A shopping street in the Chinese city of Wuxi has been completely pimped with fake signs of big Western brands. Doing so, the street pretends to be successful and chique, while its shop spaces are actually staying empty. The new identity of the street is not only copied, it’s fake too.
In most cities commercial signs are considered to be something demonic. It pollutes the image of the city, covers façades of historic buildings, and represents the ongoing efforts of brands to advertise their products. In São Paulo, for instance, the mayor decided to remove all billboards in the city some years ago, an effort that was widely praised. In China, however, opinions are slightly different. Branded light signs stand for successful, vibrant and wealthy urban spaces.
The Chinese are famous for their reproduction skills — no-one would be surprised to find an exact copy of a Western European town in China. But this effort to make a random, boring and empty street look like as if it’s Fifth Avenue is new. The different signs of huge global brands are slightly modified, but still quite recognizable. Everyone knows that ‘Zare’ is meant to be Zara, and that ‘H&N’ refers to H&M. Obviously this is a campaign to attract known brands to become interested in renting space here. But also from an urban designer’s point of view we have to admit that this looks like a lively area. Besides the fact that it’s totally fake, it’s an interesting solution to cope with vacancy. We don’t need Starbucks for its coffee as long we’ve got their signs in our cities.