Though now a bustling city quickly becoming the go-to destination for Greater Boston residents, tech-minded innovators and foodies alike, Somerville was not always privy the surge of housing, economics, and arts and culture it’s currently enjoying. The millennial generation knows Boston and its neighboring cities as a regional hub of booming socioeconomics, but for several decades prior, a gritty, more industrial cloud was fixated above the metro area.
Along with surrounding urban centers, Somerville experienced a steep decline with the widespread adoption of the automobile and the construction of Route 128 that lasted until the 1980s and 1990s.This near-lethal combination allowed for companies and jobs, and subsequently people, to move into the suburbs and render Somerville de-industrialized.
With a past so juxtaposed to its contemporary state, the City of Somerville is looking for an identity, a way to brand itself and market its values to those who are helping to fuel its whirlwind growth and continue attracting more of them. So officials are turning to Somerville’s European mirror image to find out what Eindhoven, located in the southern portion of the Netherlands, can teach them about municipal branding.
More accurately, they’re turning to an artist.
At the kick off of BSA Space’s StereoType: New Directions in Typography, Dutch artist Remco van de Craats showed of his Ashes to Ashes piece – a smoldering, rippling take on the idea of frailty. Van de Craats, who is also the creative director and owner of the design studio Edhv, said that on Friday, November 14, he’d be meeting with Somerville brass for an information session on best practices for city branding.
Keep in mind, though, that talks are of the brainstorming variety only. No planning or process has yet been determined, if at all.
Van de Craats is a native of Eindhoven, where he honed his artistic acumen in a city that’s progressed much like Somerville has.
Eindhoven, too, has industrial roots, having enjoyed a strong period of prosperity due largely to its longstanding relationship with electronics behemoth Philips, where it was founded. The relationship between the city and the company, van de Craats said, was mutually beneficial in that Philips provided jobs and economic stability to the people, which gave way to an overflow of imaginative art and design initiatives.
But, as large corporations often do, Philips up and left for the big city, moving its headquarters to Amsterdam while other commercial ventures moved to Asia, leaving the bare bones of the once boisterous manufacturing epicenter in its wake.
But for van de Craats, and many designers not unlike him, the essence of art could not be uprooted.
“Harvard and MIT have strong brands nationally,” he said of what’s perhaps the region’s most world-renowned characteristic. “How do we get people to feel and see technology?”
Translation: How can cities like Somerville harness its local assets to build a distinctive quality?
“[Remco van de Craats] came to present to city officials on the city of Eindhoven in the Netherlands’ bottom-up, open-source approach to branding their City that tapped into City-based talent,” City of Somerville spokesperson Daniel DeMaina told BostInno. He added,
There are some interesting parallels between Eindhoven, which used to be known as the ugliest City in Holland or as Holland’s Detroit. Both cities have high concentrations of creative workers and makers and both have undergone significant transformation to become highly desirable and admired. So it was interesting to see how their new city branding reflects that momentum and energy in a way that their community has really embraced.
But as aforementioned and reiterated by DeMaina, Friday’s meeting was only a roundtable discussion. Van de Craats confirmed to me he has no designs or concepts in mind and it’s unclear at this point how Somerville will opt to move forward with a city brand.
Suffice to say, though, that should van de Craats be the artist tapped to spearhead this project his wealth of creativity, industrial design and knowledge of the subject will be well received.