Place Branding by Association

I don’t mean to pick on Lavomatic, or the other merchants in the Gateway Quarter. Honestly, I think that these places are great and are a crucial part of what is needed for OTR to be a healthy neighborhood. But, as some know, this blog started with a post about the Gateway Quarter as an example of place branding. I thought it would be fun to revisit some of these ideas four months later in the context of an article written about Lavomatic.

More interesting to me than the specifics of this instance are the perceptions and portrayals of transitioning urban neighborhoods in general. The article is primarily about the food and is written by a food critic, so the comments should be understood in that context. I am not trying to devalue the point of the article because it is well written and does exactly what it is supposed to. This is interesting to me because of its relationship to place branding. It is not an expert urbanist’s perception of the neighborhood, but has some implications for thinking about the Gateway Quarter as a place.

The article starts by commenting that “It’s a big scary world out there. So it’s good to find a place that creates its own cozy corner of it, a restaurant with a well-developed sense of where exactly it is.”

I’m not sure how this was intended, but in the context of what follows and the general perception of its location I read a big scary neighborhood. Also, I’m interested to know how this “well-developed sense of where exactly it is” relates to this big scary world.

The article then mentions that “Lavomatic is a cornerstone of the neighborhood that’s evolving as the Gateway Quarter on the blocks of Vine Street north of Central Parkway.” Cornerstone might be an overstatement, but it is important

What my initial post eventually alluded to, is that the development of the Gateway Quarter in being conflated with OTR. Effectively, psychologically isolating an area from the perceptions of its surroundings neighborhood and carving a safe space in the contested territory that is OTR. This has some value, but my opinion is that it can also be detrimental to building a tolerant community. My concern is still that this might be divisive and exclusive.

The introduction concludes by describing Lavomatic.

“In a former laundry (lavomatic, in French) it has a homey theme evoking freshly washed clothes and domesticity. Close to the Art Academy, Know Theatre and Ensemble Theatre, it also feels arty and urban-cool. It’s a neighborhood restaurant worth traveling to.”

“Evoking freshly washed clothes and domesticity” is awesome and I’ll let the “arty urban-cool” go because its exactly what my mother would say. But a “neighborhood restaurant worth traveling to” made me think for a minute. And I still feel a bit puzzled. Is it a neighborhood restaurant that those who live here can enjoy or a place that requires outsiders to travel?

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7 Comments

Filed under Imaging, OTR

7 responses to “Place Branding by Association

  1. I agree with your concerns about place branding, and I like your analysis of the lines you pulled out of the review. I think that you’re dead on.

    I’d feel much more comfortable if publications, when they felt the need to point out the Gateway Quarter development specifically, referred to it as “the Q in OTR.” But that may be a little too many letters for most.

    Also, not to be overly pedantic, but you should say, “What my initial post eventually alluded to…” Tricksy homophones.

    I tried Lavomatic a few weeks ago. It was good, but far too pricey for me to make it a regular thing.

  2. It seems to me that the retail development on Vine is creating a destination shopping district, one that attracts people from outside the neighborhood. The existence of this retail conveys a sense of vibrancy and viability and may help to convince some people to buy condos, but it’s not really meant to take care of day-to-day needs. In that sense, the “neighborhood restaurant worth traveling to” doesn’t seem like an illogical statement to me, just a reference to the clientele that’s being courted. Like Andrew said, it’s a good restaurant, but probably not a regular place for very many of its neighbors.

    I don’t generally peruse the Enquirer, but I just noticed that Lavomatic has both this article entry and a more succinct restaurant listings, which lists “gay-friendly” as an amenity. So, I don’t know how seriously this writing should really be taken, or how insightful we can expect it to be. I get the sense that this is maybe not the most urbane context so, if the author is merely repeating some of the verbage about this stretch of Over-the-Rhine that’s already out there, maybe that’s to be expected.

  3. justforview

    This gay-friendly thing is bizarre. What makes a place gay friendly? I’ve heard that many real estate investors look towards the gay neighborhoods to make speculative investments. Is there some underlying rationale here?

  4. Kelly

    I live in the Q and agree with much of what others have said so far but I want to focus on something a little different…the menu. I used to be somewhat of a regular at Lavomatic until the so drastically changed the menu. The author of the article obviously went before the chef decided to cut the selections by half. At least two of the items described are no longer offered. I haven’t been back since the change and have begged and pleaded with anyone who will listen to do something about the situation. They needed more options, not fewer. I would hate to lose the so called “cornerstone” of our neighborhood!

  5. justforview

    My guess is that its difficult for them to have an extensive menu throughout the week and specializing and changing it gives them an opportunity to find out what people can’t do without. Keep begging.

  6. Wow, the compression of time here is fascinating. This place called “the Q” is roughly a year and a half old. That timeframe is apparently short enough that a four-month old restaurant can be considered a “cornerstone” with “regulars” [former regulars, even].

  7. justforview

    Just add marketing. Viola instant places.