Rebranding the city: an old building in a new media

watertower2By NEMO researchers Cecilia Cassinger & Åsa Thelander

How is the city imagined visually in social media? Does it affect the way citizens view their city, their level of engagement and participation in community life and political decision-making? Who is included and excluded in re-imaginations of the city? Who is given voice and who has none?

These are some of the questions that we explore in a NEMO-funded project about co-creation in visual new media (e.g. Instagram). As an example of collaborative efforts of creating meaning and value among publics, we study experiences of participating in an Instagram project to rebrand Landskrona, a city in southern Sweden. Every week a different citizen uses Landskrona’s official Instagram account to portray the city from her or his perspective. From the city’s perspective, the social media initiative is believed to increase engagement in communal life, ultimately generating a positive image of the city that can alter the current associations to crime, unemployment and racism.

Unlike professionally produced images, Instagram enables ordinary citizens to define the images of the city. What publics post on Instagram seem to have far-reaching consequences for the city’s reputation, especially as consultancy firms now use big data approaches to analyse the happiest and coolest cities on the basis of Instagram photos. For example, Belfast and St Louis were recently revealed as the happiest cities in the UK and North America respectively, based on an analysis of the number of photographs of smiling people with connections to the locations.

In the flow of photographs of Landskrona, the old watertower stands out as a recurring motif. Numerous photographs portray the tower from different angles, using different filters. The watertower, which stands on the highest point in the city, is closed to the public; it can only be viewed from the outside. The architect Fredrik Sundbärg designed the tower in 1904, which makes it Landskrona’s oldest building. What would Sundbärg have said if someone had told him that his tower would be one of the most shared images of Landskrona some 110 years later? Nowadays, the original function of the tower is secondary; instead, the tower is turned into a commodity and marketed as the symbol of Landskrona.

Even though Instagram is a relatively new media, regarded by many as being able to revolutionise images of places, the images of Landskrona on Instagram are often conventional and show historical sites. The question is how a city can be rebranded through an old building in a new media.

Explore images of the old watertower in Landskrona here.

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