How Your City’s Natural Assets Can Inspire Your City Brand

In the quality of place era, consumers of cities are choosing the places that give them, or their employees, the richest and most stimulating lifestyle. Increasingly, in turn, cities are tapping their natural assets to create more enjoyable resident experiences. It’s an exciting movement born of community passion, ingenuity and the need to compete. Ultimately, the renaissance of natural assets in urban settings is not just restoring souls, it’s restoring communities. For those important reasons, the nature of places is becoming a central part of community brands. There is also an impressive array of federal and state grants out there to help communities fund their natural asset improvements. It’s a great time to invest in the nature of your place!

Why the movement to invest in the accentuation or restoration of natural assets? If a higher standard of living for all wasn’t reason enough, the talent shortage is a prime motivator. The IEDC (International Economic Development Council) talks about a virtuous circle relating talent attraction to quality of place. Consider this repeating sequence:

• Employers seek talented workers
• Talented workers seek quality places
• Communities strive to increase their quality of place
• Quality places attract residents, jobs, investments and visitors (now, because this growth requires more workforce, start over at bullet 1)

The nature of your place, and your resulting brand story, could be hiding in a lot of different places that could be providing more recreation and wellbeing to residents: parks (old or new), waterways, train systems, bike paths, brownfields, greenfields, state parks, outdoor recreation and entertainment venues, neighborhoods gardens and even agricultural lands. Map your inventory of natural assets (or potential natural assets) and ask yourself: are we making the most of these assets to maximize our quality of place and be competitive in the marketplace? If the answer is no and greater investment is a wise strategy (versus investment in other community assets that may give you an even greater chance to compete), dig in. Here are some examples of how other communities have invested in and leveraged their natural assets:

Bakersfield & Kern County, California – this amazing community northeast of Los Angeles is an agricultural and natural resource mecca at the southern end of the fertile Central Valley. Bakersfield owns a place in county music history (the Bakersfield Sound) and the vast desert lands of Kern County to the east are home to Edwards Air Force base and other advanced defense and aerospace installations. The city and county brands each salute these distinctions, but lean heavily on what the natural assets mean to the quality of life – economically, nutritionally and recreationally.

Johnson City, Tennessee – Johnson City is a beautiful, mountainside community in Northeast Tennessee. It is home to East Tennessee State University and features a downtown oozing with cool factor (home to both breweries and mountain bike trailheads) literally at the base of the Appalachian Mountains. There is an entrepreneurial, make-it-happen resilience among its people. The Johnson City brand positions its outdoor lifestyle at the center, while also referencing the can-do spirit of its people.

Jacksonville, Florida – in Northeast Florida, this city is building an identity around its expansive waterscape, including the Atlantic Ocean, St. Johns River and Intracoastal waterways and preserves. An exciting extension of those efforts is the city’s Emerald Trail project, which received funding from Groundwork USA, a national initiative focused on improving the physical environment and wellbeing in US communities. The Emerald Trail will be 30 miles of trails and creek restoration to create a remarkable outdoor recreational asset for Jacksonville.

Inspired to bring your community’s natural assets to the surface to drive quality of place and strengthen your brand? Go for it! If your community is not yet ready to fund improvements to its natural assets, there are many grants offered on both the federal and state levels. Look into these programs to see how your community might qualify (you might be surprised):

United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service Landscape Scale Restoration

The National Park Service: Land and Water Conservation Fund State and Local Assistance Program

Groundwork USA: Groundwork Trust

Environmental Protection Agency: Brownfields Cleanup Grant

Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership Program (ORLP)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: Saltonstall-Kennedy Grant Program

And, there are grants in almost every state for similar initiatives.

There’s no more satisfying community endeavor than investment in and improvement of natural assets. Your citizens win, the environment wins and your community as a whole becomes more competitive. In the quality of place movement, where knowledge era talent decides where they want to live, position your community as a first choice by building a place – and a brand – that celebrates the power of natural assets.