Dartmouth · Economy · Ranting · Urban Studies

Branding a Community…

Today the Downtown Dartmouth Business Association revealed it’s new branding strategy for the area.  At the centerpiece of this brand is the notion of diversity and inclusion, and takes advantage of the growing hipster vibe reverberating through the streets.

For a Business Association that has been stagnant for so long, it’s a step in the right direction.  I mean really, for an organization that has been collecting money that has been built right in to the tax structure for businesses in the neighborhood, you would hope there would be at least a spiffy website, highlighting the businesses that have paid into those area rates.

Well, the new website doesn’t exactly highlight every business… but it certainly puts a focus on two of the gems in the hood.  The Bike Peddler and Two if By Sea are exactly the kinds of businesses that lend themselves well to a community brand.  Both successful, run by young creative folks who have put their hearts and souls into their businesses.  And it has paid off for them.  These two businesses have done more for the visibility and credibility of Downtown Dartmouth than the Business Association ever could… which is perhaps why they are featured so prominently on the site and in the promotional video.

At the heart of this new brand for Dartmouth is the notion of diversity and inclusion, though I’m not sure what that means as I stumble around the website.  I can’t help but notice the whiteness factor of the featured people, and the type of lifestyles they represent.  Expensive furniture, fancy coffee, bicycles, visual artists and indy rock… not that there’s anything wrong with that lifestyle… I quite enjoy aspects of it myself… but I also know Downtown Dartmouth…

Some of the longest standing businesses in Downtown Dartmouth are seedy bars (a la Sam’s Place and Portland Landing), tattoo parlors (though Merchant Marie’s is now gone, Oceanic Art and Dragon & Butterfly carry the torch), pawn shops (though the DDBA tried to shut them down through municipal land-use bylaws), businesses geared towards bikers and outlaws (Radical Concepts/Leathers is probably one of the oldest businesses on the street) and let’s not forget dear Mrs. Fisher (hardly the face a hipster could love).

Then there’s Jacob’s Lounge, which has recently been getting lots of love from the hipster scene.  Hell, it’s being called Dartmouth’s Gus’s… a mecca for emerging musical talent like The Scoop Outs… the young punk rock geniuses who host shows at Jacob’s every Friday night.  The Scoop Outs have even managed to land a gig opening for Joel Plaskett (who is the indy rocker I referred to earlier) at Ship Victory in June.  And yet, these kids and their bar go unnoticed by the new “All Together Downtown Dartmouth” brand.  The Scoop Outs probably don’t care… they want to stay true to punk rock… but I wonder if it is because their music remains inaccessible to the kinds of people the DDBA wants to draw to the area.

So when I look at the new brand for Downtown Dartmouth, and I compare it to my 25 plus years experience with the neighborhood, I get a little put off when I see them brandy about the word diversity, and coin a slogan like “All Together Downtown Dartmouth”… it’s a little disingenuous.

But I guess that’s what branding is about…  taking a thing, creating a story about that thing, then turning that story into reality.

Thing is, I kind of like the seedy side of Downtown Dartmouth.  It is familiar to me, and makes me feel comfortable.  The fact that a business like The Bike Peddler can exist and thrive wedged in between two bars and across the street from another whose main customers are somewhat questionable characters is more towards the “All Together” of my dreams than one which would exclude and alienate those characters.  I feel safe when I am at Jacob’s because of the presence of the bikers two doors down.  I enjoy walking down the street and seeing familiar faces, even if they are the faces of panhandlers and prostitutes.  Everyone needs a community, even those who make us uncomfortable, and most of these folks have called Downtown Dartmouth home their whole lives…

I’m excited about the future of Downtown Dartmouth.  Progress is progress, and it is time that this vibrant, mixed use community got the attention it deserves.  I guess I just wish we could let it come into its own on its own, rather than through a manufactured brand by a Business Association.  A community is the whole of its parts.  All Together.

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4 thoughts on “Branding a Community…

  1. Great article Charlene! So true on the disingenuous side. I think there strategy was a little hasty. But from an over all perspective anything is better than the current state. I believe seedy and swank can live together. Swanky!

  2. Worse neighbourhoods have butted up against better ones in other cities, finding their mix. I would hope the folks looking to buy at Kings Warf for example, are also looking for a more urban and diverse experience and not just a pretty space. I think there is room for everyone, but it will be an uncomfortable period of growth and adjustment.

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