Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Public space as a venue for marketing

Again, in a capitalist society, we can't expect spaces to be free of marketing, advertising, and other forms of commodification. Some of it is simple if aggravating, such as the illegal posting of signs on telephone poles and other places in the public space.
Illegally posted signs on telephone poles
Natalie McGill/The Gazette Cheverly municipal code enforcement officials say signs like this one found on a Riverdale Road light pole in Riverdale Park are examples of the type of posters their employees try to crack down on with fines and warnings.

While the sign above was in Cheverly (see "Illegal signs slapped with fines, warnings in Prince George’s towns: Companies hard to trace, municipalities say" from the Gazette), I regularly rip down signs like this in my neighborhood.

In a more troubling development, a pocket park at 50th Street and Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue in Northeast DC is becoming the site of a park installation in the shape of a peanut, sponsored and paid for by Planters Peanuts.

From the press release "MR. PEANUT GOES TO WASHINGTON! PLANTERS and The Corps Network “Plant” New Urban Park in NE Washington, D.C.":

As part of Planters 2011 “Naturally Remarkable” Tour, Mr. Peanut arrives in Washington, D.C. – by way of his new biodiesel Nutmobile – to open a new urban park, a Planters Grove, in Northeast D.C. U.S. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and other local dignitaries join Mr. Peanut and community members to celebrate the new park on Tuesday, July 12, 2011 with a day of volunteer planting.

The Washington, D.C. Planters Grove — located at 50th Street and Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue, NE — is the second of three peanut-shaped urban parks to be built in the U.S. this year in partnership with The Corps Network, the national member organization for Service and Conservation Corps. As part of its Tour, Planters is transforming underdeveloped and underutilized urban land into vibrant, green spaces in an effort to advance the brand’s values of healthy lifestyles and sustainability.

“Peanuts are truly a ‘naturally remarkable’ food. They have a rich American heritage and, in many ways, are both good for you and good for the earth,” said Scott Marcus, Senior Brand Manager, Planters. “Planters is excited to work with the local D.C. community to create a natural space in our nation’s capital that celebrates the peanut and promotes healthy living and sustainability.”

Ken Smith Planters Parklet for DC
The press release goes on to discuss how the "peanut shaped park" "features unique elements that promote sustainability and reflect the neighborhood's unique culture and heritage."

It's a peanut shaped park designed to promote Planters Peanuts. It's not about local elements, resident involvement (other than helping with the planting), and the neighborhood's unique culture and heritage (other than maybe a commonality of ideas about work and vocational education between Nannie Helen Burroughs and George Washington Carver).

Had Planters Peanuts given money to the park system to make a park, and had there been a public design effort to create the parklet, then it wouldn't be all about corporate marketing objectives.

I know that local governments are desperate for money. But projects like these are definitely ones to avoid. Also see "Under attack logo disappears: Under Armour says it will replace paint with grass" and "'Welcome ad' not so welcome: Under Armour logo painted on Federal Hill irritates residents" from the Baltimore Sun, about how Under Armour clothing, a company based in Baltimore, did something similar in the Federal Hill neighborhood, under the guise of promoting a sports event held in Baltimore.

At least in Baltimore, the logo, granted much more blatant, was removed.
The Under Armour logo and slogan painted on Federal Hill in Baltimore.
The Under Armour logo and slogan painted on Federal Hill in Baltimore. Gene Sweeney, Jr., Baltimore Sun.

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