NextCITY: Transforming Planning
Saturday, June 1, 2013 at 9:15PM
Gordon Laird

In June 2012, I began consulting on brand strategy to create an identity for an innovative project at The City of Calgary. But it was a project that didn't resemble anything that I'd worked on before. It wasn't a campaign, a company or organization. And it didn't have much in the way of communications parameters or criteria. It was a straight-up directive from Calgary's Mayor and City Council to transform how Calgary plans and builds itself. 

It was clear that the project wasn't going to just create another committee, report or incremental fix: this had been tried before, many times, mostly without success. Planners, developers, citizens and communities were often unhappy with the current planning system, and that the current way of doing business was limiting opportunity and innovation in the city. The City of Calgary was also failing to fully implement its own long-term plan to ensure the city's prosperity and sustainability in the future. Transforming Planning would have to take bold, sometimes radical, moves.

So, working with a designer and The City's Creative Lead, we started at the beginning with a concept and a story. I proposed that the new brand should take a vision-based strategy to evoke Calgary's future potential, while attempting to cultivate trust of stakeholders. We had to quickly establish that our city's common ground lies the future, not the shortcomings of the present day. We needed our diverse (and often skeptical) audience to understand that a new approach was at hand, one that sought to be genuinely collaborative. It had to be a statement.

My first concept for the project's identity was actually something called nextCITY. It was presented to leadership at Planning, Development & Assessment (PDA) and was enthusiastically adopted, not for my project but as the innovation brand for the entire City department. So a second, complementing brand had to be developed for the initiative, one that eventually became Transforming Planning. 

By September 2012, I joined Transforming Planning as communications lead to develop strategy and tactics on a full-time basis. I was also named to the Transforming Planning Working Group, a multi-stakeholder leadership team that shapes strategic direction for the initiative. 

Since then, the project has grown in scale and reputation. Now of the most ambitious civic initiatives of its kind in North America, Transforming Planning encompasses a broad audience and multiple channels of communication, including web, social media, local & national media relations, as well as extensive stakeholder engagement.

It's been a great strategy, even when things get spicy: Transforming Planning seeks to leverage the power of groups as part of a large-scale, collaborative design process to deliver a new planning system for Calgary. Check out our new mini-website, the first of its kind at The City, for more information. / @nextCITYyyc

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