What’s In a Name Charette

Last Thursday, the public charette on the renaming of the White Flint sector was hosted by Friends of White Flint and Streetsense, and sponsored by various developers in the White Flint sector.

Dan Hoffman, Montgomery County’s chief innovation officer and a community activist who has been involved in the White Flint sector plan for the past 8 years, was asked to introduce the charette for the attendees which included community residents, concerned citizens, property owners, and developers.

The White Flint Sector Plan was developed by residents, local business owners, property owners, the county, and developers in 2010 to create a shared vision of what the White Flint sector will become. This shared vision is why it is so important for this rebranding to take place, to create a unique and concise identity for this area.

As Dan mentioned, now is the time to figure out the future of the region and how the region will attract individuals to the area over the next 30 years. One way is to figure out a name that creates a sense of vibrancy, uniqueness, and timelessness. This charette provided an opportunity for the community to give their input on the naming of the place they live, play, and work in.

Streetsense began the charette by defining what a brand is. A brand comes down to the gut feeling one gets as a result of their sense of place and their buy-in or understanding of area. The branding process of a area or district begins with creating a new name. From there, awareness of the new name will be raised, hopefully creating unity among the area’s residents and distinguishing the area from other districts.

Participants in the charette were presented with signs of 10 possible names for the region: The Quartz District, Metropolitan White Flint, Rockline, Rocksy, The Summit, Pike District, Slate District, The Stem, Uptown, and Market District.  These were chosen by Streetsense and the developers, such as The JBG Companies, Federal Realty Investment Trust, and Lerner Enterprises, as the remaining choices. These 10 names were selected based on a criteria including but not limited to sticking power of the name, placing a location, a sense of energy/vibrancy, authencity, and large scale-ness. Attendees were asked to go around to every sign and give their ranking from -5 to +5 and any additional comments they had on the name to Streetsense employees standing next to each sign.

It is important to acknowledge that the branding “is for marketing purposes only; the new name will not be used for nearby residential neighborhoods or for postage or tax purposes,” as Bethesda Beat’s Andrew Metcalf mentioned. The branding process for this new campaign is six-fold. Streetsense began the process by conducting case studies of other districts faced with the same branding issues. Following that step, they conducted in-person interviews, held “re-focus” groups, and had a namestorming session. All these steps then led to the charette. After the charette, Streetsense and the developers will take the rankings and comments left by the attendees and will complete more market research in hopes of making the decision on the final name.

Calling All Interested in the Naming of the White Flint District!

Don’t forget that, if you’d like to participates in next week’s forum/charette on the naming and branding of the White Flint district, you must RSVP to Holly Sears Sullivan by emailing her at hsullivan@montgomerybusiness.org.  In case you missed them, more details about the event can be found by clicking here.

Also – StreetSense, the firm that’s leading the research end of this effort, has launched a preliminary survey to get the conversation started.  All invitees are welcome to complete the survey and it’s only four questions, so do it now and get the ball rolling (if it doesn’t appear correctly on your screen, click here to open it in a new window):


It’s Time for a Name

For years, we’ve known that this place needs a name.  And, we’ve believed that the community should have input into what that name would be.  Our opportunity has arrived.

You’re invited to a Conversation on the Branding of the Pike on Thursday, September 11th from 6pm to 9pm at the offices of StreetSense in Bethesda.  This will be a fully interactive program that will really tap into participants’ thoughts and perceptions of a variety of naming/branding options for the White Flint Sector.

**PLEASE NOTE — this conversation will NOT be about changing the name of anyone’s postal address or neighborhood.  This is about having a productive, congenial discussion to find authentic options for the name of this new urban center – think of its purpose as being for business and marketing.

The presentation and forum will be facilitated by Holly Sears Sullivan, of Montgomery Business Development Corporation, and StreetSense.  All of the details – including how to RSVP – can be found in the invitation below (make it larger by clicking on it).

We’ll be talking more about what to expect at the forum during our next Friends of White Flint meeting!  It will be on Wednesday, September 3rd at 6:30pm.  Click here for more details!


Downtown Advisory Committee has Busy Meeting

Tuesday’s White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee Meeting had been much-anticipated as the question of the naming/branding/borders of the future urban district has heated up.  So, it surprised some that the issue didn’t arise until the last few minutes of the gathering.  Below are the meeting highlights:

Western WorkaroundCounty Implementation Coordinator Dee Metz reported that construction of the western workaround will be broken into two phases.  The first will include the relocation of Executive Boulevard, the addition of the east/west Market Street and the adjustments to the area around the conference center.  Design is 90% done on this phase.  The second phase will address the intersections of Old Georgetown Road.  As will be the bottleneck in many upcoming projects, the challenge is with the utilities.  It will take the various utility companies a year to relocate their wires, lines and pipes after design is complete.

Chapman Avenue:  Ms. Metz also said that, to connect Chapman Avenue through to Randolph Road, utilities will begin their nine-month relocation process in the fall.  Road construction will begin next summer with a projected open date for the new stretch of road in summer of 2016.

Woodglen Drive and Nebel Street: We’ve been reporting for months on the county’s planned improvements to pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure on these roads.  Dee Metz said that we will hear more about the plan for Woodglen at the August meeting of the White Flint Implementation Committee.  As for Nebel, the county is looking into installing “cycle tracks” for this stretch.  These allow for bicycles to travel in both directions on one side of the road, separated from traffic.  They’ve not been built in Montgomery County before but are common around the country.

Downtown Advisory Committee Goals for this Year: Newly-minted committee chair Cliff Cohen listed his priorities for the Downtown Advisory Committee in this second year of its existence.  Among other things, he hopes to: (1) accelerate the maintenance and beautification of Rockville Pike (they’re working to navigate issues with the state), (2) consider hiring a streetscape consultant to move forward with the vision of Rockille Pike as a boulevard, (3) pursue one zip code for the sector, (4) establish a destination website and hire an intern to assist with its maintenance, (4) assess the types of public safety and human service needs that the future urban district will confront, and (5) move forward on establishing an urban district by, first, commissioning a report on the subject by the county’s Office of Legislative Oversight.

Presentations:  The committee heard two robust presentations that offered framework and background as the committee begins deeper work on the economic development and creation of the urban district.  First was Holly Sears Sullivan, president of Montgomery Business Development Corporation.   She focused on the impressive data capabilities of MBDC and on the opportunities the Downtown Advisory Committee might leverage from them.  Second, Jeff Burton of Bethesda Urban Partnership spoke about the functions and structures of BUP.  I’ll save most of my notes for a deeper blog post on the subject but, suffice it to say that BUP provides service and support to the 250 acres of downtown Bethesda with a budget of about $4M a year.  The existing White Flint Sector is 430 acres and won’t have access to the same funding streams (mainly parking fees) enjoyed by Bethesda.  This, I think, will be our next big hurdle.

Naming/Branding: This is why you read this blog post anyway, right?  Let’s start at the beginning.  The County created the White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee with the following purpose:

The Committee advises County departments on public services in the White Flint Sector Plan Area; and coordinates community activities that promote and advance business interests, and a sense of place, community, maintenance and walkability within the Area. The Committee will also advise and make recommendations to the County Executive and County Council on the feasibility and timing of the establishment of the Urban District in White Flint no later than September 2017.

So, because this committee’s mission is to work within the Sector Plan Area, chair Cohen does not plan to entertain discussion of border adjustments at this time.  Similarly, he acknowledged that outside groups are working on naming the district and invited them to present their ideas when ready.  But, the committee will proceed with its council-driven mission in the meantime.

On that note, we’re pleased to share that the community’s input will be more robustly sought at an upcoming public charette.  You might remember charettes from the sector planning process.  They’re public meetings designed to solve a problem.  This one will focus on the naming/branding of the district.  It will be facilitated by neutral professionals who will begin with a bit of education on how branding works.  From there, all potential names will be on the table.  The goal will be to emerge from this session with 5 – 10 names that everyone can live with.  Those will then be taken for deeper market research.  We hope to hold the charette in the next month and a half, and it should be scheduled within the next week.  Stay tuned to this blog and our weekly emails for more details – we hope to see you there!

Naming/Branding Discussion at Downtown Advisory Committee

Yesterday, the White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee (DAC) held its monthly meeting at the Bethesda North Conference Center, located at 5701 Marinelli Road, Rockville, directly across the street from the White Flint metro station.  This very juxtaposition (Bethesda, North Bethesda, Rockville, White Flint) is why the subject of our area’s naming was on the agenda.

While we had hoped for a presentation by the White Flint Partnership, an organization of developers within the sector (all of whom are members of FoWF), what we got instead was a letter.  The letter says that the Partnership has “begun to move forward with an effort to identify a unifying brand for a larger area along the Rockville Pike corridor, an area that would extend in both directions beyond the White Flint Sector Plan boundaries.”  This shift, they say, would establish a “forward-thinking identity” which has the “potential for local, regional and national impacts” and would “empower property owners to express their individual identities, working collectively for the greater good while simultaneously preserving the individuality of existing residential communities.”

The letter was distributed at the start of the meeting and seemed to take several committee members off-guard – though the potential expansion of the urban district has been floated anecdotally in the media and on this blog, this was the first many committee members had heard of it.  No details were offered as to the boundaries of this newly-enlarged area but Ken Hartman, our regional services director and to whom the letter was addressed, surmised that the area would stretch north to include new development taking shape in Twinbrook and, perhaps, south to include Strathmore.  As he noted, “this would double – maybe triple – the geography” of our boundaries.  He also rightly noted that there is little distinction along this stretch of Rockville Pike.  If you look at a Google Earth image of the area from White Flint Mall up to Twinbrook metro (see below), it does look like one large commercial center.  Are we well-served by drawing an arbitrary line through the center of it?

Expanded District Map


From Google Maps

I would submit that I have not yet seen any downside to an expansion.  One issue that White Flint, with its current boundaries, will always face is regarding revenue generation.  Unlike similar regional undertakings, like Tysons and Rosslyn-Ballston, our area is constrained to the surrounds of one metro stop.  This already limits the sources of revenue which would be used for maintenance, streetscapes and programming (like the community contributions made by Bethesda Urban Partnership).  Other urban districts in Montgomery County are funded in large part by parking fees.  White Flint is not set up this way.  We will have few, if any, county-owned parking and, what we will have, is expected to be poached by the Department of Transportation.  We do have a special taxing district established here but, for the foreseeable future, all funds collected through it will be used on infrastructure projects.  So, expanding the urban district’s borders to include more opportunity for funding is an up-side in my view.

Also, if we’re looking to create a destination that will be marketed nationally – and if we’re building a destination worth visiting – why not make it as bold as possible?  I see no down-side there, either.  As newly-elected committee Chair Cliff Cohen noted, a larger, “more visible, more identifiable” district offers a greater chance of success.  It will attract great tenants and shops and really only has an impact on the big picture of the district.  The small picture remains the same – neighborhoods maintain their identity.

Committee members, however, were generally displeased with the Partnership’s letter and, unfortunately, the Partnership did not send a representative to lend voice to the text.  Resident committee member Paul Meyer, who lives in The Wisconsin, particularly did not like feeling that this discussion was so “developer-driven” and he wanted to ensure that the community, and the committee, had adequate say in the process.  Another resident committee member, Bernie Meyers, was “angry” that he feels “not plugged-in.”  Business member Bob Daley was not pleased that the Partnership had “just sent a definitive letter” without even coming to the meeting for a discussion.  In any event, an expansion of the district would require modification of the DAC’s mission which is presently restricted to the White Flint Sector Plan area.

But, a more positive flip side was offered by business member Andy Shulman.  The name of this district has been stalled for seven years because the developers couldn’t agree.  At least now, progress is being made!

We are told to expect a full presentation by the Partnership at the July DAC meeting and we’re hoping it’s going to address a few of the concerns we have:  

First, an expansion north might broach the borders of Rockville City, adding a burdensome and unnecessary bureaucratic layer to our work.  We hope this is not being contemplated.

Second, Friends of White Flint is all about community engagement and finding consensus for smart solutions in moving White Flint forward.  We are pushing to be part of this process and want to hear thoughts FROM YOU!  Do you think there are advantages or disadvantages to expanding and/or branding the White Flint Sector area?  Or, do you think that these types of decisions won’t have much impact on your day-to-day life?  Sound off here on the blog or email me directly at Lindsay.Hoffman@whiteflint.org.


Rebranding Proposal at Next White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee Meeting

Next Tuesday, the White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee will take up the proposal for the rebranding of the White Flint district. Here is Ken’s update:

The White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee will consider a proposal to co-brand the area around the White Flint Metro Station and nearby Twinbrook Metro Station (see map) as one business district. As reported by Bethesda Beat, the newly combined area could enable joint marketing and maintenance of the areas.

The White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee was commissioned by the County Executive and County Council to begin planning for the establishment of a nonprofit entity similar to the Bethesda Urban Partnership. The committee is working on several interim projects including weekend maintenance, beautification of Rockville Pike, and a destination website.

The White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee will hold a meeting at the North Bethesda Marriott Hotel and Conference Center on Tuesday, June 10th at 8 am at their next meeting. If you would like to attend the meeting, please email the B-CC Regional Services Center as soon as possible. Space will be tight at the meeting.

More Media Coverage on our Naming Process

Well, we can’t back away from this issue now — the media is watching.  In addition to this week’s article in the Washington Post on establishing a name for this new district, Bethesda Magazine has also offered attention to the issue.  Earlier this month, BethesdaNow.com really got the media conversation started and, between the three publications, the comments have been going nuts with opinions on the subject.  The Washington Post even supplemented its original piece last night by highlighting some of the suggestions they’ve seen floating around.

More on this subject at our meeting tonight and we’ll keep you posted online as the issue develops!

The Naming of this Place

As we noted in our post last week, the naming and branding of the White Flint Sector has been long overdue (click here for that post).  Although the issue is usually framed as “renaming” the redevelopment district, I would offer a different perspective.  I don’t think we’re “re-naming” anything — I think we’re just finally naming it for the first time.

To “rename” something suggests that it already has a name and an identity.  But, if you ask any four people what they call this area, I’ll be you’ll get four different answers.  Those of us who pay attention to White Flint redevelopment everyday tend to use the term “White Flint,” so it’s sometimes a challenge for us to step back and realize that’s not always the norm.  We need consistency if we’re building a destination.  As has been oft repeated, we need a “there” there.

So, the Washington Post has started asking the same question and has run an article on the subject.  Questions still remain – most notably, what are the borders of this to-be-named area?  Will we use the borders of the White Flint Sector Plan or stretch beyond?  Single-family neighborhoods adjacent to the redevelopment area are wondering how much of a dog they have in this fight – and that might shift the conversation considerably.

Interested in discussing the subject further?  Come to our meeting on Thursday evening!  Click here for the Washington Post article and click here for more information on this week’s meeting.

Solving the Identity Crisis

Friends of White Flint has been around for seven years now and, for about as long, questions have abounded about what we should call this amazing place we’re creating.  You’ve seen articles and polls and questionnaires asking for your opinion on the subject.  Are we White Flint?  North Bethesda?  NoBeSoRo (that’s North Bethesda South Rockville)? Something brand new?  The bottom line problem is that there’s no consensus on the subject.

We have a post from back in 2009 by our indefatigable Barnaby Zall (click here) which quotes the original White Flint Advisory Group on the subject:

Image and Identity:    There is a consensus on the need for a unifying identity, but no consensus on what that name or identity should be. The Advisory Group put off further discussion on this point. There was a proposal to create a separate working group to create an image and explore means to “brand” the image; the working group could review information such as the public opinion work done by some developers in creating their project names (which include both White Flint and North Bethesda in titles).

And, we have a post from just last year (click here) weighing the varying options.  But, until the landowners within our sector can agree on a name that they’ll work together to brand and market, we’re all stuck in limbo.  This, though, is what makes current events so exciting!

Finally, the question of our identity crisis is coming to a head and, with luck, we’ll have some solid direction before the summer is out.  As reported yesterday by Bethesda Magazine (click here), an alternative to renaming the whole redevelopment sector is to break it into neighborhoods.  So, the area around White Flint Mall might retain the name White Flint while other pockets of redevelopment might adopt other names.

The bottom line remains that we aren’t within the city limits of Rockville, so that name doesn’t make sense.  The borders of North Bethesda range far wider than the redevelopment sector, so that doesn’t quite fit either.  Whether we continue with the name White Flint or switch to something new, an education, marketing and branding campaign will be needed.  So, it’s time to get moving.  Stay tuned to this blog and our weekly emails for how you, as our Friends, can help with the effort.

And, please come to our next Friends of White Flint meeting next week. This subject will be on the agenda. Click here for more information on that!

What’s in a name? White Flint rebranding effort seeks to find out

Today it’s the name of a mall, but could it become the name of a neighborhood as well?

When Ben Harris and his wife moved from Logan Circle in DC to an apartment off of Rockville Pike in 2011, he didn’t know what to call his new neighborhood.

“I was telling people where I live and they would ask ‘What neighborhood is that?'” he says.

This confusion inspired the name of Harris’s new local blog, NorthFlintVille. “It’s taking North Bethesda and White Flint and Rockville and mashing them together, which in my experience is how people kind of think of the area,” he says.

The White Flint Partnership, a coalition of property owners working to transform White Flint from a suburban strip to an urban hub, wants to change that. They’re looking for a marketing firm to develop a new “brand” for the White Flint Sector Plan area.

Partnership member Lerner Enterprises owns White Flint Mall, which will be partially demolished and redeveloped as an urban neighborhood. Francine Waters, managing director of Lerner Enterprises, hope the study will “identify what would resonate the best not only locally, but regionally, nationally and internationally,” she says. “It’s not only a name but, frankly, telling the story of our journey from where we were to where we hope to achieve.”

Though little work has been completed, they plan to have something “sometime in the summer,” Waters says. The goal is to create a unified brand for the entire Sector Plan area that would be used by all landowners, though individual developments like Pike + Rose would still have their own identity.

There’s no consensus, official or otherwise, about what to call the area today. The Census Bureau calls the area North Bethesda, and the United States Postal Service calls it Rockville.

Montgomery County planners do use the name “White Flint,” after White Flint Mall, which in turn is named for the white quartz rocks historically found in the area. Ironically, the mall actually has a Kensington address.

As a result, the area’s name changes depending on who you ask. Harris tells people he lives “just north of the White Flint Metro station” or “somewhere up Rockville Pike, close to Rockville.” He adds, “Specifically, I tell people we live across from the strip mall with the Barnes & Noble in it.”

Some use different terms depending on who they’re talking to, like Vanessa Rodriguez, senior marketing manager at Federal Realty Investment Trust, which is participating in the rebranding effort. When talking to clients or potential tenants, she calls it “the White Flint district,” but if talking to a friend or relative, she’d “probably say Rockville or North Bethesda.”

“The problem with the White Flint district is that it does not feel like a cohesive area,” she says. “We need to cultivate that brand.”

Located in the District, NoMa is a successful example of rebranding a neighborhood. Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Will a new name fix that? It might, judging from other DC-area communities that have rebranded themselves, like Capitol Riverfront and NoMa in the District or Tysons in Fairfax County. All three names were attempts by business and community leaders to shake those places’ once-negative or underwhelming reputations, they’re all beginning to draw new residents, businesses and investment.

While some may complain that these new names are artificial, they’re often born out of necessity. It’s not surprising that developers in NoMa chose not to use that neighborhood’s historical name; after all, who would rent a luxury apartment in a place called Swampoodle?

Not only that, but invented names have been used to sell real estate for centuries. Rockville was originally called Williamsburgh, after local businessman William Williams, who divided the town into lots and sold them in 1784. Later, the 19th-century developers of Kensington and Takoma Park named them after a posh London neighborhood and a Native American word meaning “near heaven,” respectively.

All of these names had to carry the weight of a place that didn’t yet exist and sell future residents and businesses on what could be. People already live and work in White Flint, but there isn’t a “center” or “anchor” that they can rally around. That’s arguably why some people today associate the area with Rockville or Bethesda, which do have defined centers. The White Flint Sector Plan seeks to change that by creating a “downtown” here, but what we call it sets the stage for what it will become.

So what could White Flint’s new name be? Rodriguez says that potential names have been “kicked around” in the past, but “nothing we really want to explore.” White Flint may not even be one of the names under consideration.

Given all of these issues, Waters acknowledges the challenge that lies ahead, including finding the right people to do the rebranding. “There are few [marketing] firms in the US that have done something of this magnitude,” says Waters. “It’s quite a phenomenal effort. We wanna make sure it’s done right.”

Thanks to everyone who took our poll of serious (and not-so-serious) names for White Flint! The poll is now closed.

**Updated 3/1/13 to reflect that the White Flint Partnership, not Lerner Enterprises, will spearhead the branding study effort.