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Neighborhood Brands


Can neighborhoods benefit from branding? Amy Sheppard thinks neighborhoods are essentially brands already.

The neighborhood name serves to set the story. It provides an instant understanding of the place, people, feeling, attitude, and reputation associated with the neighborhood—just like a brand of Apple, Sony, and Starbucks.

Urban Paradoxes suggests that branding may be more effective than contemporary planning efforts. Branding should inform planning rather than follow it.

Do we not buy a particular brand of car because of what it offers in quality and safety, price, and amenities? Do we not buy into the brand—its quality of life and affordability—of a neighborhood when we make decisions about where we are going to live?

When we think about revitalizing urban neighborhoods this is where we need to begin, with the neighborhood's brand, with its negative and positive connotations. I suggest that before any plans are made that we articulate the spirit, the qualitative essence, of place. This is the unarticulated brand.

Just as we take cars for test drives before we purchase, we need to walk the neighborhood, to talk to the people, to eat in the restaurants, and to drink in the pubs. We need to learn to feel what made, and makes, the neighborhood a neighborhood—before we create plans.

Audubon Park (home to the Negative Railroad) is in the midst of both planning and branding. Planning is an established step in community improvement. Branding is often held as a profane concept in community activist and public service circles. For example, Urban Paradoxes felt an apology was necessary before suggesting the world of commerce could offer something to the world of non-profit.

Audubon Park has thus set itself against two challenges. First, developing a brand identity that works. And second, executing that brand in the skeptical, if not hostile, environment of neighborhood non-profits.

I wish them luck.