Back in the heady days of 2012, when the UK austerity mandate was really starting to bite, Stoke-on-Trent City Council and Realis Estates began work on a plan for a new retail and leisure development in the space of the replaced bus station in Hanley (the city centre of Stoke-on-Trent).
Designs were submitted, plans begun, but ultimately in 2014 they were ditched. This caused some consternation in the city as you’d expect. It left that corner of town all but abandoned, crumbling and rotting away. A scar.
Oh, and they were going to call the new development City Sentral.
Goodness knows why this illiterate twist on language was chosen? The local paper is called the Sentinal, but I’m not sure that was the link, or that linking it to the paper makes much sense either.
People rightly hated the name.
Realis, however, is back with an updated more modest proposal for the area and a new plan for its name. City Sentral is gone and a vote has been opened to the public allowing them to choose from 3 options.
Each has been researched “to explore the city’s rich heritage from its industrial past, its famous residents, geographical location, site history and social heritage”:
Taken from City’s motto Vis Unita Fortior (united strength is stronger), Unity presents a strong branding opportunity. We see our scheme uniting the city centre (linking the bus station with the existing shops & Intu The Potteries). It’s also an opportunity to unite the 6 towns around a strong, thriving city centre.
During our research we came across a map from 1898, which showed a Rectory located on the edge of our site and where Blackburn House now stands. We coupled this with the word Quarter, to reflect and build on the council’s idea of creating quarters within the city centre – i.e. Cultural Quarter etc.
Eastwood takes its name from the Pottery, which was closest to our site. Located on Lichfield Street it was a revolution in pottery factory design and home to the ‘Seven Sisters’ bottle kilns. It’s now the Bridgewater Factory. The name is coupled with a bold six-striped logo – representing the 6 towns.
Personally, it all feels a little too late. The shark has been jumped. The developer clearly felt after the previous faux pas that they needed to “engage the public”.
This kind of engagement is all very well but do not assume that it automatically produces better results or actually make residents and stakeholders any happier!
Take Derby’s public vote to name a new road back in 2010. They engaged the public with an open vote to select a name for a short stretch of inner ring road.
27,000 people joined in the vote, that’s just over 10% of the population of the City in a time when smartphones hadn’t yet taken over the land. Perhaps because this was a poll that was open to the whole world, Lara Croft Way received some 89% of the vote, spurred on one suspects by internet savvy game enthusiasts from across the globe rather than engaged local people.
They chose Lara Croft Way. A reference to the generously chested hero of 1990’s video game Tomb Raider which was quite proudly developed by local team Core Design.
In a stroke of unexpected genius, the local council split the naming in two and called one half after the vote winner and the second, vote runner up, Mercia Way, a reference to the army unit residents of Derby help form.
So no, engaging the public might tick some boxes in the “keep the locals happy” list but it doesn’t always make for the best solution.
Realis, however, hasn’t risked the Boaty McBoatface version of an open poll but gone half way. Choosing 3 names and then opening a poll. It’s a halfway house that takes the good and bad of both public engagement and selecting a name without such input.
As such both sides need to go well. Firstly you need to pick some good options and then you need to trust the public will choose well.
So are the names good? To me two are weak, Eastwood is marred in my head by the name of a local Derbyshire town (and birthplace of DH Lawrence), so I need to discount that. Rectory Quarter feels weak. The town centre has a “Cultural Quarter” so it follows an existing naming convention. I’m not sure that a rectory is a big enough feature to show off about, it is after all just a house for a vicar. And you know, it sounds and looks a bit like “Rectum”.
Unity Walk feels the strongest. They’ve crowbarred in some reasoning, but truth be told it’s generic enough to be able to pass off as anything in any town. It feels a little American too, but it really is the best of the three.
Logo wise all 3 need a good few more rounds of revision. Eastwood looks like a John Lewis shopping bag, Rectory Quarter has oddly sized letters and the tiny text on the R is a woeful idea. Unity Walk is some text in a box, nothing to hate or love with that, but the yellow needs toning down.
And what do you think? Do you prefer one name over another? Should companies engage the public in this way?