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City renaming as brand promotion: exploring neoliberal projects and community resistance in New Zealand

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Proposals to change the names of entire urban centres are rare. We examine the case of Blenheim, New Zealand, where in 2016, representatives of local businesses campaigned for its renaming as Marlborough City, in recognition of the region’s wine industry. Although defeated the proposal threatened to over-write established settlement history. It presumed to rename Blenheim under the aegis of New Zealand Inc., a shorthand for the pervasive yet nebulous economic nationalism that seeks to yoke all local and national identity to enhancing export growth. Drawing on media reports, we interpret this example of toponymic commodification as a neoliberalized project of place-making. Ironically, Blenheim and Marlborough are colonial names that displaced a long-established Māori name. The proposal highlights both the perversities and the deeply contested claims-making that often underlie and animate toponymic politics. Ultimately, it illustrates some of the limits of rights claimed under neoliberalism.
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Keywords: City-branding; New Zealand; community resistance; neoliberalism; toponymic commodification

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Environment, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand

Publication date: July 3, 2019

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