Good for the ‘hood?
Labelling a corner of the city is an exercise in delicate neighbourly relations
By Ben Kaplan, National Post
The successful marketing revitalization of neighbourhoods such as Cabbagetown and the Distillery District has prompted several other areas around Toronto to get into the naming game. Whether it’s a local activist in the community formerly known as The Junction, or a Business Improvement Association’s effort on Dupont, between Davenport and Spadina, residents and local businesses are taking the advertising of their communities into their own hands. It’s a discussion not meant for the meek.
“It was heated. It was divisive. It was polarizing,” says Ezra Braves, owner of Ezra’s Pound and the vice-chair of the Dupont-Spadina BIA. It was Braves who oversaw his neighbourhood’s adoption this March of the name The Strip as a title for the area. He says the fierceness of those discussions still reverberates.
“People were making threats and signing petitions to stop the name,” Braves, 35, explains. “We said, ‘OK, we’re only here to build an identity,’ but people who start their own businesses are tough. They’re ready for a good fight.”
The fight to name a neighbourhood can equate to hundreds of thousands of dollars in commercial sales. According to Andrij Brygidyr, a professor of marketing at the University of Toronto and the founder of A&A Merchandising Ltd., a company that’s helped brand Staples and Best Buy, naming rights can influence the perception of a locale.
“If you want to identify an area and make it distinct from other businesses, then a couple of words can capture a place’s essence,” Brygidyr says. He points out the specificity of Greektown, which the Danforth BIA officially changed its name to in 1993, with helping to increase that neighbourhood’s traffic and commercial sales. Brygidyr says he’s sympathetic to the war of words that erupted on Dupont, but thinks business owners there should get back to work.
“The Strip to me doesn’t evoke anything,” he says. “Somebody should come up with a better name.”
Dupont and Spadina isn’t the only area of the city looking for an identity. There is currently a contest being held by the website Torontoist to name a park at the bottom of Sherbourne Street, just south of the Gardiner and connected to the lake. David Topping, Torontoist’s editor, says his contest — held in conjunction with Waterfront Toronto — received 500 entries and that 1,500 people voted on the park’s name.
“People choose names for things because they crave narratives,” explains Topping, adding that Sherbourne Commons, Merchant’s Wharf Park and Tkaronto Park, for the Iroquoian phrase, “where there are trees standing in water,” are the finalists for his contest that will be decided on June 15. “A good name hints at the story behind an area — it helps people create a connection to a place.”
And “Junction Triangle” has recently been adopted as the new name for the area at Bloor Street and Dundas West, a part of town commonly referred to as The Junction, until 700 residents of the 3,300-strong area voted in March to adopt their own name.
“We were being accused of being part of The Junction, but we live on the other side of the tracks,” says Kevin Putnam, who spearheaded the name change.
According to Putnam, his neighbourhood’s new label is already bearing fruits. Three new condos are going up on Wallace Avenue. The buildings’ names? The Junction Triangle Lofts. “Once we did the name change, people took ownership of their neighbourhood,” Putnam says. “It was like watering a plant every day — call yourself something and the community grows.”
The community on Dupont Street seems to be adopting a wait and see policy for their new name. While Braves refers to his neighbourhood as the Dupont Strip, Nancy Peppler, who owns Nancy’s Cheese on Dupont, says she was originally concerned with the name, but that it’s grown on her over the last few months.
“Even though people think Strip is for strip mall or strip joint, I think we chose the name that was the most controversial, but also had the most potential,” Peppler says. “If people say, ‘Hey, we’re coming up to have a coffee in the Village,’ which Village? Forest Hill Village? Bloor West Village? But if people say, ‘We’re going up to the Strip,’ that’s great.”
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