Branding the boroughs

chiyoda flag

Neo Hackney

Last week I popped along to the exhibition 'London's Towns' at the Building Centre in London. Subtitled "Shaping the Polycentric City", (download catalogue here) the exhibition looked at developments proposed across the London boroughs, as each looks to assert an identity within the larger metropolis.

It seems that every borough needs a masterplan these days. The focus of many boroughs' displays was to highlight their efforts to develop as a standalone 'hub': a retail, cultural and commercial centre that could resist the gravitational pull of Central London. Some, such as Greenwich, Croydon and Stratford see their future as a city within a city.

'London's Third City', Croydon boldy proclaims, neglecting the fact that Heathrow can already be considered such. But you have to give Croydon credit for its gutsy vision, (already attracting admirers in Paris), a colourful masterplan by Alsop, and by far the swankiest model on display that understandably was given centre stage.



Inevitably, with the exhibition sponsored by the various London Boroughs themselves, there was little critical analysis of the visions presented. Is the city becoming more fragmented? Or is there a framework emerging for a more coherent whole, within which each of the boroughs has a chance to establish a unique character?

It struck me that all the boroughs were seeking to establish an identity, and yet a compelling graphic rebranding would be a far stronger way of doing this than through some badly conceived urban masterplanning.

I recently discovered that every city and ward in Tokyo has its own flag. What's more, they're awesome. Each is unique, but there is also a visual consistency and pattern to them, a typology, that lends them great overall coherence.

Tokyo City Flags

Tokyo Ward Flags

Compare this with the logos of the assorted London boroughs, a truly horrific collection of bad clip art, worse typography, pointless squiggles, and the occasional moronic slogan ("The London Borough", "putting residents first", "the brighter borough").

London Boroughs

Does London have the boldness to implement such a branding exercise? I think it would help give residents of each of the boroughs a strong sense of identity, some team colours so to speak. I'm reminded of the Scorpion football campaign by Nike back in 2002, where each borough of London was given a name, eg Enfield Tigers, Merton Jungles, Bromley Boxers (?), and then teams from the boroughs would battle it out in a first-goal-wins knockout tournament at the Millennium Dome.

As in many things, the marketeers are a long way ahead of the urbanists.