Downtown Branding and Authenticity

Each day, I try to read at least five articles on Downtown strategies in order to keep current on the dynamic growth that city centers are experiencing. There are many great resources such as the International Downtown Association weekly e-newsletter, the Project for Public Spaces e-newsletter, Strong Towns blog and many more listservs, discussion boards, and on-line forums.

One of the most useful is the CityLab daily email that includes a variety of City Building-centric articles to choose from. One that recently caught my attention is Aaron Renn’sCities: Don’t Fall in the Branding Trap”.

The article emphasizes the importance of Place Branding but stresses that the story of your City should focus on its uniqueness rather than sameness to other places:

Look at any piece of city marketing material, from promo videos to airline magazine ad inserts. It’s amazing how so many of them rely on the same basic ingredients: hipster coffee shops, microbreweries, bike lanes, creative-class members, startups, intimations of a fashion scene, farm-to-table restaurants, new downtown streetcars, etc.

Why cities with great identities and heritages of their own so seldom lead with them is something of a mystery.

Here in Huntsville, this is a really important observation. While Downtown and the surrounding Districts are fortunate to have great entrepreneurs opening coffee shops, breweries, and the like (as Renn calls them “basic ingredients”), the identity and heritage of Huntsville is tied closely to space exploration and rocketry. This is, after all, “The Space Capital of the Universe.”


While not every Place Branding experience has to focus on rockets, you also cannot tell the authentic Huntsville story without recognizing that space and rockets are one of the pillars of our Place Brand. That is why DHI includes the tag-line “Space to Innovate”. While the play on words is intended to apply to more than “outer space,” it is deeply-rooted in that meaning though (for more on the DHI Branding process, check out this previous blog article).

This is especially true with the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo moon landing taking place this July.  While many different NASA centers played an important role in getting to the Moon, all roads to the Moon ran through Huntsville and the rocket design that lives here.

Our space exploration heritage is why we’re so excited that Downtown Huntsville is playing a major role in the official 50th Apollo Anniversary Celebration activities. In particular, we’re hosting a free community-wide Dancing in the Streets event on the Downtown Square where we’ll be taking Dr. Von Braun’s words to heart:

"My friends, there was dancing here in the streets of Huntsville when our first satellite orbited the earth. and there was dancing again when the first Americans landed on the moon. I'd like to ask you don't hang up your dancing slippers."  

We’ll do this by hosting live music and entertainment from each of the past five decades all around the Square.

We believe the Huntsville Place Brand cannot be told without our space and rocket heritage since that’s something inherently authentic and unique to the Rocket City. We hope you can join us for the big party this July as we “Party like its 1969”…