From placemaking to stakeholder engagement: Mayor John Taylor shares the first steps of Newmarket’s place brand journey

Place branding can seem like a daunting challenge. It encompasses a huge number of different sectors and partners, and it can be several years before you start seeing real shifts in perceptions of your place. But every strategy has to start somewhere. We caught up with Mayor John Taylor of Newmarket, Ontario, to understand how they’re starting their place brand journey and what advice they have for others preparing to take their first steps.


Can you give us a quick overview of how you’ve engaged your community and other place stakeholders in the development of your strategy?

We're still in the early days of forming our strategy. Right now, I'm focused on socialising the idea with key stakeholders, and getting input from place-making experts, economic development professionals, academics, and our local business community.

I introduced the concept of branding Newmarket as an arts centre or “Arts Town” in my inaugural speech last year and since that time Town Council has adopted this direction as a strategic priority. Also, I recently explored this concept at a presentation to our local Chamber of Commerce in my annual speech to its membership.

You don't have to look around LinkedIn for too long to see that creativity is the top skill we're all selling and looking for.

When business owners realise I'm talking about creating a place where people want to be, they get the value of place branding.

What prompted you to start developing a place brand strategy for the Newmarket?

Guided by the belief that animating public spaces is an integral part of community building, the Town of Newmarket and our partners have been steadily expanding the variety and improving the quality of the events we host, as well as strengthening our partnership with cultural groups in Town who host their own festivals and events, like Pride and Black History Month.

Residents and visitors alike have enthusiastically embraced and engaged with these festivals and events. As a result, Newmarket has a burgeoning reputation as an arts and culture hub.

In the past year, this reputation has resulted in the Art Gallery of Ontario - the province's premier public art gallery - to partner with Newmarket to open its first satellite away from its Toronto home.

Also, a chain of boutique hotels is in the process of converting our historic post office into a boutique hotel - the first in our Region. The fact that the other hotels in this chain are located in trendy urban neighbourhoods further illustrates the changing perception of Newmarket and how that change is bringing investment to town.

It is now time to ride this rising tide, boost our brand, and leverage the momentum to position Newmarket to attract even more investment.

By its nature, place branding is a long-term project. But what are you looking for as quick-term wins to continue growing momentum behind your strategy?

We're animating the public spaces we already have. For example, we turn one of our woodlots into a haunted Halloween experience for residents and give opportunities to performers.

We're including adding buskers to our award-winning downtown district on busy summer evenings before the entertainment begins in the restaurants there - extending the experience of the Newmarket brand to the journey, not just the destination.

The Town's former works yard and maintenance shop was vacated earlier this year. We're talking to the arts and innovation faculties of a nearby university about ways to animate these large indoor and outdoor spaces in the near and mid-term, and we'll engage in some place-making next year in the long-term vision and planning for this space focused around arts and culture.

Are you using any particular metrics to benchmark whether your strategy is making an impact?

Newmarket's Economic Development team subscribes to data collected by Ontario's Central Counties Tourism association. This geo-fenced visit and survey data provides insights on who is visiting the specific places in town that are indicative of the Newmarket brand. Historical data can serve as a baseline against which we will measure.

I saw on your website that you’re in the process of developing a cultural and placemaking master plan. How does this tie into your overall place brand vision?

We'll start with the branding work to position the town. A strong place brand will guide the direction and priorities for the cultural and placemaking plans.

I believe public space and creating opportunities to bring people together and have shared experiences are key building blocks of a strong community. Similarly, our public spaces, cultural assets, and the activities that animate these places are key ways that we express and embed Newmarket's brand. This is a part of how we will make our brand synonymous with a strong community.

Another thing that is clear from your website is a focus on inclusivity and environmental stewardship. In what ways are you working to create a better and more prosperous future for Newmarket?

In the most basic sense, if you want to attract people to a place, it needs to be welcoming and be around for the long term. That's why I want Newmarket to be the most inclusive town in Canada, and that's why we focus on sustainability.

Here are a few recent examples of how we do this.

As part of truth and reconciliation with the indigenous community, Newmarket was the first municipality in Canada to permanently display a land acknowledgment at the front door of its office. We launched a dismantling anti-Black racism action plan this year. The actions in this plan come from recommendations made by the Black community in Newmarket. Later this year, the Town will hire a dedicated staff member for inclusivity, diversity, and equity at the Town.

To make our environment more sustainable, last year we created a green fund for initiatives that reduce GHG emissions, seeded with a million dollars and contributions from new homes built in town. We're also exploring a made-in-Newmarket Energy retrofit program to reduce the GHG emission from current homes.

What advice would you give to other destinations starting out on their place branding journey?

Embrace what your community is doing, lean in and invest to expand and enhance the attributes that make your town stand out.

Wonderful. Thanks for sharing that with us.

The Place Brand Portfolio is City Nation Place's searchable portfolio of Awards case studies from the past five years.