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Place Power

We spoke to Chris Fair, president of Resonance—the consultancy behind the World’s Best Cities, ranking the best places in the eyes of visitors, investors and residents alike—about the process of placemaking.


Illustration by: JOE MAGEE

Place Power - FeaturedImage_An-illustration-with-patterns-and-vector-buildings

The best best advice I’ve ever received

“It came from Dr. Peter Bishop, who was a professor at the University of Houston: ‘Change is hard, but stagnation is fatal…’ Whether it’s in an ecosystem, a city or our personal lives, stasis inevitably leads to decline. Rather than resisting change, we need to embrace it to realize our full potential.”

About a decade ago, we were working on a strategy to attract more visitors to the south and east of Ireland, and they gave us a map of more than 1,000 tourism assets—castles, hotels and monuments.

We had to think about what really mattered to the international visitor, so we started mining data from Tripadvisor to understand how people were consuming Ireland as a place. That was really the genesis of the Best Cities methodology, a hybrid approach using core statistical data on things that we know attract people or investment, but also including experiential factors.

It has been a journey to understand which factors shape perception of place and how you put them together to evaluate what we call the “place power” of one city versus another. We look at three indicators. The first is the livability of the city, which covers things like the affordability of housing and access to health care. The second is lovability, which reflects experiential factors like nightlife, culture, restaurants and outdoor activities. The third piece is prosperity, which includes economic indicators but also a lot of human indicators like educational attainment, how shared prosperity is between people in a city, and poverty rates.

They do overlap, but every city is different, and the things that shape the performance of place evolve over time. We’ve seen that things like walkability and cycling networks in cities have a much stronger correlation with where young professionals are moving over the last four or five years. Housing is becoming more important, and it’s less about affordability and more about attainability. Heat stress and air quality issues resulting from wildfires are emerging as factors.

I think placemaking is underappreciated in cities. It’s often seen as a “nice to have” rather than a “need to have.” The value of it is not just community well-being; it can be a key driver of economic development because the relative vibrancy of places determines where businesses are forming.

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