Their Honors

The Conference of Mayors gathers in Jerusalem to focus on marketing historic cities the world over.

lupolianski 88 (photo credit: )
lupolianski 88
(photo credit: )
This week, some 40 mayors from more than 20 different countries converged on Jerusalem to participate in the 24th International Conference of Mayors. The annual invitational conference is sponsored by the American-Jewish Congress-Council for World Jewry (AJC), in association with the Foreign Ministry and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. Participating countries included Angola, Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cote d'Ivoire, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Italy, Paraguay, Poland, Russian Federation, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, USA, Ukraine, Venezuela and Zambia. According to conference organizers, the conference's theme this year, "Mobilizing the Past for a Better Economic Future," was chosen to place special emphasis on the role of the mayor in convening major international, economic, scientific and cultural events in historic cities. "Jerusalem is like many other historic cities in the world. We can leverage the history and heritage to better the economy, using history and heritage as a launching pad for the city's economics," Mayor Uri Lupolianski explained to In Jerusalem. "We must deal with issues such as the maximization of historic resources, convening of international, cultural, scientific and economic events in historic cities, and modernizing infrastructure while preserving history," he added. Some mayors, especially from Europe, do represent historic cities. But according to Mike Brown, an adviser to the AJC, when inviting the representatives from the United States, in conjunction with the US Conference of Mayors, the AJC paid particular attention to inviting mayors who could be influential in American politics and who had not been to Israel before. At the festive opening session, attended only by a few Jerusalem city council members and invited guests, a promotional movie presented Jerusalem as "a world capital: holy, historic, youthful, evolving, multicultural and diverse." But while the programs emphasized the professional aspects of the conferences, Gideon Meir, director-general for media and public affairs at the Foreign Ministry, acknowledged that from his point of view, the purpose of the conference is to equip the mayors "to carry the true picture [of Israel] back to their cities to provide a good counter-balance to the media reports. And to hear about the conflict from our perspective and to come to understand why Israel acts as it does." Despite the need for almost constant simultaneous translation from and into Russian, Spanish, English, French and German, as well as Hebrew, the mayors formed a quick and easy camaraderie, and the convention progressed smoothly, composed partly of politics, professional learning, and a good portion of vacation and sight-seeing. Over two days, the mayors toured the obligatory Jerusalem sites, including the Old City, the Temple Mount and Yad Vashem, as well as some other sites that the municipality chose to promote, including Erel Margalit's The Lab theater and Yad Sarah. And they met with political leaders, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in one of his first international appearances, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and MK Ephraim Sneh. Later in the week, they toured Masada, the Beit She'an National Archeological Park, the Christian holy sites, and were briefed by an IDF official. Mayor Lupolianski called the mayors "his honored guests" but did not attend most of the sessions, largely devoted to professional and urban issues. For these events, this group of mayors were pretty much on their own, well-taken care of and carefully shepherded by an efficient and friendly Israeli staff. A lecture by Ze'ev Temkin, city planner, highlighted some of Jerusalem's sophisticated plans for lighting and infrastructure-upgrading in the Old City, and also pointed to some of the difficulties. "The costs of cleaning and maintenance in the Old City are double that of an average neighborhood in the rest of the city," he told the conference. Several of the European mayors nodded in empathy. When asked about Jerusalem's status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Temkin responded candidly that "Israeli cities and sites that have been designated as heritage sites, have not yet leveraged that building block to the point that they could have. It's an important building block, but we haven't leveraged it enough." Asked about the tension between private ownership and planning needs, a problem that all cities face, Temkin acknowledged, "This is one of the most complex issues we face, because there's another element here. We have to view this problem in the context of the political conflict. Even if it's in their own best interests, some residents may not want to cooperate because they do not want to be viewed as 'collaborating' with the authority that they do not view as legitimate." To try to get around the problem, he said, "We try to divert the focus from the political to the economic, since everyone wants to profit." When a Swiss mayor suggested that Jerusalem charge an entrance fee to the Old City, Temkin revealed that this suggestion has actually been discussed at various times - and consistently rejected. "We must uphold the right of access to the holy sites. And since Israel often has to restrict that access due to security concerns, any process that would hand out identity cards or access cards would be politically unacceptable." And the attendees listened to an impassioned plea by Semiha Borovac, mayor of Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Speaking through an interpreter, she emphasized the Jewish history of Sarajevo and the country's rich multi-religious and multicultural history. For 1,357 days of constant fighting between 1992-1995, Sarajevo was completely cut off from the rest of the world, a siege even longer than the siege of Stalingrad. Yet just last month, Lonely Planet ranked Sarajevo as the 43rd most attractive city in the world to visit and live in. "We are now building a monument for all of the nearly 1,600 children who were killed during the war. Please, let us not use our histories for more conflict. Let us use our histories to create prosperity for all of our citizens." But since Bosnia-Herzgovina is not a member of the European Union, it is not entitled to structural funds. "Please, lobby your governments to donate to Sarajevo," she said. "We will know how to value your contributions." Large segments of the conference dealt with the methods and means to brand and market cities to potential residents and tourists. In a carefully-structured and clear presentation, Jonathan Kish, vice president for strategic planning, McCann Erickson Worldwide (Israel) told the audience that "Branding a city is part of a comprehensive strategy to make a city more attractive. You must create demand for the city, by motivating non-residents to come and motivating the good residents to stay." Describing the process, Kish explained that a city must create a good story for itself. "A good story for any brand, and obviously even more so for a city, must be different, credible, sustainable, relevant, and demand-increasing." And to create that good marketing story, he added, Jerusalem "would have to skirt many land mines, including the Arab-Israeli, secular-religious, and inter-cultural conflicts." But, he says, it can be done. It was done, Mayor Bill Purcell told the mayors, in Nashville, Tennessee. "Branding Nashville as the 'Music Capital of the World' was a deliberate, and very successful choice," Purcell said. The city, he noted, had other options, since it is a car-manufacturing center, a religious center and a "drinking center" - the home of Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey. They tried some of these marketing options, he said, but it was the music that stuck and succeeded. When other mayors asked about the cost of such branding, Purcell noted that a bit of creativity and humor go a long, and low-cost, way. Last month, the City of Nashville announced plans to honor the late Roy Orbison, who would have turned 70 this month. Sporting dark sunglasses and a slinky walk while humming "Pretty Woman," the city received national and international coverage for the self-generated "event." The idea works. Nashville's income is about $6.4 billion, of which $2.42b. comes from music tourism. At the same time, he said, Nashville uses this branding tactic to attract businesses and corporations, using slogans such as "Nashville is Sweet Music for Expanding Companies" that have helped push the city up to the No. 1 ranking in Expansion Management's list of America's 50 Hottest Cities. When branding Prague for modern tourism, Mayor Pavel Bem told IJ, city officials deliberately chose venues such as the recent "Final Four," rock concerts, a bid for the Olympics, and other events in historic sites that will reinforce its image as a lively, dynamic and exciting city that combines the historic with the au-courant. "We still have to contend with the misconception that we are an Eastern European city," he explained, "so our marketing strategy focuses on changing these types of perceptions. We actively seek out great marketing opportunities and sophisticated advertising. We put a very large percentage of our budget for advertising - and we reap the benefits. "Our marketing is constantly creating stories about the mysticism and magic of Prague. And one of our key decisions has been to ignore the communist era completely. We don't discuss Prague as a post-communist city. We know that that period conjures up different images, so we deliberately avoid it in our marketing strategies." So what should Jerusalem's marketing strategies be? Which of Jerusalem's stories should be told? Following Bem's lecture, given at the Begin Heritage Center, the mayors walked out to the porch and gazed at the views of the Old City Walls and the desert in the distance. Most of the tourist guides accompanying the conference emphasized the conflicts and wars that have scarred those walls, the terrorist attacks and the on-going conflict. The carefully-produced promotional movie promised that "There's room for everyone here in Jerusalem," yet no Arab professionals or city planners from east Jerusalem participated in the conference. In a written statement, the municipal spokesman's office responded tersely that, "the municipality does not distinguish between east and west Jerusalem, just as it does not distinguish between north and south Jerusalem." But speaking off the record, a municipal source acknowledged that, "without genuine cooperation with the Palestinians, that will take their needs and preferences into account, we won't be able to promote an attractive Jerusalem brand. As usual, the politics get in the way of Jerusalem's future. Just think how wonderful it would be if we could promote Jerusalem as a genuinely multicultural city!" Yet the mayors were apparently oblivious to these issues and most were clearly enchanted by the city. "Jerusalem is beautiful and Jerusalem is eternal," said Lambert Yapi, mayor if Tiassale in the Cote d'Ivoire. "That is the message I will bring home to my city."