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Will Albany close the gateway and warm up to its new “Urban Village” branding image?

The Albany city brand -- soon to be Gateway free?

The Albany city brand -- soon to be "Gateway" free?

It looks like Albany will no longer be the “Northern Gateway to Alameda County,” swapping that longtime and geographically factual motto with the more upscale sounding “Urban Village by the Bay,” the product of “$13,550 plus expenses, for a total of up to $16,000” to hire a consultant to facilitate branding workshops in May.

The result of all that effort is that the City Council is poised to adopt “Urban Village by the Bay” as the city motto on Tuesday. Mind you that mottos are no longer simply attempts at a catchy or descriptive slogan, but “brands” carefully crafted create an image, give a location an identity and make it a more inviting place.

The new motto is the result of meetings held in May for Albany’s Branding Project by South Carolina-based consultant firm Arnett Muldrow & Associates and “Urban Village by the Bay” was introduced at a “‘reveal’ presentation” (don’t you love consultant-speak?) on May 5.

A city motto should probably convey more than the “Gateway” slogan, which fit nice on the Albany city flag and stationery, but was most useful as an answer to an out-of-town motorist who rolls down the window and asks “Where the hell am I?” “Why, you’re in the Northern Gateway to Alameda County, stranger.”

The newspaper at Albany High School in 2007 called the old motto “As bland as you’d expect” and other commentators have weighed in as well.

But it’s hard to say if “Urban Village by the Bay,” which sounds like a leftover name from development proposals at Golden Gate Fields or a new subdivision in Hercules, is a good replacement. As for what images the brand gives Albany, that depends on what thoughts come to mind when one hears “urban” and “village.” Little huts nestled by tall buildings? We gather it’s a statement that Albany is more sophisticated and wizened than a suburb, but more personable than the big cities. Oh yeah, and that it’s located by the Bay. That part we have confidence in interpreting, particularly since Albany was once known as Ocean View.

But we wonder if it fits the stated goal “to distill the City’s uniqueness, values and future goals into an image (logo) and slogan that can be used as an economic development tool to attract and retain businesses and attract visitors to the City for recreation, shopping and services.”

If it’s accepted by the council, the new brand will be worked into city materials, signs and promotional materials following designated design guidelines for its use and will be offered to business organizations for use as well.

But if you’re a traditionalist with a soft spot for “Northern Gateway to Alameda County,” don’t worry that it’s going to disappear overnight. To minimize expense, plans call for phasing in new business cards and letterheads as existing supplies run out, so the old motto could be appearing for some time yet.

There will be a cost to replace existing city entry signs and the city seal, but there is an eco-friendly aspect to plans for the new slogan, according to the staff report:

“Products used will be made with recycled content and use sustainable materials whenever possible. The intent will be to use up existing materials, such as cards and letterhead, and to waste as little as possible. All materials that are replaced will be recycled. Efforts will be made to reuse and reduce waste.”

Of course the city could have practiced reuse by simply recycling the the motto once used at the Pierce Street condominiums: “If you lived here, you’d be home now.”

Chris Treadway