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Places and the impact of external agencies

Changing places – meaning, representation and the impact of external agencies

This unit is called changing places. Places change over time as do our experiences within them. All places need to be seen as dynamic entities where people, ideas and investment come together. These places have different meanings to different groups of people and can be shaped and represented in different ways over time too.

The MEANING of a place is a perception of a place held by an individual or a group of people. This meaning can change over time. This can be linked closely to place memory, the ability of a place to make the history of that place come to life in the present. E.g. museums, plaques, buildings, literature etc. This can be linked to urban cultural and heritage quarters, such as Grainger Town or the Ouseburn valley in Newcastle. The representation of a place is different to the meaning. This is how the place is portrayed or seen in our society.

Grainger Town Plaque

The use of plaques can be used to celebrate and promote place memory and meaning.

Place representation can often be a very deliberate thing put forward by the media, local or national governments to give a particular impression of a place. This is designed to manipulate our PERCEPTION of a place, the way that we view a place. Our perception can conflict with our sense of place if the representation of the place in media and wider society does not accurately reflect how we feel when we visit the place. Our sense of place will transform the location from a far place that we have only experienced through the media to a near place that we have experienced ourselves, developing our own sense of place.

Reimaging rebranding

Governments and councils can take different approaches to regenerating places;

  1. Top down approaches have decisions made by authorities and agencies (from the top) that are imposed on local communities
  2. Bottom up approaches have decisions based on listening to local people's options and with local involvement from the community

Modern development tends to take into account the views of their stakeholders, a person, group or organisation that has a direct or indirect interest in the outcomes of a particular development or decision. Stakeholders can either influence the outcomes or be affected by them.


On the graphic below we can see some of the agents of change that can have an impact upon the character of places.

Agents of place change

An agent of change is any group of people, who work to impact a place through working there, living or trying to improve the place. They often aim to manage the perception of place and include national and local government, corporate bodies, tourist organisations and community groups. Changes can be both positive and negative. We have already covered some ways external agencies can transform places in a positive and negative sense. Government inaction and the withdrawal of TNCs such as SSI at Redcar or Mondelez international can have a profoundly negative impact upon a place. Conflict is another major agent of change.

Palmyra, Syria - a place with importance to Human Life and experience and negative change

Palmyra is an ancient Jewish city in present-day Homs, Syria.1 It was originally founded near a fertile natural oasis. It became a leading city of the Near East and a major trading post on the Silk Road. The spectacular architecture of Palmyra combined Greco-Roman styles with those of Persia and Arabia, and the ruins that remain have significant cultural and historical significance. Palmyra was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980. Recently, however, its treasures have been at risk due to the ongoing civil war in Syria. For a period, the so-called Islamic State or ISIS controlled the region around Palmyra, and some of the ruins at the site were destroyed deliberately. They destroyed the facade of a second-century Roman theater and another ancient monument in the historic city. They also severely damaged a tetrapylon, a square structure of four plinths, each with four columns.2 This has a lot of place factors, a culturally rich place with a wealth of history affected negatively by an external agent of change.


Amsterdam – Rebranding a city

City branding is a concept used to promote the city. According to Saffron Brand Consultants “A brand is an overall image or set of perceptions and associations that resides in people’s heads. When we speak of ‘the brand’ of a place, we mean the average or common perceptions and associations people have with that place; it is always an approximation, and it is always subjective. Reasonable people can thus disagree about ‘the brand’ of a particular place, but it is still meaningful.”4 This concept can be studied in relation to Amsterdam in the Netherlands.


ABOVE: I Amsterdam - very clever place marketing attempt to change people's perception of a place (look for the ghost hand on this panoramic image!!!

Amsterdam is one of the most visited cities in Europe. However, its popularity had fallen due to increased competition from other destinations in Europe, particularly to cities in Spain and Eastern Europe.3 In addition, the city’s reputation for liberal attitudes to soft drugs and prostitution was also off putting for some visitors. In response, a private-public partnership was formed to rebrand Amsterdam with a new city marketing campaign. In 2004, the I Amsterdam campaign was born. I Amsterdam is a motto and a brand all in one for both the people of Amsterdam and the city itself. It was designed to be clear powerful, short and memorable. There is the artwork above outside of the Rijksmuseum shown above, and also branded clothing and bags etc.

NEXT TOPIC - External forces and Grainger Town


1. (2018), Palmyra. Accessed 13th May 2020 from

2. Dan Bilefsky (2017), ISIS Destroys Part of Roman Theater in Palmyra, Syria. New York Times Accessed 13th May 2020 from

3. Jimmy Stamp (2012), Rebranding Amsterdam and What It Means to Rebrand a City. Accessed 13th May 2020 from

4. Jeremy Hildreth (No date) The Saffron European City Brand Barometer. Revealing which cities get the brands they deserve. Accessed13th May 2020 at



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