Is it the Seaport or the Innovation District?

Is it Downtown Crossing or the Ladder District?

Why do we all know SoWa, but the West End seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle? It’s all about “placemaking.” You can’t wave a magic wand and just assume the new neighborhood you’ve christened will immediately become part of the public’s consciousness. Some just don’t stick, no matter how many press releases you send out, or how many signs you put up.

Placemaking requires setting the scene and then telling the story to get the community’s buy-in. One project or building won’t change public’s perception overnight. It takes investment from all the constituents: restaurants, realtors, residents, local businesses and, of course, the media. 

As Boston’s development scene heats up, some previously less desirable locations are becoming hot properties. Take the area of the city’s South End which abuts the Southeast Expressway. Previously known for the Boston Herald’s headquarters and little else but parking lots and rail yards, it is now gaining recognition as “InkBlock.” With a flagship Whole Foods, new residences and a bunch of restaurants gaining traction, people want to be a part of this new reclaimed part of the city. A committed effort on social media, combined with press coverage of all that is happening there will help to make this one stick.

In the Fenway, most people still think of little else than the ballpark. But kudos to the team behind the TheFenway.com who are building community through social media, events and storytelling. A film chronicling the “Faces of Fenway” has generated images posted around the neighborhood celebrating the residents of the area and even runs before movies at the Landmark Cinema. With the onslaught of new apartments, retail openings and hot restaurants, the neighborhood clearly is taking on a new approach – “There is Never An Off Season” – emphasizing that the Fenway lives and breathes 24/7, 365 days a year. The initiative is making great progress in telling the story and communicating to shoppers, visitors, apartment hunters and diners that Fenway is the neighborhood where they want to hang out.

Building community creates a sense of place. Creating real reasons for people to come to a destination – and making the experience memorable is what will eventually lead to changing perceptions and creating new ones. Partnerships among the constituents – restaurants, local businesses, neighborhood residents and active online personalities – will lead to long-term success in placemaking.

It’s so much more than putting up a sign.