRAND in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia should be refreshing, inspiring, and energising. The Summit highlights the sense of place virtues and helps make the world more collaborative and sustainable.

Neighborhood is a word that has come to sound like a Valentine. As a sentimental concept, ‘neighborhood’ is harmful to city planning. It leads to attempts at warping city life into imitations of town or suburban life. Sentimentality plays with sweet intentions in place of good sense.– Jane Jacobs

The Global Challenge

In the 21st century, places worldwide will become the focal points of economic development, geopolitical competition and collaboration while balancing needs for long-term sustainability. With increasing population demands, places will also become the centres of human habitat and cultural development. However, the challenges of developing and managing sense of place will grow increasingly complex. Integrated place-based solutions will be needed to create optimum economic, environmental and social outcomes.

The emergence of key trends of the 21st century: globalisation, individualism, merging, acceleration, hi-tech, hi-touch, demographics, urbanisation and migration. The urban population explosion which is forecast positions cities as the engines for developing the society of the future and means we are at a defining point in how our future sense of place unfolds.

Whatever may have been the causes which have operated in the past, and are operating now, to draw the people into the cities, those causes may all be summed up as “attractions “; and it is obvious, therefore, that no remedy can possibly be effective which will not present to the people, or at least to considerable portions of them, greater “attractions ” than our cities now possess, so that the force of the old “attractions” shall be overcome by the force of new “attractions” which are to be created. Each city may be regarded as a magnet, each person as a needle; and, so viewed, it is at once seen that nothing short of the discovery of a method for constructing magnets of yet greater power than our cities possess can be effective for redistributing the population in a spontaneous and healthy manner.” – Ebenezer Howard

 

The Asian Century poses us the defining challenge to maintain the authenticity of places across the world while confronting the fear of difference and the hubris of modernising ambition. At a time in which debt driven places, driven by retail consumption against a broader alienation, we urgently need to connect real concern with socio-economic development and to our unsettled social condition and natural environment. There is a great need to promote social vitality of places with attractions morphing into the universally recognised economic value of destination culture.

As for the self-guiding communities, well, they have been submerged by elected officials who pay more attention to real estate developers than to community planners and torpedoed by economic recession on the one hand and citizens’ tax revolts on the other. The arrogance of government leadership and planners who encourage people migrate out of their native places, the monolithic architectural projects that shallow old places whole and the stunning rate of highway construction that moulds cities around space for vehicles, embody so much self-interest that not even a new socio-political revolution could thwart their forward flow. We invite all of us to imagine the world if we allow developers, who build, and financial institutions that finance the construction of new places that rips out a place’s heart. Every country, city and any place must prioritise value on great leadership that will lead its citizens forward and sustain its global competitiveness. More individuals are voluntarily coming forward to become ‘place champions’, emerging from small towns to cities.

Today’s global citizens confront a fundamental question. How do people from vastly different cultures and economic circumstances learn to accommodate one another’s needs within the confines of very dense and complex mobility of today’s world population? The world today is losing its sense in pursuit of fast-growth GDP through abject capitalisation of land and grandeur projects. Cities across the world are racing to build the ‘largest’ and unsustainable utopias to express grandeur without restraint and real sense of place. The only way that we can continue to live out the economic fantasy driven by speculation and flawed perception that we see all around us is by financially abusing and depriving the next generation’s access to precious natural resources – our future generation.

We can continue to derive opportunistic value from enacting sense of place but in a meaningful and sustainable approach. Let us come together to enact a thriving industry – the multi-trillion dollar sense of place industry, aiming for mainstream impact, to generate opportunities that are devoted to addressing the distinctive quality and character of our regions, cities, towns, and rural areas. Can we thrive in knowledge driven era when middle classes around the world are crippled with massive debts and not having access to real sense of place?

In reinventing new places, we are facing with unprecedented expenditure, increasing disenfranchised youth, displacing native citizens, compromising existing environment, and the declining of old socio-economic structures across the world. The arrival of the Asian Century should derive from local social reality and natural environment. This is the real challenge at the very heart of this Asian Century and a rare opportunity to define place-based economy to fulfil every place’s potential across the world. It is a catalyst of the next global revolution for new wealth creation. Imagine the globalised world without sense of place.