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Meet the editor of... Journal of Place Management and Development

An interview with: Cathy Parker
Interview by: Margaret Adolphus

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Photo: Professor Cathy ParkerProfessor Cathy Parker is development director of the Institute of Place Management (to which she is seconded), and professor of marketing and retail enterprise at Manchester Metropolitan University Business School. Her research interests are in the area of retailing, marketing and place management. She has published extensively in academic journals, and won two awards.

She has also been principal researcher and director for two, 3.5m+ European Union part-funded projects: AGORA, which aimed to bring the principles of social enterprise to town and other place management partnerships, and the Retail Enterprise Network, which aimed to promote and protect diversity in the independent retail sector.

About the journal

The Journal of Place Management and Development (JPMD) was launched in 2008, in partnership with the Institute of Place Management, the international professional body that supports people committed to developing, managing and making places better.

The journal aims to further knowledge and best practice of the management, marketing and development (i.e. the making) of places worldwide. Truly multidisciplinary in scope, the journal includes contributions from all related fields, including property and real estate management, marketing, tourism and leisure, retailing, geography, public administration, sociology, planning and design, and political science.

Place management

What is place management?

Place management is the process of people getting together and consciously seeking to improve or regenerate an area or location. It can be formal or informal. Many of our place management initiatives are formal in that they are public/private partnerships between the local authority and local businesses; they are set up as a limited company with a board and a budget. In many parts of the world they have legal responsibility for issues such as cleanliness and security.

But you can also have informal partnerships, when people get together to make a difference to their community, putting on a festival, clearing up and regenerating disused, unwanted land, for example. Place management is definable more in terms of the outcome of making improvements to an area rather than the types of organizational structures that exist to bring about these changes.

A good place management partnership operates on two levels: the day-to-day and the strategic. Being involved with local networks helps in getting things done. However the best partnerships also engage people in a visioning process, so that the community and its representatives can actually decide what type of area they want, both now and in the future.

We expect government at the local level to be able to sort out problems, but it doesn't always work because all levels of government have become functionalized. At local authority level you have different departments for housing, transport, education, and there isn't a lot of interaction. Whereas, rather than looking through the prism of function, if you draw a line round a particular area and think, "this area's got to be sustainable and meet the needs of the community, how can we make this happen?", than you are approaching the problem from the opposite angle.

Who are the "place managers", and from what professions are they drawn?

We've done research in Austria, Spain, Sweden and the UK, which shows that place managers come from a variety of backgrounds, such as retail, planning, event management and local authorities.

Those with retail backgrounds may be in charge of a town centre; they have a good understanding of the primary objective of a town centre space, which is to have a vibrant retail economy.

Some town centre managers may be responsible for a whole town, others just for the main shopping area perhaps with other smaller shopping areas as well, it varies. Sometimes they may also be responsible for other smaller, surrounding towns, which is good as they can have a broad overview of the effects of any development on the area locality.

Why was the Institute of Place Management formed, and what are its objectives?

It was formed to support people doing these really important jobs. Our research has shown that there are many, many people engaged in place management all over the world, but they are not recognized as professionals. And so, even though they may look after the area and engage well with its stakeholders, they are often overlooked. We wanted to raise awareness of its importance and so get it onto the same footing as other more established professions, such as town planning.

We also offer continuing professional development and qualifications. Place managers tend to be hybrid professionals, people with a lot of experience and a highly developed skill set. But there are a number of skills and prerequisite knowledge that they need in order to do the job properly. So we've been working with universities to develop postgraduate qualifications in place management. We've accredited an MSc in place management and an MA in urban regeneration at Manchester Metropolitan University, and an MA in place marketing and regeneration at the University of the Arts in London.

But our members value continuing professional development because this is a new profession and one that's constantly evolving. So just because you got an MSc in place management five years ago, it doesn't mean that you will still be at the forefront of your field if you don't keep up with all the developments.

We do bid for some research grants, for example we're working on a project at the moment with the Stuttgart City Council and the University of Stuttgart, looking at district centre management across Europe. And a couple of years ago we had a £2.4 million project looking at community-led approaches to place management.

But we certainly don't want in any way to dictate the research agenda: what we've been most keen to do is develop a global community of researchers and practitioners who are taking the subject forward. The journal's a very important aspect of this, a global community of practice.

The journal

What are the journal's mission and objectives?

To support the Institute in its work of furthering our knowledge and understanding of what makes places better. Place management is very much a practitioner driven subject, so we are interested in learning more about what goes on in practice and that practice develops into the underpinning principles and theories of place management. So all the research we publish is very much grounded in reality and what actually happens on the ground.

We also want to make sure that we look at knowledge and best practice at a global level, because people can learn from what goes on in other places and in other countries.

As you say in your first editorial, "Place – the trinal frontier" (2008, JPMD, Vol. 1 No. 1), there are 300,000 academic and scholarly periodicals, including several already in the field. So, why another one, and how have you managed/are you managing to lure people away from other established journals which cover place management?

Place management is practical, as we have said, so many of our readers are practitioners, and they are looking for ideas that they can use in their jobs. So it's an advantage to them to have everything about place management in one journal. The topic may well be covered by a lot of other journals, but they probably don't have access to them unless they are enrolled on a postgraduate course, nor would they have time to read them even if they did have access.

The researchers who write for us are interested in the practical utilization of their research. If you were doing lab-based academic research you probably would not want to approach our journal. But you might if you thought that the lessons learnt would make a difference to places and that was important to you.

You intend to provide as many practitioner-written papers as academic ones. What do you look for in a practitioner paper?

We look for useful, practical contributions to the development of practice, with some embedding in the literature although we're not expecting a first class literature review.

We are not just interested in good practice. We published a paper in our first volume, which was more about worst practice rather than best practice. We thought it a very valuable paper because it was almost how not to do things or what happens when things go wrong. Which is great because not everything goes right all the time, and you can learn a lot from mistakes.

Are there particular controversial issues in place management which you would like to cover?

Our whole philosophy is based on the idea that partnership working can help places, but there's no hard and fast evidence to support this and I would be interested to hear of cases where partnerships didn't create a better environment.

Can you describe your process of peer review?

We have different criteria for the two types of papers, focusing on the contribution to research and the development of knowledge for academic papers, and on contribution to practice for practitioner papers. Both are double blind reviewed.

We have a practitioner editorial board and an academic editorial board. Dr John Byrom at the School of Management, University of Tasmania is the academic editor, and Simon Quin, the chief executive to the Association of Town Centre Management, is the practitioner editor. And I'm editor in chief so I try and make sure that we get the balance across both sides.

The practitioners are out there at the coalface so they know what is going on, and that knowledge can be used to inform research. I can also pair up authors, as practitioners have the data, but the academic has the skill with research. It helps both parties as the practitioner doesn't have time to do an in-depth research study, and if you are working in a university environment you don't always have easy access to "real world" data.

What are your plans for the journal over the next two years?

We hope to go to four issues a year next year in our third volume. We've been having one special issue per volume, which has usually been centred on a conference. Our last issue (Volume 2 Number 1) was a special issue based on a conference on city branding that took place in Berlin in December 2008 ("Marketing cities: place branding in perspective").

Conferences are a good way of generating a lively special issue because people meet face-to-face, so you get a stronger bond which helps promote a good research output. You've also got a specialist theme.

Other special issues that I could see in the future might be continent related, for example place management in Australia or North America. Beyond that there are the big global issues such as climate change.

I'm also interested in the small informal type of place management, for example initiatives led by community partnerships. A lot of these tend to be protest led and protectionist, conservative with a small "c" and in the sense of keeping things the same. That's about stopping things happen, but its heartening to see people coming together and making things happen. A good example is Bigga, the town in Scotland which has adopted the "one planet living" principles and is becoming carbon neutral with zero waste.

This "bottom-up" approach to change is in stark contrast to what often happens. A lot of initiatives appear as "directives" from central government which then have to be implemented locally. For example, there is often a lot of local opposition to plans for wind farms even though people are aware of climate change. It is better if local communities take an active role in meeting objectives, such as reducing the UK's carbon footprint, making decisions that are right for their locality, like Bigga is doing.

About yourself

How did you become interested in place management?

By doing studies on what was happening to the independent retail sector – family-owned small shops and service businesses – especially in town centres. It became very apparent that the embedding of businesses within their local community could have a positive effect on their sustainability.

In many ways a shop's future is outside the owner's hands: if their local economy is not being managed well and the town centre is going into decline, then it's very difficult for them as an individual operator to do much about it. If however you get together the stakeholders with an interest in the town centre, then through collective action you can bring about change.

I've always been the sort of person who, if things aren't going right, doesn't like to sit around and complain. So I see place management as something where everyone can make a difference, not just elected representatives or people that have "place manager" as a job title. In fact a group of local business owners, residents, officers from the local authority, public service officials (such as the police) and elected members is probably the most effective group to tackle town-centre problems.

Are you active in your local community?

I'm just about to move into Manchester city centre and am excited about Manchester city centre's residents' forum and the way they've been getting involved in consultations for planning and developments in the city centre and doing practical things like making improvements to inner city parks.

Publisher's note:

Margaret Adolphus interviewed Cathy Parker in May 2009.

Visit the information page for: Journal of Place Management and Development