Helen, GA: Place Branding or Development

There is a fake Germanesque town in Northern Georgia, called Helen. After hearing about the city, I had to check it out for myself. I mean, when somebody tells you that there is an Alpine town in the South(ern part of the US), you have to see it.

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One of the side streets in Helen, GA

My trip to Helen was also a part of my field research for my ‘Place Branding and Development in Exurban Environments’. Therefore, I was not planning to blog on my observations. But Helen is currently facing flash flood risks. I believe the city became a great case to discuss the difficulties of balancing place branding and development.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume place branding is what you do to attract outsiders, mainly tourists, to your city while place development is what you do to satisfy the needs of your residents. If you invest all your resources on the former, you will end up with a Disney World-ish city where one can buy all types of memorabilia but cannot find any household items. If you choose the development aspect, you might end up with a well-functioning city that nobody wants to visit, which creates budgetary concerns. In 2017, American domestic tourist spending was valued at $718.4 billion, creating nearly 9 million jobs. Common sense (as well as various scholars including Andrea Insch and Magdalena Florek) dictates that we should balance place branding and development.

Helen is an incredible exception to this wisdom though. The decision to brand the city as an Alpine town was a necessity. Helen became a settlement during the Trail of Tears during which Native Americans were forced out of their lands and replaced by white settlers. Until 1960s, the city did ‘okay’ through its timber industry and gold miners. After depleting these natural resources, people started to abandon the region. Here is how the Chamber of Commerce tells the rest of the story (emphasis added):

Helen’s evolution into an alpine village began in 1968 when a group of local business men met to discuss ways to revitalize their town. They approached a nearby artist friend, who had been stationed in Germany. He sketched the buildings, added gingerbread trim, details and colors to the buildings, giving an alpine look to the entire town. In January of 1969, business owners and local carpenters began turning ideas into reality and all downtown stores were renovated. Faces of buildings were painted with scenes of Bavaria and North Georgia, mirroring the migration of early settlers.

And this is the city we ended up with:

 

After a rainy weekend, Chattahoochee River started giving visitors less of a “let’s go tubing” vibe and a little bit more “maybe they should have invested more on infrastructure”.

Is it possible to balance between place branding and development in emergency cases such as Helen? The short answer is yes, it is. Even if a city decides to completely revamp itself and use tourism as its main industry, it is possible to do so while acknowledging the needs and expectations of locals.

The longer answer requires a dive into the role of environment and sustainable tourism – Helen is in driving distance to metro Atlanta, as well as bordering cities in three states. It has access to a great market. Yet, Helen is also a city that had to reinvent itself once after its economy almost collapsed because it was not diversified. Currently, it is banking on beer-loving tourists and hikers (as Helen is close to a few state parks). This particular strategy is equally unsustainable.

In short – branding is good, especially if you have access to a solid market. But if branding does not go hand-in-hand with development, local governments will find themselves in trouble.

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Teaching Reflections: Punching Down and Read the Syllabus

The spring semester is coming to an end – which means social media is full of students complaining about faculty and vice-versa. Recently, a Twitter account, College Professor (@ReadtheSyllabus), came under punching down / arrogance / ignorance accusations after a tweet making fun of the “dead grandparent” excuse. Since then, there is actually an interesting conversation on student shaming.

As I was writing my course reflections, I realized it was very difficult to talk about higher education without, well,  some level of student shaming. At the end of the day, the students are part of the learning process and they need to invest heavily in their own learning both inside and outside the classroom. During the last four years, I found myself to give instructions that I thought were just common sense:

  • Such as the interpersonal communication tips,
  • Please take off your headphones in the classroom.
  • Please take off your headphones when we are having a one-to-one meeting.
  • Or ‘there is a reason why you are given those documents’ trope,
  • Refer to the textbook and in-class discussions in your final paper.
  • Your grading will be based on the rubric – that is why it is called the grading rubric.
  • Read the syllabus.
  • Keep the handouts I am distributing in class.
  • Or ‘who on earth would consider this to be okay’ part,
  • Do not fall asleep in the classroom
  • Do not fall asleep in the classroom two weeks in a row.
  • Do not fall asleep in the classroom three weeks in a row.
  • Or my favorite one – I have no idea how many times I sent this e-mail:
  • You realize that you sent me this e-mail while you were in my class…while I was lecturing…while you were supposed to be listening…

 My two cents on why this is happening and what we (or I) can do:

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Passport, Power, and Measurement: Perfect Trio

If you have been on any kind of social media platform during the last couple of weeks, you must have seen the new “Passport Index” that ranks each and every passport in the world according to their power – or according to how many visa-free travel opportunities they provide to their holder. But my own travel experience (and obsession with proper measurement techniques) make me wonder whether “visa-free travel opportunity” is a suitable way to assess the power of a passport. Is there a better way to capture the power of a passport? (Hint: The answer is yes. This is why I am writing this blog post.)

It is visa free, but do you really want to go?

It is visa free, but do you really want to go?

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Back to blogging

During the last couple of months (well last year), I wasn’t able to blog as regularly as I would like to. As a good doctoral student, I spent all of my time on my dissertation. I finally managed to finish my dissertation and get my degree over the summer. I am currently a faculty member at the Kadir Has University, Department of Public Relations and Information in Istanbul, Turkey.

Below you can find the executive summary of my dissertation. The table of contents can be seen on my Academia page. As I am currently on the market looking for a publisher, I will not be sharing the full text online.

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Theory and Practice in Public Diplomacy: Diplomatic dish-washing

For the last couple of months, I have been working on the latest project of Turkayfe.org – our online coffeehouse project. The website, which started out as an online “social diplomacy” / place branding project is going offline, and meeting people on the street with “Mobile Turkish Coffee House” project.

Mobile Turkish Coffee House in front of the Turkish Embassy in Washington, DC

Mobile Turkish Coffee House in front of the Turkish Embassy in Washington, DC

Turkayfe.orgstarted out as an idea in May 2009, and the website went live in May 2010. From our very early days, we did our best to learn from our mistakes, and to improve our project. As a doctoral candidate studying public diplomacy, and a dilettante practitioner; I tried to use my practical experience in my academic studies and vice-versa.

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New publication – Thinking about place branding: Ethics of concept

As you might already know, Journal of Place Branding and Public Diplomacy is publishing a special issue on Ethics of Place Making . My article, entitled “Thinking about place branding: Ethics of concept” will be published in this upcoming issue.

Here is the abstract:

This article introduces a critical theory-induced approach to the concept of place branding to expose the ethical drawbacks within the field. The author argues that the dominant approaches and definitions of place branding limit the thinking of scholars to market-driven subjects, such as measurement, effectiveness and strategies. It is difficult even to discuss ethical issues at a conceptual level within these approaches. With an attempt to further investigate these widely ignored issues, place branding is redefi ned through a communicative action framework, and a two-step model of place branding is devised – composed of domestic communicative action (Step 1) and international communicative action (Step 2). Step 1 highlights (i) legitimacy and (ii) inclusion as ethical concerns, whereas Step 2 brings in the question of (iii) consistency between the messages in the domestic and international arena. Critical theory makes it possible to take an analytical look at the mainstream approaches and present ethical issues at the conceptual level. Future studies should aim to integrate this theoretical approach to the practice of place branding.

I will share the link to the publication as soon as it becomes available online.

 

Here is the article: http://www.palgrave-journals.com/pb/journal/v7/n3/abs/pb201115a.html

Turkayfe.org on the Road: Events in New York and DC

Last year, after the Turkish festival in DC, I wrote about the importance of “creating a real community” for online social diplomacy projects. There is, indeed, an undeniable need for ‘real’ people and connections to support online communication attempts. Therefore, as the Turkayfe.org team, we are doing our best to reach out to as many people as possible.

This summer, we are hosting two events, one in New York (June 11th) and another in Washington, DC (June 15th) to discuss the past, present, and future of Turkish coffee. So, if you are in town – stop by one of our events, grab a cup of coffee and join the conversation! Looking forward to seeing you all!

New York, Schedule, June 11th

Address: Turkish House, 821 United Nations 8th floor New York City, NY 10017
RSVP Link: http://turkishcoffeeculturenewyork.eventbrite.com
7:00 PM Event start time
7:15 PM Opening remarks
7:30 PM Ercüment Ackman, Capstone Advisor, Georgetown University Real Estate Graduate School – ‘Once Upon a time Turkish Coffee’
7:45 PM Göknur Akçadağ, History Expert Assistant Professor – ‘The American Perspective: Turks in the 19th – 20th centuries’
8:00 PM Gizem Salcigil White and Efe Sevin, Founders of Turkayfe.org – ‘Digitalizing Coffee Houses – Social Diplomacy Web 2.0 and Turkey’s International Digital Coffee House’
8:30 – 9:30 PM Reception

Washington, DC Schedule, June 15th

Address: Embassy of the Republic of Turkey, 2525 Massachusetts Avenue NW Washington D.C., 20008-2826
RSVP Link: http://turkishcoffeeculturewashingtondc.eventbrite.com
7:00 PM Event start time
7:15 PM Opening remarks
7:30 PM Ercüment Ackman, Capstone Advisor, Georgetown University Real Estate Graduate School – ‘Once Upon a time Turkish Coffee’
7:45 PM Göknur Akçadağ, History Expert Assistant Professor – ‘The American Perspective: Turks in the 19th – 20th centuries’
8:00 PM Gizem Salcigil White and Efe Sevin, Founders of Turkayfe.org – ‘Digitalizing Coffee Houses – Social Diplomacy Web 2.0 and Turkey’s International Digital Coffee House’
8:30 – 9:30 PM Reception