PhD Interview Series
Research project: Place Branding Role for an Inclusive Urban Prosperity

DoIP Spotlight: Abdulrhman Alsayel

In a monthly interview series, the Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity Initiative turns the spotlights on one of their PhD candidates. We learn more about their research projects, their link with inclusive prosperity and their long term goals. This edition features Abdulrhman Alsayel who studies inclusive place branding policies. 

What is your research about?

Saudi Arabia has used the place branding policies and strategies extensively since its "2030 vision" in 2016. The vision advocates for economic diversification, quality of life enhancement, opening up for tourism, cultural expansion, growth of the entertainment sector, the presentation of evolving technologies, services, production privatization, and new job opportunities for youth from both genders. All these actions and place branding strategies indicate that Saudi cities desire to be creative and attract talents, but they also want to be inclusive simultaneously. Nevertheless, making these two aims happen at the same time could be a challenging task. The fact is that economic diversification goals may require to attract high-tech and talented people.
Nevertheless, the evidence shows in other parts of the world, taking this approach will accelerate the rise of the creative class and increase the income gap and wealth gap (Florida, 2017; Kotkin, 2014). My research aims to maximize the contribution and evolution of the place branding field in theory and practice by utilizing it as a tool to attain inclusive urban development outcomes. Hence, providing an advanced approach that allows cities to use labels such as "creative city" to attract the targeted audience on the one hand and not leavening the rest of society out on the other hand.

How are you progressing so far and what are your main findings?

I am currently investigating how Dubai, Amsterdam and Toronto balance being a "creative city" and an "inclusive city" in their city branding and in adopting policy initiatives. We look at the governance match or mismatch between place branding and policy initiatives  and between creativity and inclusivity aspects.
Regarding the main findings, the study has shown that there is a good connection between creativity and inclusion in some aspects, but on the other hand, tensions may arise in some cases. The study shows that Dubai takes from the inclusivity and creativity that is consistent with local cultures such as ageism and ableism and eliminate what is inconsistent with traditional norms such as classism, religism, sexism, racism. In Amsterdam, clear tension has been found between attracting talents and including people who cannot generate economic income, elderly and disable people particularly. The study found that Toronto implements a creative city much more than an inclusive city; hence possible tensions have been found in terms of classism, religism, sexism, and racism.
It appears that creativity is more important than inclusion. Those aspects within inclusion that get a lot of attention are the ones that add to creativity or at least that is not in conflict with it. But whenever it costs money and goes against culture, then cities maybe don't want to sacrifice. Another finding is that there is plenty of room for cities to manoeuvre within the realm of adopting policy initiatives. Hence cities are cherry-picking on what grounds they want to be inclusive by over delivery of policy initiatives and ignore exclusionary grounds where tensions arise by under-delivery of their policies.


"It's sincerely reinvigorating to see so many scholars minding about the state of the world, the planet and society."


In what way is your research project contributing to inclusive prosperity?

For me, place branding could be more inclusive whenever it is being utilized as a tool to reshape the city rather than adopting it as a communicative platform. If we use place branding as an urban development tool, cities can provide a reliable new route to places that can handle an adequate reaction to social imbalances, macroeconomic unevenness, general economy, and unemployment. Place branding can represent the connection between citizens, the government and the relationship between the user and the places.

What is the added value in doing your PhD at the Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity Initiative?

The Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity Initiative enables me to collaborate closely with relevant experts at IHS, RSM, ESL and ESPhil and benefit from their expertise. Since day 1, being a member of the DoIP group has been an enriching and pleasant experience. It allowed me to obtain diverse perspectives on my subject and acquire knowledge about other topics I never had a chance to dive into. I especially acknowledge the detailed feedback and reliable appraisals members share. It's sincerely reinvigorating to see so many scholars minding about the state of the world, the planet and society. Finally, I am thankful to be part of the DoIP PhD group! Being exposed to a plurality of experiences, expertise, and opinions adds an added component to my thought that a pure focus on urban planning studies.

What are your ambitions for the future?

The implementation of the New Urban Agenda and the adequate response to SDGs— Goal 11 and other urban targets— is crucial to make Saudi cities and human settlements safe, inclusive, resilient and sustainable. My ultimate ambition is to promote transformative change in cities and human settlements through knowledge, policy advice, technical assistance and collaborative action to leave no one and no place behind. I strive to use my doctoral research as a theoretical stepping stone to shape cities, towns and villages to make them functional, attractive and sustainable for all by a human-rights-based approach, ensuring that those furthest behind are targeted first.

Abdulrhman Alsayel

More information

Promotor: Prof. Martin de Jong (ESL/RSM)
2nd Promotor: Dr. Jan Fransen (IHS)

Starting date of PhD: September 2019
Expected end date: September 2023