February 14, 2010

Walnut Creek’s “Mason-Dixon” line

Hmm, I found curious the idea that Walnut Creek has a geographical boundary between north and south, likened by a branding expert to the symbolic boundary associated with America’s North versus South struggle over slavery.

This branding expert, Roger Brooks, calls Mt. Diablo Boulevard our Mason-Dixon line, according to a report in the Contra Costa Times. Brooks was hired by Downtown Business Association to help the city come up with a brand name for its downtown, and he offered his interesting suggestions to a group a city and business leaders this past week.

He spent three days in Walnut Creek, talked to lots of people, and noticed the split between downtown’s updated Broadway Plaza and other shops to the south of our “Mason-Dixon” line, and “the hodgepodge of older businesses and ‘ethnic’ restaurants to the north.”

In Brooks’ mind, “a fractured downtown can’t thrive, much less bill itself a regional retail destination,” the Times reports.

I don’t know that Walnut Creek can’t bill itself as a regional retail destination. Isn’t it already? (Whether some of us like that or not) It is llisted No. 11 on a summer 2009 Grubb and Ellis survey of premier urban space, behind New York City’s Fifth Avenue, San Francisco’s Union Square, Los Angeles’ Rodeo Drive, Miami’s South Beach, and San Jose’s Westfield Mall. It’s been on the top of this survey for a few years now. Of course, that survey is based on rental rates per square foot, and we hear about how high rental rates might be driving out smaller locally owned businesses, leading to the number of empty store fronts we’re seeing on both sides of our Mason-Dixon line.

I agree with Brooks that the business association should ditch its “Escape the Ordinary” slogan. We all know that there is quite a bit about our downtown that, with our Starbucks and other chain coffee and retail stores, is, frankly, ordinary.

Instead, he says, Walnut Creek should focus on the unique experience that it can offer.

Any thoughts on what that could be?

Brooks also said that with our Mason-Dixon line we accept the idea that we have two distinct downtown districts. His working title for the South, "Plaza District," makes sense to me.

But, as with the Mason-Dixon label, is Brooks pushing things a bit with his working title for the North? He threw out the idea of calling it our “International District” because it is home to many restaurants.

According to the Times, Brooks said: “Banners and maps should illustrate to visitors how all of downtown is Walnut Creek, but that one district is a culinary hot spot and the other highlighted by glitzy shopping."


Anonymous said...

I hope the city did not pay this so called Branding expert? What is exactly "international" about the North side, not the restaurants? Walnut Creek should embrace how homogeneous it is. Last census it was 80% white. Again not much international in WC.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that he says "a fractured downtown can't thrive", then goes on to recommend different names for each district, thereby reinforcing the very "fracture" he sees as a weakness. It seems that one overarching name would work best, maybe using the descriptor "north end" for the area he sees as "international". Plus, just who is this supposed to be targeting? Surely the point is to come up with a brand name that is grounded in local parlance while also appealing to newcomers. I think the Downtown Business Association would have been better served hiring a few students to conduct man-on-the-street interviews to get their views and input rather than spending money on a so-called "expert".

Anonymous said...


You asked, "I hope the city did not pay this so called Branding expert?"

Sentence #3: "Brooks was hired by Downtown Business Association to help the city come up with a brand name for its downtown, and he offered his interesting suggestions to a group a city and business leaders this past week."

Please read articles before you comment.

Anonymous said...

This "study" was nothing more than a sales pitch by the consultant to get an even larger consulting project. He's identified a non-existent problem and will now try to get paid even more to fix it. Nice work if you can con it.

Anonymous said...


I agree with you. Consultants guarantee the continuation of their careers by the results of their 'studies'. Upselling is the only way they stay in business.

It is always nice when the client identifys the problem then seeks a 'solution' from a consultant and pays and pays and pays.

Mr. Brooks has alot of nerve to suggest that everything south of Mt. Diablo be identified as The Plaza which of course is the branded identify of the Broadway Plaza owned by MaceRich. I doubt that the businesses along the east side of south Main and south Locust and south California wish to be referred to as a part of The Plaza.

Anonymous said...

Mt. Diablo Blvd. is the Mason-Dixon Line of The Dub C? So I guess that the underground railroad must have a transfer point at WC BART. What a poorly chosen and grossly inaccurate analogy. Comparing the commercial divide between North and South Main Sts. to 19th Century Jim Crow Laws is absurd. I sure hope the members of the WCDBA didn't pay this consultant. They could have instead contributed the money to buy books for the damn library.

EdBirsan said...

It always seems out of place when there is a 'downtown' but no 'uptown'.

Anonymous said...

Seems to me the biz Assn already knows there is a line - it's in its own name: "downtown" always meant the core business/plaza area.

So, if you district WC up:
the Plaza district
the Heather Farms district
the Northgate district
the Oak Grove district
the Treat district
the Larkey Park district
the North Main district

there you have it all for FREE!

Anonymous said...

two clicks, 76 Trombones,

Right Here, in River City......

Anonymous said...

let's be everyone. gosh, what an idea.

Anonymous said...

We are NOT San Francisco, have no desire to be San Francisco and NEVER will be San Francisco. Why are there people in WC who continue to try to 'citify' this suburban town? Does it make them feel better about where they live?

Stop apologizing folks for your wonderful suburban town and enjoy its many benefits.

Downtown is where the main retail exists....other parts of town are just that......other parts of town.

Anonymous said...

Oh brutha! Stop the insanity.

Anonymous said...

Im with many others... I hope they didn't PAY Brooks for the ridiculous information...when so many people are losing their jobs!!!

Anonymous said...

If the WC city council pays this douchebag they are a bunch of f'ing morons.

Given recent council decisions I suspect they will pay him. Remember the best predictor of future behaivour is past behaivour.

Anonymous said...

I believe the appropriate term should be the "Macerich Line". And as far as branding goes, how about "Home of that Damn Library"?

Anonymous said...

ANON 10:27 PM

Thanks for posting this schmnuck's website address! It should be required reading for everyone who belongs to the DBA. After exploring the website all of the members should be asked if they think the money they spent was worth it.

What a joke...this guy has an ego the size of the damn library and I'll bet he is really smooth in person too.

What exactly is Emily Chang's job with the DBA and why do they feel the need to go to an outside consultant? Build your image from within and you will do a much better job than someone who spent only three days in town.

Anonymous said...

"Keeping up with the neighbors" must be the DBA's new mantra. Apparently, the glitz that represents Neiman Marcus can't be associated with the rest of town. Do we really want the rest of this city to look like Broadway Plaza? I wonder if Mr Brooks looked up from his "notes" to notice the trees and the hills that identify this community. It's the setting and the variety of shops and housing that draws people here to shop and to live.

Anonymous said...

The downtown businesses are going through the Great Recession and are trying to stay afloat. Half of your posting public sits on the sidelines taking cheap potshots at an effort DBA made to keep businesses open. Do those mean-spirited people know that property taxes in this town do not even pay the cost of our police force?

Anonymous said...

One person's cheap shot is another person's sincere criticism. I see comments that reflect people who deeply care about downtown businesses and the city as a whole.

We've seen the name calling before when citizens in the city try to object to city "leaders" actions or engage a dialog. Calling you on it here and now.

Anonymous said...

You're on. I'm looking forward to your run for City Council!

Anonymous said...


the 'run for city council' argument is getting old and you know very well that it is impossible for just anyone to run for a council seat without the proper connections to power and money

everyone who doesn't agree with your point of view is not necessarily 'mean spirited' so lighten up

i have found the comments on this subject quite enlightening and hope that no one is discouraged from participating because you don't like their views

Anonymous said...

Thanks 9:17...I couldn't agree more.