City centre in the era of consumer culture

Portella, A. & Reeve, A.

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Portella, A. & Reeve, A., 2015. City centre in the era of consumer culture. Journal of Urban Design and Planning, 169, 6, pp.291-300.

This paper analyses the importance of commercial signs in contemporary cities, and explores the theoretical concepts that might be helpful in understanding the operation of commercial signage controls in historic places. The focus is on issues that cluster around theories of consumer culture, as well as on the practices of city centre management, city marketing and urban tourism. The discussion is predominantly concerned with commercial city centres because these are places where different functions and meanings coexist. They are often places where different commercial and non-commercial interests have to be managed or reconciled. City centres are also public areas where human experience is given meaning and valorised through signs, symbols and patterns of behaviour, which result from a combination of physical and symbolic factors of the built environment. In many cases, the commercial city centre coincides with the historic core of a city, and the challenge of the local authority is to combine all functions with the preservation of historic buildings and places. At the end, this paper discusses how forms of aesthetic control over commercial signage can be applied to preserve local identity and stimulate commercial and touristic activities simultaneously.

Main finding
Commercial signage in historic city centers in different contexts contributes to commercial competitiveness of cities and its aesthetic richness and variety. The design, use and control of commercial signs are affected by commercialization of city centers, the broader culture of consumerism and city center management. In order to balance the commercial efficiency of the city and the historical preservation, local authorities should establish and implement aesthetic controls and monitor effectiveness, while users should reclaim the symbolic meanings in order to preserve historic heritage. To avoid the risk that all city centers will look the same, commercial signage that benefit visual commercial appeal can generate satisfactory consumer needs and increasing vitality and viability by reinforcing the character of a place as historic, touristic and/or cosmopolitan.

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Organising categories

Economic Transactions Walking or Rolling
Urban Design
Physical types