Trying to craft a singular business message in a multicultural Chicago neighborhood

The Argyle section of Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood has residents from many different countries but wants to craft a coherent message to attract businesses:

Now, the two men and their neighbors have embraced a city-sponsored plan to promote the area with a broader name: Asia on Argyle.

“It really gives us a chance to showcase Argyle Street … and bring people to a very unique cultural destination within the city,” said Ald. Harry Osterman, whose 48th Ward represents the neighborhood.

The campaign is the city’s latest effort to brand neighborhoods beyond the downtown business district as commercial destinations for tourists and Chicagoans. The effort includes sprucing up Argyle’s appearance and opening a night farmers market that eventually would include Asian businesses.

Such branding strategies have worked for some neighborhoods like Greektown, Andersonville and Boystown. But others have spawned clashes as people of different cultural backgrounds disagree about how the neighborhood should be promoted. What’s more, if a neighborhood becomes too popular, gentrification can dislodge immigrant settlers…

Argyle’s greatest asset, its diversity, has also presented some of its biggest challenges. Chinese immigrants were among the first newcomers to try to brand the neighborhood.

There are several things going on here:

1. The neighborhood may look to outsiders to have Asian residents but this is a broad category that comprises a number of different cultures and backgrounds. For example, immigrants from certain countries have different levels of education and income as well as unique social and religious practices.

2. Creating a singular pro-business approach is not just about internal coherence within a neighborhood but also appealing to a wider audience in Chicago and the region. It would be fascinating to get down to some numbers and see how many people might visit such a neighborhood and how it stacks up to other ethnically and socially known neighborhoods profiled in this article like Pilsen, Chinatown, and Boystown. Do you need a slogan? A logo? How unique does the neighborhood have to be?

3. One academic quoted in this story notes that we should ask who will benefit from new economic development and business in Argyle. The city of Chicago? Local residents? Real estate moguls? There are development and businesses choices to be made that move more towards the people of the neighborhood. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a zero-sum game where only one party can come out ahead but it is easy in such situations for people with power and investments to come out even better.

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