Resonance: Consultancy for Creative Cities
An Interview with Chris Fair, Richard Cutting-Miller and Diana Carr
By: Yuehan Jia, Contributor
Issue 13 Fall 2014
Resonance Consultancy Ltd was founded in 2007 in Vancouver, Canada by Chris Fair. The company helps developers, governments, communities, destinations and cities to create and realize development strategies, plans, policies, and brands to shape the future of places.
The seven-year old consulting firm is filled with ambitious consultants with global experience whose goal is to build bridges between the private sector and worldwide destinations to create economic opportunities, while preserving the uniqueness of local communities to promote and attract tourism. CATALYST Review’s Yuehan Jia interviewed Chris Fair (President), Richard Cutting-Miller (Executive Vice President), and Dianna Carr (Vice President), to discuss the strategy and innovation their organization uses to promote creative cities, and how we can use the vehicle of travel and tourism to benefit local communities and economies.
CATALYST: How do you engage developers, governments, and communities to develop creative cities and how do they benefit?
CHRIS: The company primarily specializes in strategy development for urban or tourism destinations, identifying future opportunities to grow and shape the places to attract additional tourists, farmers and residents to particular areas. The company is also involved in researching strategic planning and alternative strategic branding which aid in attracting visitors, tourism and business, to boost the local economy.
One great example is the partnership we have with a developer in Hawaii where we are focused on creating a new community of 1000 acres in Kauai, Hawaii.
The destination is rich in natural resources and has an enthusiastic community culture, a shining example right on the tourist radar. As the oldest Hawaiian island it reveals the most breathtaking scene and has a deep-rooted arts community. The tourism industry is a major source of revenue for the community, therefore it is important to protect the sustainability of the environment, at the same time efficiently use the resources to benefit the community.
In addition, we partner with governments on municipal, regional, and national levels, for instance the city of Calgary, the city of Vancouver, and the government of Haiti.
Our goal is to help clients envision and share an understanding of what the future might look like, in addition to identifying opportunities for their destinations or communities within that vision.
Typical planning is always a projection based on the current reality, so we try to break our clients away from today and help them think about tomorrow by doing what we call ‘back casting,’ which is an exercise in which they set their vision of a preferred future, and look back for to identify the strategies and the policies that need to be developed in order to realize that future.
CATALYST: How do you help create development strategies, plans, policies and brands for a developing country?
Who are the key stakeholders when doing so?
CHRIS:In a developing country the process is a little bit different because the stakeholders are not as clearly organized as they are in a developed country. So usually it takes a little bit more effort to identify the voices that we need in the process. But what is interesting is in a developing area the stakeholders are often very engaged once we are able to identify those voices and organize them as part of the process. The contributions they make are very meaningful and very informative to our process, but the progress itself is very much the same.
CATALYST:How does Resonance help shape the future of places?
Can you give us specific and vivid examples based on your case studies?
CHRIS: We were recently involved in a partnership with a planning firm, IBI, in the country of Haiti, also a developing country. On several projects we were working with the Ministry of Tourism in Haiti, and one of them was the revitalization of the town of Jacmel. The town was devastated in an earthquake and as a result much of the historic waterfront district was damaged or destroyed. But, this also created an opportunity to look at both the assets and needs of the area, allowing us to consider reinvention from the ground up. Our process there was to create a variety of visioning workshops that brought together a diverse range of stakeholders, landowners, and people from the ministries and governments, as well as bring in external consultants and experts from a variety of development agencies. The goal is to redevelop that center not just as a tourist destination, but as one that focuses on creative tourism, which is all about celebrating arts in the community, while creating schools and programs that would allow people to take further their education by partaking in some of the various arts program in Jacmel.
Another project that we developed with the Administration of Tourism in Haiti was to develop a visioning workshop for an island called Elebash in the center of the coast that had never been developed. With traditional planning we could come up with a predesigned model that can be adopted immediately, but instead we engaged the community to understand what their needs, hopes, values and aspirations were. The result was a holistic vision for the destination that we would have never developed in isolation by our own experts; that vision was to create a very sustainable, eco-friendly oriented destination. The built project may not appear to be highly innovative, but we listened to the community and incorporated the precise type of architecture they wanted to see in order to target a specific type of client, which informed the planning in a very specific way.
RICHARD: One of the greatest things that separates our firm from others is the level of public engagement we entail. The difference with our approach is what we do with the input directly from the community engagement.
Dianna, our chief storyteller, takes all the information from the engagements and includes, in very rich detail, a story about the future so all the people engaged in the process are able to read a narrative vision that truly resonates with them. And, that is the difference from other public firms that do community engagement, but never circle back to the local community in any tangible way other than a plan, which does not resonate with the community. The storytelling here is the key, that’s what gets individuals to embrace the outcome of the process; it is the key to spurring action so that the plan created is actually realized to some degree.
For one of our projects in Vancouver, we launched a website to allow for better communication with local residents. We used social media to contribute to the survey, providing detailed information to help the community have a better understanding of the project. This is unlike many other consulting firms which are more focused on the results and not the process- the plan usually has little-to-no engagement to the local community.
CHRIS: We have another project with the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, where we are working on revitalization in the waterfront river district of downtown Calgary in an area called the East Village. However, it has become one of the poorest districts in Canada – most of the buildings were abandoned; the only commercial activities that were left were some senior residences and three homeless shelters. To revitalize East Village we needed to put together a plan to redevelop the area and make a better use of their land. So, we started working with the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation six years ago to help them work with the community to generate a vision for what that redeveloped area might look like. After 20 or 30 years of bad stories in the press regarding the East Village, the local residents simply could not imagine a positive future; but over the course of a year of working with the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, we have been able to remedy general public opinion with a strategic master plan. For the last 24 months Calgary Municipal Land Corporation has attracted more than 1.3 billion in planned development commitments to the area. Just within six years we gone from the area that no one in the city would venture into, to transforming it to what people living within Calgary believe is the future of city, and that’s certainly one of the projects that makes us most proud.
The website for the project is www.evexperience.com. There are 100s of people that are buying new condominiums and there are announcements of over 400,000 feet of development, a new national music center has been proposed and is now under construction, and the city has recently announced its new central library project, a $250 million investment in this neighborhood.
CATALYST: What makes your company stand out?
What makes your company special and unique?
RICHARD: We are a small consulting firm, but we have a unique set of experiences. I worked for an organization called World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), established by the chairman of American Express and 20 of the world’s visionary leaders of travel and tourism. They were convinced that travel and tourism would play a very important role in the future of economic development. They established such an organization to help places like Montenegro, Argentina, China, Russia and India, and allow these countries to recognize the impact of travel and tourism on their economies and to identify the policies that they need to address.
Over a period of 16 years I have worked in 65 countries and 350 individual cities, which gives me a perspective and opportunity to see what the world is about and how issues can be applied, judged and formulated differently in different places. In a consulting firm I think it’s all about people and experiences that they can bring for individual client.
DIANNA: When you bring a storyteller and writer into the mix, you enable really smart and well-designed ideas to be articulated in such a way that people can understand them and get emotionally invested in them. I think that’s what makes it really difference in terms of our shared experience and our complementary skills, being able to express those things in a way to become future focused that people can get behind emotionally.
CHRIS: What makes us unique are our experiences working with private sectors and national governments all over the world. My experience is primarily working in the private sector with real estate and urban developers, and we were able to bridge both of those worlds and bring in a perspective to connect the public’s requirements with the private sector to attract investments. When you are able to engage private sector investments into the public sector in an initiative plan that is where successful plans and policies are realized.
We called our company Resonance for a reason: we want to make sure the brand, the policy, and the plan that we create resonates with the community.
CATALYST: How has Resonance Consultancy impacted people and their community in places where politics can pose a major barrier to entry?
RICHARD: One of my major projects for the last 10 years has been to identify for China, Hong Kong and Macau the policies and roadblocks associated with limiting the growth of their travel and tourism industry. Economically China continues to explode; the newfound middle-class populations are looking for travel, and at the same time they will also use travel and tourism as a vehicle to engage the population with the rest of the world. One of the issues in China is the slow transition from a government-controlled economy to a market-oriented economy.
One example is directly related to air transportation in prices, schedule, and services; an industry heavily regulated by the authorities. So, our job is to actively help them engage and understand the global industry and benefits for the involvement of the private sector. For example, the low-cost carriers for free-market orientated ticket prices and scheduling will be a catalyst to helping them effectively increase their economic growth. On the macro side, our job is to help the authorities release their full power and potential of their travel and tourism industry as a vehicle to boost the industry.
CHRIS: One of the challenges with our work is that it takes years, sometimes even more than a decade, to see the fruits of your labor. But to me what’s most satisfying is when we can work with the community through a visioning process and workshops and strengthening connection between local communities and private developers. Working together with the community and bringing in diverse viewpoints in a short period of time, resulting in a shared vision and optimistic passion; a new perception of what the future could hold for their destinations and communities.
CATALYST: What are some of the challenges that Resonance Consultancy may face in the future?
What are the potential threats towards shaping the future of places, and how is Resonance Consultancy preparing to address them?
CHRIS: Some of the challenges we face have to do with convincing organizations to envision the value of our approach, especially for communities impacted by their plans for the future.
Companies are overly attentive to the hardware of a place, working with architects and planners to sit down and see what can be physically realized within the confines of their external environment. On the other hand, our approach is quite the opposite: we focus on articulately defining the software of a place. Convincing organizations of the importance of this is the challenge and commitment from the public and private sectors to the long-term investments opportunities. It takes a lot of education to achieve that, but there is growing recognition in the planning industry. We strongly believe a sense of place will be a key driver of the economy in the 21st-century.
CATALYST: What are some of your plans and goals for the company’s development in the next decade?
What are you looking forward to?
What excites you?
CHRIS: We are always looking forward to experiencing new destinations and getting to know new communities. Whether it is working with Ireland, or Haiti it doesn’t matter what regions or neighborhood we might be involved with, it is always exciting for us to meet and learn about new communities and work on new types of projects. There is a growing interest in creating and shaping healthy places in the future brought up by Urban Land Institutes and it can be an exciting concept. We still haven’t really defined what healthy means, but the conversation is regarding placemaking and whether it’s about stability or a larger concept of healthy places. Such discussions of emerging frontiers can help to shape and define the future of places.
Boosting Economies through Creativity:
With the wave of globalization sweeping through the world, opportunities of the travel and tourism have never been more tempting. Countries and cities can use the vehicle of travel and tourism to boost their economies and enhance their infrastructure. However, technology provides more transparency and information to the tourists, the old concept of development, which is the massive commoditization of every destination, is no longer the solution for the future of destination development. Resonance Consultancy is dedicated to developing creative cities in the future by reconciling the private developer with the community, promoting sustainable environments for both the developers, local residence, and merchants, at the same time differentiate destinations to attract tourists. Shaping the future of places can take a long time, and massive effort, but with firms like Resonance Consultancy, more opportunities for the community will be created, environmental and economic environments will be more sustainable, and the future of places should be better and smarter.
With an increase in global travel and tourism, countries and cities try to capitalize on its benefits to flourish their economies. One main goal is to incorporate shaping the future of places by building bridges to promote creative cities by using travel and tourism to benefit communities and economies.
STRATEGIES IN ACTION:
Develop strategic branding and identify future opportunities to attract tourists and help boost a local economy.
Collaborate with meaningful contributors to help guide a complex process.
Connect by hosting workshops to strengthen connections between the communities and developers.
About the Authors:
Chris FairFuturist, father, strategist and storyteller holds a Masters Degree in Studies of the Future and has married his marketing expertise with futures methodologies to help clients envision and develop new places, products and organizations. Over the course of his career, Chris has led the branding and marketing of dozens of communities and destinations ranging from master planned destination resorts to entire cities. He is also a frequent public speaker, keen to share his insights on development trends and societal behavior.
Richard Cutting-Miller is a 25-year travel industry veteran responsible for tourism strategy, policy and master planning projects at Resonance. As Executive VP for the World Travel & Tourism Council for 16 years, he directed policy agendas, research programs, communications and membership services, and worked in more than 65 countries and 350 cities around the world. Rick then founded Tourism Policy Group, a consultancy that provides policy, strategy, public affairs and advocacy services to premier international destinations and enterprises.
Dianna Carr is an experienced writer and communicator who brings a keen curiosity and singular prose style to work in every medium. From creating new publications to co-authoring the official story of the 2010 Winter Olympics, from Intrawest’s French Alps to the Four Seasons Costa Rica and from Haiti to her adopted city of Vancouver, Dianna helps clients find their voice, aids developers in articulating sense of place, and writes the words that bring the future of destinations to life.