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Naming rights, place branding, and the tumultuous cultural landscapes of neoliberal urbanism

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In recent decades, urban policymakers have increasingly embraced the selling of naming rights as a means of generating revenue to construct and maintain urban infrastructure. This practice of “toponymic commodification” first emerged with the commercialization of professional sports during the second half of the 20th century and has become an integral part of the policy toolkit of neoliberal urbanism more generally. As a result, the naming of everything from sports arenas to public transit stations has come to be viewed as a sponsorship opportunity, yet such naming rights initiatives have not gone uncontested. This special issue examines the political economy of urban place naming through a series of case studies that consider how the commodification of naming rights is transforming the cultural landscapes of contemporary cities. In this introductory article, we provide an overview of the geographies of toponymic commodification as an emerging research focus within the field of critical urban toponymies and propose several theoretical approaches that can enhance our understanding of the commodification of naming rights as an urban spatial practice. We then discuss the main contributions in this special issue and conclude by exploring potential directions for future research on the geographies of urban toponymic commodification.
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Keywords: Critical toponymy; cultural landscapes; naming rights; neoliberal urbanism; place branding; toponymic commodification

Document Type: Introduction

Affiliations: 1: Department of Geography, University of Victoria, Victoria, Canada 2: Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland 3: Division of Geography and Environmental Management, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, UK 4: Department of Tourism and Hospitality, Bournemouth University, Bournemouth, UK

Publication date: July 3, 2019

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