What’s in a Name?

The government leaders in Paterson, N.J., are learning the hard way about the importance of community involvement in the naming and branding of neighborhoods.
An editorial on NorthJersey.com this morning detailed a situation the Paterson City Council now finds itself in after it voted in July to rename Van Houten Street, the location of a Bangladeshi mosque, after Alhaj Forman Ali, an immigrant who died in the '90s. The government officials say Ali was instrumental in forming the Islamic Foundation of New Jersey mosque but some residents of the Bangladeshi community argued that this is not the case and have stormed council meetings in opposition to the name change.
The editorial urges the council to “take time to make the right decision” before another vote, something that probably should have been done before it was ever proposed.
As I read the piece, I was reminded of the workshop I attended at the Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference in Philadelphia last week.
“Restoring Demand: Neighborhood Branding and Marketing Strategies” was led by Tracy Gossen of Sagesse, Inc.; Alle Reis of La Casa de Don Pedro; Paul Singh of NeighborWorks America; and Felix Torres-Colon of Saint Joseph's Carpenter Society.
Each told stories of how the importance of the perception and branding is just as critical as fixing blight in neighborhood revitalization.
The sign names, the look and feel of a community, all mean something to the residents, Reis said.
Reis works in the Lower Broadway section of Newark, N.J. Through comprehensive neighborhood revitalization, La Casa de Don Pedro has developed a plan for the community, putting resident engagement at the crux.
It's the same for Torres-Colon, who works in East Camden, N.J., a neighborhood that's always either at or near the top of lists ranking the most dangerous cities in the country.
With Saint Joseph's Carpenter Society, Torres-Colon garnered resident participation by calling for votes on changing the name of the neighborhood and on a logo for the community.
These practitioners know that the first step in successful change starts with a conversation with those who will be impacted.
Had they done this, the Paterson Council might not be in the awkward situation now forming around the possibility that the street-naming honor could be rescinded.

Jodi Weinberger served as assistant editor of Shelterforce from 2013 to 2014.



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