‘Kreative Kingston’?: The Brand Potential of Jamaica’s Capital
I recently chanced upon a blog post (Blog – Places) about a new city brand campaign launched by the Government of Japan in 2011 called the ‘Creative Tokyo Project’. The campaign pivots around Tokyo’s creative industries – art, fashion, music, food, and other cultural events, which were scheduled to be staged throughout 2012 and beyond.
What struck me was that this was not just an ad hoc idea/event which no overarching political and cultural philosophy or economic purpose. The project kickoff event was a Creative Tokyo Forum called ‘Designing New Futures’ in which leading figures working in the international creative industries gather to exchange opinions and to discuss the “reformation and revival of Japanese society”. The project really aims to foster sustainable development of Tokyo’s creative industries and to “firmly establish Japan’s capital as a creative hub in Asia” (see Places Blog)
In other words, while the Creative Tokyo project is concerned primarily with the city itself, its emergence is part of a broader, national initiative organized by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) dubbed the ‘Cool Japan’ initiative. In 2010 the METI established a new Creative Industries Promotion Office that was tasked to promote cultural and creative industries as a strategic initiative operating under the single, long term ‘Cool Japan’ concept. The idea now is to showcase Tokyo as the “creative” capital (and gateway) of the ”Cool Japan’.
These initiatives come on the heels of two decades of economic standstill in Japan. National leaders, planners, and experts are obviously seeking ways to address the challenge of stimulating sustainable development, particularly in light of the dot-com bubble and rapid growth in China and other nearby regions. In addition, given the Japan earthquake and tsunami March 2010 that gave way to the Fukushima nuclear plant crisis and left much of Japan’s infrastructure either damaged or destroyed, these initiatives appear to be a mechanism to restore domestic pride and foreign confidence in Japanese products and services (Places Blog).
Now city/place brand (and rebranding) have been the latest buzzwords in the world of branding. ‘Visit Scotland’, ‘Cool Brittania, ‘Your Singapore’ and ‘Brand South Africa’ are only just a few of the latest initiatives being undertaken by governments clearly looking to capitalize on and redefine its cultural capital. What of Kingston?
Brand Kingston – ‘Kreative Kingston’?
In the stampede (and I dare say insular focus) by the Jamaican Government (through its Tourism Board) to stay ahead of its destination competitors in having ‘heads on beds’ in traditionally popular resort areas such Montego Bay, Negril and Ocho Rios, Kingston has struggled to define itself and to become relevant. Once internationally infamous as a rogue city dominated by pirates such as Henry Morgan, Kingston is pretty much still seen as a ‘dangerous’ place, infested by armed gangs, drug lords and ‘urban terrorists’.
But Kingston is much more. It is also a vibrant, energetic city – arguably the cultural mecca of the Caribbean. Reggae is core to this place, which gave the world Bob Marley, and a plethora of modern superstars, many of whom are world renowned (e.g. Shaggy, Sean Paul). A multiplicity of parties variously dubbed ‘Early Mondays’, ‘Early Tuesdays, Weddy Weddy and Sizzling Saturdays etc. gives Kingston a nightlife, which rivals that of major metropolitan cities around the world.
A growing fashion and design industry featuring internationally recognised Jamaican models, and a slew of talented designers, has begun to attract the attention of the best in the global fashion industry. Street fashion shows now attract thousands of patrons. The Dramatic and Fine Arts hold a special place here. Museums (including the Bob Marley Museum) and exhibits often feature the best of the creative talent of Jamaica positions Kingston as a place of enormous brand value.
Myriad sporting activities such as the secondary school’s National Boys and Girls Championships, international cricket and local football) in a country globally known for sports gives Kingston an appeal that many countries do not possess.
In addition, Kingston has a powerful history yet to be fully explored. A massive earthquake and Tsunami destroyed its once most famous city of Port Royal in 1692. The remains (Giddy House, Fort etc.) are a potential economic goldmine for Kingston and Jamaica. Seeking a declaration as a World Heritage Site, and pursuit of a redevelopment plan for this port city signals the potential for economic returns.
Churches, restaurants, Universities, Places of Interest (Blue Mountains, Hollywell, Hope Gardens, Emancipation Park) complete Kingston, illustrating its pull and vast yet to be explored potential.
Of course, all this requires strategic planning and policy initiatives by Government. Since Entertainment has been added as a Ministerial portfolio since the late 1990s, there has been some of the potential of the creative industries for economic growth. A Brand Kingston initiative should become a component of a coherent Brand Jamaica initiative. It should be lead by the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, with provisional support from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Culture as well as the Trade and Investment Agency (JAMPRO) and the Jamaica Tourist Board.
After decades of little or no economic growth and the Jamaica economy being one of the worst in the world, the Jamaican Government, including its planners, technocrats and experts are obliged to seek creative ways to address the myriad economic challenges and foster sustainable development. Kingston is not only the nation’s capital; it is the pulse of Jamaica. Moving Kingston from its current peripheral status on the Brand Jamaica agenda to a core position in economic and policy planning is thus required.
More coherent and strategic focus on the creative industries and moving Kingston from its peripheral status in economic and policy planning to the core agenda is required. While other governments are jumping on the place/city branding bandwagon for economic growth, Brand Kingston – despite its incredible potential for success- lags behind. Of course issues of safety, a clean environment, urban infrastructure and transportation remain and would need massive upgrades to facilitate increased human traffic in this vibrant growing metropolis, but sufficient events have been staged here to illustrate its potential. Like the myriad city Branding projects taking places around the world, Brand Kingston (“Kreative Kingston”) will not only restore investor confidence in Jamaica, but restore domestic pride and showcase Kingston as the cultural hub of the Caribbean.
Dr Hume Johnson is a former broadcast journalist. She is currently a Political Analyst and Professor of Public Relations. Hume is author of the book ‘Challenges to Civil Society: Popular Protest and Governance in Jamaica’.