3 distinguishing characteristics of a functional market town

On Wednesday, on our #HSUK2020 tour, we were in Altrincham to discuss what makes a market town. Altrincham received its market charter in 1290 and is currently positioning itself as a ‘modern market town‘.

The UK footfall data supplied to us by Springboard suggests there are two types of market town (see Figure 1). The first, rather sadly, is more of an ex-market town, that really no longer functions as one. These towns do not have a strong weekly market and have lost other important services, such as, for example, their cottage hospital or registry office. These ‘ex-market’ or dysfunctional market towns (1) have a footfall profile equivalent to a community/convenience centre – in other words, footfall is fairly stable across the months, with no noticeable peaks.

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                                                                                                      Figure 1 : Footfall profiles

In contrast, the functional market town, has a different type of footfall profile, with noticeable peaks around Easter and July and a gradual increase in footfall from September to December.

Comparing the footfall profile of a functional market town to other town types, it would appear that the modern market town has a little bit of everything. Which, of course, it always did have. It offers convenience; those important everyday products and services like food shopping, a library, doctors and opticians etc. It has leisure, recreation – and entertainment like gyms, sports fields or a swimming pool, a cinema or a theatre. And there are places for the community to meet; coffee shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants.

The functional market town also offers some comparison shopping; clothes, homewares, maybe a bookshop or two, as well as some more important services to the surrounding area, maybe a hospital or FE college. This all comes packaged in what might be a fairly ‘low-key’ but nevertheless historic environment which offers a pleasant visitor experience and an important link with the past.

Of course, this description applies to a great many small or medium towns. So, in our workshop with Altrincham Forward we explored some of the fundamental characteristics of a market town and what these might look like in today’s market towns.

The 3 defining characteristics of a modern market town.

1. There is a market and it is an anchor.

Seems obvious, but if your town hasn’t got a market building, a market place, or temporary market ‘space’ (such as a high street), then it can’t be a market town. Even if it has the physical space for a market, it’s imperative that whatever is in it (the collective offer from all the operators) is behaving as an anchor – and is generating significant footfall to the town.

Marketplaces represent prime retail space in market towns – in terms of delivering on the ‘brand’. They can’t afford to be occupied by operators who do not provide the merchandise or collective/relevant opening hours and service that will actually drive footfall – in contrast to just ‘ticking over’. This isn’t to say all markets should be gentrified. For example, Bury Market is a very successful traditional market, selling a wide range of value products, which brings in coach loads of people from all over the North.

2. The market town plays an important role in the network of nearby places. (2)

Market towns served the surrounding hinterland – not only with commerce and a market but also by providing other services, as well as being the seat of local government. Again, these are important drivers of footfall. Losing a health centre, council offices or a college reduces a town’s relevance to its catchment – and undermines its power.

Market towns should remain a focus for local supply chains and the local economy, providing financial and professional services, such as banks, architects, solicitors and accountants, as well as office space and employment. Altrincham, for example, has nearly 3000 businesses in and around the town centre.

But market towns are not only important economically. Once or twice a year, market towns were transformed into very special places for the community, during annual fairs and festivals. These events really would be the highlight of the year to many people. To what extent does the modern market town position itself as the heart of the community – with such celebrations? And how hard does the modern market town work to strengthen and reinforce the network with nearby places? Does it compete when it should be collaborating?

Finally, market towns should be relevant to the whole community, old and young. In Altrincham we heard that young people didn’t feel the town had anything to offer them. In other towns, the success of the Teenage Market and local music festivals proves that young people can be persuaded to come into town centres.

3. The market town is the one most accessible to most people.

Originally, people would travel to their nearest market town. It might be a two hours’ walk – but the other options might be three or five hours’ away. A modern market town will be accessible by a variety of transport routes from the smaller centres and hinterland, including public transport, cycle paths and maybe even the original footpaths. The modern market town, one that maintains its status, is likely to be the most accessible market town to the most people in an area.

Because of their location, in relation to other towns, and because their important status was ‘protected’ through the control of market licenses, market towns had no competition. Nowadays, it is a very different commercial landscape. There are bigger centres, like cities nearby; or other destinations, like out-of-town retail parks easily accessible by car. There are even other retail channels, like on-line, competing for consumers. But none of these can replace a market town with its special mix of convenience, community, retail, services, leisure and entertainment, history and heritage all packaged up at a compact and manageable scale.

For a town like Altrincham, a huge conurbation has grown up around it, since it received its market charter. This means it is now accessible and relevant to an urban ‘hinterland’ devoid of many traditional and rural connections. Recent improvements to the canal tow path means people can now walk or cycle safely from Manchester or nearby suburbs.

The footfall data suggest that the town is punching way above its position in the retail hierarchy. With its tram line, train station, and canal path it is now the most accessible and important market town to a population of 350,000 people in a 5 mile radius. Perhaps the modern market town has not changed so much, providing a weekly fix of a bit of everything, in a distinct but reassuring setting. Market towns have a scale, format and offer we are very used to and, it would seem, fond of. They are, perhaps, a tangible representation of many people’s perceptions of what a town should be.

Cathy Parker, Nikos Ntounis and Simon Quin.

References

1. http://nre.concordia.ca/ner2francais/Errington/research_briefing.htm
2. Action For Market Towns, 2005, Healthcheck Handbook.
https://www.dropbox.com/s/ix3mkh5sb57u1xa/Healthcheck-Handbook-March-2005.pdf?

You can find out more about the High Street UK2020 project at www.business.mmu.ac.uk/crpcc

Top 10 downloads Journal of Place Management and Development

1. My city – my brand: the different roles of residents in place branding by Erik Braun, Mihalis Kavaratzis, Sebastian Zenker.
2. My place is not your place – different place brand knowledge by different target groupsby Sebastian Zenker, Suzanne C. Beckmann.
3. Places going viral: Twitter usage patterns in destination marketing and place brandingby Efe Sevin.
4. Slum tourism, city branding and social urbanism: the case of Medellin, Colombiaby Jaime Hernandez-Garcia.
5. International positioning through online city branding: the case of Chengdu by Emma Björner.
6. A study on the delivery of city branding advertisements in China: City branding advertisement on CCTV, 2007-2010 by Wen Chunying.
7. The business of place: critical, practical and pragmatic perspectives by Ares Kalandides.
8. Developing a collective capacity for place management by Tore Omholt.
9. University students’ needs and satisfaction with their host city by Andrea Insch and Benjamin Sun.
10. “Are you happy here?”: the relationship between quality of life and place attachment by António Joaquim Araújo de Azevedo, Maria João Ferreira Custódio and Fernando Pereira Antunes Perna

Abstracts

1. My city – my brand: the different roles of residents in place branding

Erik Braun, Mihalis Kavaratzis, Sebastian Zenker

Residents are largely neglected by place branding practices and their priorities are often misunderstood, even though they are not passive beneficiaries but are active partners and co-producers of public goods, services and policies. This paper highlights that only meaningful participation and consultation can produce a more effective and sustainable place brand strengthening brand communication and avoiding the pitfall of developing “artificial” place brands.

“The paper is based on theoretical insights drawn from the combination of the distinct literatures on place branding, general marketing, tourism, human geography, and collaborative governance. To support its arguments, the paper discusses the participation of citizens in governance processes as highlighted in the urban governance literature as well as the debate among marketing scholars over participatory marketing and branding.

The paper identifies three different roles played by residents: as an integral part of the place brand through their characteristics and behavior; as ambassadors for their place brand who grant credibility to any communicated message; and as citizens and voters who are vital for the political legitimization of place branding. These three roles make the residents a very significant target group of place branding.”

2. My place is not your place – different place brand knowledge by different target groups

Sebastian Zenker and Suzanne C. Beckmann

Place branding is increasingly popular in urban management. This paper highlights the challenge of diverse target audiences in this process and discusses implication for an advanced place brand management.

“Cities increasingly compete with each other for attracting tourists, investors, companies, or residents. Marketers therefore focus on establishing the city as a brand, disregarding that the perception and knowledge of a city differ dramatically between the target audiences. Hence, place branding should emphasize much more the perceptions of the different target groups and develop strategies for advanced place brand management. The aim of this paper is to assess the important discrepancies between the city brand perceptions of different target groups with the help of network analysis.

In two empirical studies, the important discrepancies between the city brand perceptions of different target groups are assessed with the help of network analysis. Study 1 consists of 40 qualitative in-depth-interviews and study 2 uses an online qualitative open-ended-question survey with 334 participants.

Structural differences for the city brand perceptions of two different target groups and the differences between perceptions of an external and internal target group are highlighted. The results and the managerial implications for place marketers are discussed.

The study investigates the brand associations for the city of Hamburg brand with two target groups and this limits the generalizability of the results. However, the focus was on measuring for the first time the difference in the place brand perception of different target group and the results helps to understand how an advanced place brand management could deal with this challenge.”

3. Places going viral: Twitter usage patterns in destination marketing and place branding

Efe Sevin.

The findings of this research have practical and theoretical implications. On the practical side, this research sheds light on how Twitter is utilized, and creates recommendations on how destination marketing projects can widen the broadcasting of messages and reach target audiences. On the theoretical side, this research tests the explanatory powers of Kavaratzis’ influential city branding framework.

“This is a comparative study of five Twitter accounts belonging to five destination marketing offices (@enjoyillinois, @onlyinsf, @visitidaho, @texastourism, and @visitmilwaukee). This research looks at two different types of communication activities on Twitter: one-way communication (i.e. broadcasting messages), and two-way communication (i.e. conversing with other users). A total of 5,582 tweets created between October 10, 2011 and October 10, 2012 were analyzed in terms of main topics and subjects covered, and main communication activities engaged.

The research found that destination marketing projects tend to use Twitter pre-dominantly to share about events – such as festivals, concerts, and fairs – taking place in their jurisdiction with their followers. These projects do not necessarily make use of interpersonal communication and networking capabilities of Twitter. Rather, this social media platform is used to distribute information online.”

4. Slum tourism, city branding and social urbanism: the case of Medellin, Colombia

Jaime Hernandez-Garcia

The purpose of this paper is to explore the contribution of informal settlements to a tourism strategy and to city branding. It takes the case of Medellin, Colombia, which in recent years has developed several projects in their barrios using a policy called: “social urbanism”.

“The paper is based on a case study, that of “social urbanism” in Medellin, and the relationship with what is called slum tourism and city branding. After a brief theoretical exploration about informal settlements in Latin America, slum tourism and city branding; the paper presents the urban and social transformation of Medellin’s dangerous and stigmatized barrios with the “social urbanism” policy. Then the relationship between social urbanism, informal settlements and city branding is discussed.

Medellin, perhaps without noticing or anticipating, has found a role for informal settlements in branding the city, and promoting tourism to those areas. With “social urbanism”, it is also helping to build an image of the city more authentic and distinguishable from other cities in Colombia and Latin America.”

5. International positioning through online city branding: the case of Chengdu

Emma Björner

The aim of the study is to add to the existing research on online city branding by studying how metropolitan cities are internationally positioned using the internet and online branding. The focus is on objectives and strategies, method and expression (including five illustrations), and challenges in online city branding.

“The article relies on a single-case study approach, using the Chinese city of Chengdu as a case and illustration. Methods used are interviews, observations and documentation (including online material). The study illustrates how Chengdu uses online city branding in its international positioning. Chengdu’s online branding is influenced by certain imagery, as well as challenges. Collaboration and endorsement crystalize as central elements in Chengdu’s online city branding.
The study offers insights to practitioners on how online city branding is carried out in a Chinese context and in the city of Chengdu.”

6. A study on the delivery of city branding advertisements in China: City branding advertisement on CCTV, 2007-2010

Wen Chunying

The purpose of this paper is to monitor the changes of delivery of city branding advertisements in China and to try to find a tendency of city branding ads in the delivery for the future.

“The quantitative research methods used in this paper study the advertisements with city image messages in 13 China Central Television (CCTV) channels that appeared between the year of 2007 to 2010 – a total of 320,653 advertisements. This paper is based on several data sets: advertisement producers, regional distribution of producers, advertisement time slots, types of advertisings, and other such categories. In addition, they have also studied city branding advertisings from international producers in terms of channel selections, program choices, and media outlet choices and so forth.

Through an analysis of quantity and total duration of city image advertisements, it can be concluded that first-tier cities have been reducing the broadcasting of city image ads domestically yearly, and third-tier cities are proving to be a significant power in producing city branding advertisements. Significantly, the eastern littoral region has surpassed the central and west region both in the duration and in growth rate of city branding advertisements. Moreover, between 2007 and 2010, a total of nine foreign cities have produced city branding advertisements on CCTV channels. Unlike cities in China, international cities have scattered their ads widely across different periods of one day.

Finally, based on analysis of advantages and disadvantages in city image advertisements strategies applied by those advanced cities at home and abroad, this author hopes this study can offer some scientifically based reference point for other cities.”

7. The business of place: critical, practical and pragmatic perspectives

Ares Kalandides.

This editorial is available online. Please click link above.

8. Developing a collective capacity for place management

Tore Omholt

The purpose of the paper is to develop and demonstrate an integrated framework for planning and supporting place management development and practices. This paper shows how the complexities facing place development can be conceptualized and dealt with in an effective and practical manner.

“First, the paper uses social systems theory as a meta-theoretical framework to integrate various theoretical perspectives on place interventions to deal with problems of uncertainty related to place development. Second, it shows how a combination of place interventions can be organized to deal with the uncertainties and contribute to a collective capacity for action. Finally, it concludes with presenting an integrated framework for planning and supporting place development, and applies this in two cases of place development to illustrate how it works.

In summary, effective place development requires a combination of information processing interventions to deal with the uncertainties facing place stakeholders. The success of the proposed framework has been repeated in several case replications and indicates a potential for supporting practitioners but the literature on social systems theory is on a high level of abstraction and further case applications are needed to assist practitioners.”

9. University students’ needs and satisfaction with their host city

Andrea Insch and Benjamin Sun.

Tertiary student perceptions and satisfaction with their host cities have been largely ignored. This study addresses this gap by identifying which attributes of cities are important to students, gauging students’ perception of their host city according to these attributes, and identifying the city attributes driving their satisfaction with their host city.

“The purpose of this study was threefold: to identify which attributes of the host university city are important to students; to assess students’ satisfaction with the key attributes of their host university city; and to determine the drivers of students’ overall satisfaction with their host university city.

A two stage, mixed methods research design was selected for this study. Focus groups comprised the first stage and a survey of 159 full time university students attending the university of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, comprised the second stage.

The survey findings indicate that students at the university of Otago perceive accommodation, socialising and sense of community, safety and cultural scene as the most important attributes of their host university city. Alternatively, the results of the regression analysis which assessed the relative strength of city attributes in explaining their overall satisfaction with Dunedin, demonstrated that shopping and dining, appeal and vibrancy, socialising and sense of community and public transport were the key drivers of their overall satisfaction with the city.

Students’ overall satisfaction with the city is relatively positive and they are most satisfied with socialising and sense of community, community assets, and the city’s natural environment. Overall, students’ expectations of the city’s attributes were reached and exceeded. However, their satisfaction with accommodation, the attribute that they ranked as the most important, was unmet. This shortfall in expectations has the potential to negatively impact the university’s image and encourage students to transfer somewhere else for further study if their most important need is not addressed.

As an important city stakeholder for university cities, students’ perceptions and satisfaction with their host city need to be given priority. University administrators in collaboration with city place managers should put effort into maintaining the city attributes which are important to students and which drive their satisfaction with the city experience, since they represent a large proportion of residents in university host cities. The consequences of their inattention to students’ needs could be harmful in the long-term.”

10. “Are you happy here?”: the relationship between quality of life and place attachment

António Joaquim Araújo de Azevedo, Maria João Ferreira Custódio and Fernando Pereira Antunes Perna

This study aims to develop a new insight (focused on residents) into the measurement of place attachment, self-esteem, self-efficacy and perceived happiness, in order to provide public policy makers with performance indicators for place marketing strategies.

“A survey applied to 641 residents of Portimão, the second most populated city in Algarve, in the south of Portugal, was conducted to assess the quality of life attributes and place attachment measures.

Findings revealed that the city’s quality of life attributes (comprising six dimensions) influence place attachment – which is significantly correlated with self-efficacy, perceived happiness and active citizenship behaviours.

As an input for the city policy makers, this research can contribute to a better knowledge and management of the factors that influence the residents’ well-being. For residents, it provided an opportunity for participation which may influence the public planning of the city.”