It’s not about making places better.It’s about making places matter! Gerrard India Bazaar DNA PlacePrint A Creative and Actionable Prescription for Breathing Life Back into the “Little India” of Toronto May 2011 1
A reputationcannot be invented. It can only be earned! 2
ContentsWhy PlacePrint? 4Objective 5Current Story that Dominates about Gerrard India Bazaar 6Downward Economic Trend 7Great Example to Follow (Koreatown) 8Reasons for Depletion 9Unifying DNA of Little India 10BECK Framework and Symbolic Actions 11 Brand Identity 12 Experience Economy 14 Customer Service 22 Know Where It Is 24Final Words 28Project Description 29Appendices 30 3
Why PlacePrint?Standing out from the crowd, and standing for opportunities to prosper culturally andsomething, has never been more important for economically and overall be the best andplaces. Places big or small are all fiercely highest they can be.competing for attention, business, visitors, Your PlacePrint book is a meaningful andshoppers, talent, resources and the like. purposeful interpretation of your community,Places need to answer these fundamental captured in a narrative platform. The story of aquestions for the world: Who are we? Why place can be different things to differentus? And why do we matter? Those places people. But the important aspect is that thesewhich clearly answer these questions and interpretations are derived from the samemeaningfully differentiate themselves in the platform. The proposed ‘on brand’ symboliccrowded marketplace (Toronto, the city of actions breathe life into the story and make itneighborhoods) will have much greater stronger, truer and easier to spread. ‘A place should reveal its personality, emphasize its 4 sense of purpose and play to its strengths.’- JT Singh
ObjectiveTo align the identity of the place with its experience that is perceptibly authentic. And to replace current unhelpful perceptions with more compelling ones and to createcertain fresh perceptions where there were none before. 5
Current Story that Dominates about Gerrard India BazaarIf you ask a South Asian (Bengali, Sri Lankan, Asians and ‘Back home feeling and shopping’Indian, or a Pakistani) where is Gerrard India amongst South Asians.Bazaar and how to get there? Chances are Overall, the most relevant insights wethey will know-especially if the person’s age is extracted from speaking to people were that:30+. But if you ask a non-South Asian, chancesare they probably have never heard of 1. Gerrard India Bazaar is an odd name;‘Gerrard India Bazaar’ and neither do they they all preferred “Little India”. (Theknow how to get there. They all say “If I knew word ‘bazaar’ confused them)about it and how to get there, I would 2. Most didn’t know Gerrard India Bazaardefinitely go there!” So clearly there is an exists or where it is or how to get there.awareness problem. 3. Many who have been there expressed how the market experience could be aIt was more helpful to use the term “Little lot more ‘Indianish’ and authentic.India” because it was more familiar and easier 4. Many South Asians expressed howto understand for people than “Gerrard India Gerrard India Bazaar was inconvenient,Bazaar” When asked, what are the first images a hassle to go to and has less than goodthat come to mind when you hear “Little customer service. They also expressedIndia”? The dominant answers were: ‘bright that GIB doesn’t have that “home awaycolors and Indian food’ amongst non-South from home” feeling anymore. 6
Gerrard India Bazaar has been struggling and losing its appeal to visitors. Ask any business owner and they will tell you that business has been going downhill more-less starting from the year 2000 till today. Most business owners we spoke to are pessimistic about the future of Gerrard India Bazaar. This negative trend is bound continue if no creative actions are taken to counter it.Year 2000 Year 2011 Year 2000 Ongoing negative trend PotentialIt is possible to stop this downward Futuretrend and bring back economic Year 2011 7prosperity.
Koreatown Koreatown in Toronto was ranked first place as the greatest little neighborhood in the world by Lonely(Great example to follow) Planet this year. This is huge recognition since Lonely Planet is the world’s most respected travel information company. Koreatown without a doubt deserves this since it truly provides an authentic and stimulating experience for all visitors. If Koreatown right here in Toronto can achieve this, we believe “Little India” on Gerrard St can also achieve this kind of global recognition. 8
Multitude of Reasons for GIB’s Depleting Economy• Tougher border crossing from the USA • Perceived as an inconvenient place to after 9/11 and also there are now go shopping many Indian markets in US cities. • GIB is not situated as close to the• The rise of online shopping downtown core as the other popular• South Asians only account for 10 ethnic districts (Little Italy, Chinatown, percent of the residential population. Little Portugal and etc) As a result less As a result the market is heavily people know about it and how to get dependent on visitors. there.• Many South Asians now live in the • Weak brand identity (many people suburbs and numerous ethnic markets don’t understand what “Gerrard India are also situated there to conveniently bazaar” is perhaps because bazaar is cater to them. more of a cultural word.)• The state of the economy. • Lacks a stimulating atmosphere and• Parking issues aesthetic appeal.• Less than good customer service experience 9
Unifying DNA of Little India The reason people come to Little India on Aimed at Gerrard st is to experience the cultural diversity South Asians of India. There is a mishmash of Indian, Sri Lankan, Pakistani and Bengali shops. All these countries are part of the Indian sub-continent Aimed at non and from a cultural standpoint, they all share South Asians similar cultural values and traditions. The and younger culture of the surrounding countries of India generation also exists within India, for example Sri Lankan Aimed at all South Asians culture is prevalent in Southern India, Pakistani culture in North West India, and Bengali culture in East India. Shared culture is what brought all these diverse businesses together and it is also what makes Little India on Gerrard st so unique.The three key messages are different interpretations of Little India’s DNA because a place can mean differentthings to different people. “Home away from Home” appeals to South Asian immigrants because they alwaysyearn to feel the ‘back home’ nostalgic feelings. “Local Cultural Vacation” appeals to Non South Asians andyounger generation South Asians who are not so familiar with India and want to experience a foreign county righthere in Toronto. And “Spice up your day/life” appeals to everyone. We all want to add more color and flavour toour life-otherwise life would be boring and bland. 10The DNA and the key messages are not slogans or taglines. The unifying DNA is a narrative which conveys whypeople should choose Little India on Gerrard st and why Little India matters!
Gerrard India Bazaar has enormous potential to reinvigorate itself and bring back a successfuleconomy. Since the bazaar heavily relies on visitors who are already spoiled with other options,GIB has to meaningfully differentiate itself from the crowd and earn a reputation that isinherently so authentic, irresistible and unforgettable that it is simply self propelling. Thefollowing framework ‘BECK’ addresses four keys issues along with proposed actions that have thepower to step up GIB’s game and give it ‘remarkability’, which simply means that it will beworthy to be remarked upon, which fuels word of mouth and free publicity.B Brand Identity The following proposed symbolic actions are meant to make the story of Little India stronger, truer, moreE Experience Economy easier to spread and more ‘Indianish’. The portfolio of ideas that follow doesn’t exactly constitute a grand strategy but rather it is an attempt to spark theC Customer Service imagination and experimentation with multiple creative approaches that can be rapidly prototyped, tested, and communicated as part of a more definitive strategy. Your PlacePrint is meant to be aK Know ‘Where’ It Is working document where new ideas can be continually added through co-authorship. 11
Brand IdentityThe official name of the market is “Gerrard India Bazaar” but it is most commonly referred to as“Little India”. We also heard the name “Little South Asia”. Almost everybody we spoke to simplypreferred “Little India” opposed to Gerrard India Bazaar.From a branding standpoint, the multiple names are consequently weakening the brand of themarket. A brand identity should be simple, memorable and positive. Many non-South Asians lookedconfused when we used the word ‘bazaar’. Bazaar is a cultural word which everyone is not familiarwith and as a result it weakens the image of the BIA. Moreover, when we used the term “SouthAsia” many people imagined countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and so forth. But not India!So, we strongly suggest that “Little India” should be the only name! It has always been Little Indiaand it should only be Little India, similarly to how it’s only Little Italy. “Gerrard India Bazaar” shouldbe completely wiped out in order to stop weakening the brand of the BIA. However the festivalsmay continue to be called “Festival of South Asia” since it’s only a short event and is not biggerbrand than the market itself.For the remainder of this report we will not use the term “Gerrard India Bazaar” anymore, butrather “Little India” 12
Now let’s look at visual bright colors, vibrant cultureidentity. This project isn’t and decorativeness come toabout logos and taglines by mind. But the current logofar; however, the visual looks like something thatidentity of Little India is so would be used forhurting, that we felt Governmental trade missioncompelled to address it. On talks between India and and authentically experiencethe right is the current logo Canada. In the matter of fact, the Indian sub continent.and needless to mention, it’s the India-Canada Chamber of Logo design doesn’t have todull, uncreative and Commerce had a very similar be an expensive exercise.meaningless. It completely logo in the past until recently You can capitalize on thefails to convey a vibrant changing it. abundant student talent inmarket that Little India could The new visual identity Toronto. These students areand should be. When people should have a plethora of dying to expand theirthink of India: vibrant colors and convey the portfolio and are more than message “to spice up you life” willing to design the logo at a considerable discount. 13
Experience Economy. ( This is the most important aspect of BECK.)The experience economy refers to the notion that people are seeking a different kind of valuereturn from their disposable income, which is increasingly taking the form of an experience, ratherthan a physical product. It is becoming increasingly important for destinations to convey theemotional benefits they can offer visitors in terms of feelings and experiences, rather than justpresent them with a list of things to do (eat, shop, etc). This means telling a story about thedestination, which strikes an emotional chord with potential visitors and stays with them.It’s all about the streetscape!“People are drawn to (or repelled by) places according to their physical, aesthetic, and emotionalexperience of the street. The street is how we process place, and it provides the image we carry withus. If we think of ourselves in Rome, we see ourselves in the Via Condotti — we don’t envision theabstract entity of “Rome.” If we think of ourselves in Sydney, we remember the view of the OperaHouse as we walked along George Street, the central artery that winds through the Rocks. Thestreet provides the central building block of our place memory, reconciling a larger entity with thescale of human perception.”-Charles Landry, Author of “The Creative City” 14
Currently the streetscape of LittleIndia is significantly lacking the‘sense of place’ and authenticitythat it could and should have.Besides the window displays, thenames of the stores, and very littlepublic art that symbolizes the Indiansub continent, the BIA pretty muchlooks like any other ordinary street. magnetic ideas that seize the imagination and are compelling by their very nature.Breathing life into the streetscape For example, the pike place fish market indoesn’t have to cost an arm and a Seattle, which was just a fish market for aboutleg! a hundred years until one fishmonger decidedThere are places that gain mature pulling to get his shop assistants to juggle with theirpower without huge investments in fish: it’s now the city’s main attraction andinfrastructure or marketing: they are simply draws tourists (and customer) from all over the USA. 15
Here are some aesthetic displays currently in the BIA. These areamazing, but there needs to be much more of these throughout thestreetscape! 16
Painting Little India Project!Isla Mujeres, a small island off the coast of This is because colors areMexico which was close to destitution until traditionally celebrated inthey decided to paint every building on the South Asia, especiallyisland using a palette of authentic Mexican bright colors. Bright colorscolors. The “painting the island” project gained are used everywhere froman enormous amount of free global publicity: house decorating, fashion,American cruise ships now regularly stop at food and so forth. the island, and the The problem with Little place has an India on Gerrard St. is that economy! you hardly notice any Many people that bright colors! The Chandan Fashion building we spoke to (bottom left picture) is the most iconic building mentioned that in whole of Little India and it’s all because of the first image that the bright coloured paint job! We highly comes to mind recommend that Little India collectively gets a when they hear paint job using a palette of bright colors only! “Little India” is To paint the exterior of a building is relatively “bright colors”. inexpensive and can be done very quickly. 17
Here are some of many buildings that can use a brighter paint job. If thesebuildings and many others take part in the “Paint Little India project”, it willcertainly have a great impact on the atmosphere and charm of the market. It 18should be done immediately!
Here are the same buildings from the previous page painted in brightercolors using Photoshop. In reality the newly painted buildings will lookeven brighter and better than these modified photos. 19
There are also many spaces in Little India that can use Indian themed public art. For example there are many planters onthe street and if every single one can be painted with an Indian theme, it would look amazing! Moreover, there manyother blank walls that could use a beautiful Indian themed mural and also this is a great way to get rid of some of the uglygraffiti and prevent further graffiti since graffitists usually target blank walls only.It doesn’t have to be expensive public art. A great way to get public art is by hiring art students perhaps from OCAD 20(Ontario College of Arts and Design). These students are dying to get projects and in many cases are more talented thanother professional artists who charge much higher fees than students ever would.
Sidewalk Floor ArtAnother space that can be used to give the BIA acharming Indian touch is the sidewalks. In Indiait’s called “rangoli” which is a traditionaldecorative folk art. They are decorative designs onfloors of living rooms and courtyards during Hindufestivals and are meant as sacred welcoming areas.The purpose of rangoli is decoration and it is alsothought to bring good luck. Usually colourfulchalks are used to create rangoli; however, we suggest that a few beautiful designsshould be painted permanently along the sidewalks of the market. It would give an authentic touch to the place and will be appreciated by all visitors. 21
The possibilities are endless if you are imaginative!So here’s the thing, the streetscape of little India should be authentically decorated to themaximum effect! India is a very cultured and decorative part of the world and Little India onGerrard st should exemplify that. There are numerous creative ways to authenticate thestreetscape and there is no reason why it can’t be done! This should be the BIA’s primary focusbecause aesthetic appeal is what will meaningfully differentiate the market from the rest.Why not have Indian style bowls on the sidewalks…Why not have small Indian style bells hanging on the trees…Why not have Indian style benches on the sidewalks which can be taken back inside at night…The possibilities are endless… 22
Customer ServiceBased on our impressions and also what we were hearing from many shoppers is that customerservice in many of the businesses has much room for improvement. Customer service is a big dealin India, and it’s strange to experience not the greatest customer service in Little India here inToronto.There’s a great quote by Mahatma Ghandi.A customer is the most important visitor on our premises; he isnot dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not aninterruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not anoutsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him afavor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us anopportunity to do so.-Mahatma GandhiThis quote should be pasted on every BIA newsletter, email and all of the circulations. This quoteshould also be given to every business owner along with the following acronym “DESI”. 23
Be DESIThis behaviour guiding acronym for customer service in Little India is memorable andpractical. The word “desi” refers to the people, cultures, and products of the wholeIndian subcontinent and, increasingly, to the people, cultures, and products of theirDiaspora.D-Dazzle: It should be the ultimate goal of every business in Little India to astonish everycustomer with delight. This should be done through store ambiance and through dealing withcustomers in the most courteous way possible.E-Educate: Many visitors don’t know anything about South Asian cultures, so it’s importantthat employees act as enthusiastic educators on South Asian cultures and products.S-Smile: (smile with your mouth and eyes) We were surprised to observe how grumpy some ofthe business employees were and many of them didn’t even say “hi” or smile at customers.I-Inspire: All businesses should act as ambassadors of the Indian sub-continent. The aim is toinspire customers about Indian culture and way of life to the point that they want to immediatelybook a vacation to visit the real India. 24
Know where it isOur research reveals that most people who are non-South Asians have no clue where “GerrardIndia Bazaar” or “Little India” is located and how to get there. On the other hand, many peopleknew where Little Italy, Greektown, or Chinatown was…but not Little India. This is a major problemthat needs to be addressed! The symbolic actions proposed in regards to the experience economyare strong enough to generate awareness and grab attention of people and spread word of mouth.However below are some specific creative ways to make it easier for people to know “where” LittleIndia is located?Firstly, we recommend trying to always use the phrase “Little India on Gerrard St”. It is smart toassociate the street with the brand name of the market. The nearest subway station should also beassociated with Little India more often. We found that other successful BIA’s had close links withtheir brand name and the street or subway they were located on in the minds of people. Forexample Little Italy was closely associated with College St or Koreatown with Christie station orChinatown with Spadina St and so forth. “If I knew where Little India was, I would definitely go there!” 25
Coxwell station and Greenwood station Coxwell and Greenwood station are the nearest subways to Little India. It is only about a five minute bus ride from these stations to get to the destination. Most people we spoke to prefer this route. Tourists who usually come from the downtown core find the subway route especially convenient. It would be smart to put up posters at these stations to help guide people and increase associations with Little India and these subways. Here is the spot where people wait for the 22Here is an example of some space where a poster bus which takes you to Little India. A poster onof Little India can be posted at Coxwell station. the brick wall would be beneficial. 26
Bollywood Themed StreetcarSandeep Agrawal (faculty member of the School of Urban and Regional Planning at RyersonUniversity) and his student’s created a report about “Culturally responsive urban design”. There isone creative recommendation in the reportwhich can help boost the awareness of“where” Little India is located and shouldseriously be considered by the BIA.“We suggested using Toronto TransitCommission streetcars to promote theBazaar. Streetcar route 506 crosses theBazaar and extends to the far end of the citywhere it meets with busy subway stations,the citys downtown core, and the Universityof Toronto campus. The TTC sells advertisingthat nearly covers the entire car. Oursuggestion was to sponsor a streetcar and cover it to appear like an Indian-style cycle rickshaw. Thisstreetcar advertising would promote the Bazaar throughout the city and, at the same time, delivervisitors to the Bazaar.” 27
EntranceWhen you get on the 22 bus at Coxwellstation and then five minutes later get offat the corner of Gerrard and Coxwell, youhave no idea where Little India is if it’syour first time arriving there.As you can see in the upper right picture,it’s a dull welcome to Little India. Unlikethe Chinatowns of the world, you instantlynotice you are passing by or arriving atChinatown because of the beautifulgateways and other authentic communitymarkers.In the lower right, we show a picture ofthe Little India in Singapore. They havethese artistic banners which really liven upthe streets. It would be amazing if LittleIndia on Gerrard could do somethingsimilar. The great part of this idea is thatit’s not an actual gateway which would berather expensive and difficult to build.Instead it is something like a banner whichisn’t as expensive and can easily be 28assembled.
Final Words… The value that visitors logically expect from Little India on Gerrard St. is to experience the authentic cultures of the Indian sub-continent. “Value” is “the promise and delivery of an experience.”And if your brand promises an experience, your destination better deliver! 29
Project DescriptionA great deal of inquiry, considerations, and Jane Jacobs way which is to walk, walk andthought went into formulating this report. The walk. I am rather militant about thefirst step consisted of research from publications, importance—the necessities—of exploring like this. Until I learn a place with my feet, Iwhite papers, newspapers, books, and statistical never really feel like I know it. I wentsources. While this provided a “black and white” everywhere in Gerrard India Bazaar andpicture, the “color” was filled with insights took a tonne photos, notes andderived from an outside perspective: meaningfully mingled with the locals along the way to get a real sense of the place. • Less formal interviews with ‘man-on-the- street’ and also in-depth interviews with local opinion leaders (politicians, business Once it was creatively determined on what could leaders, BIA members, civic organizations, and should be the story, then practical symbolic and etc.) actions were devised that can make the story • Street surveys with locals young and old, stronger, truer and easier to spread. visitors and people living outside the neighborhood • Deep tissue exploratory research mostly on foot and public transit and sometimes the car. To truly experience a place, I do it the 30
AppendicesResources and bibliography: People and paperPeople Bauder, Harold. Toronto’s Little India:. Rep. Ryerson, 2010.Many people shared their insights and perspectiveswith us. We spoke to businessmen, employees, BIA Web. 2 Apr. 2011.members, residents, professors, and man-on-the- <http://digitalcommons.ryerson.ca/cgi/viewcontent.street with in the BIA area and beyond. Many thanks cgi?article=1002&context=immigration>.to all!Paper (online and print) Agrawal, Sandeep. OPPI | Ontario Professional Planners Institute. Rep. Web. 09 May 2011.Gerrard India Bazaar. Web. 09 Apr. 2011.<http://www.gerrardindiabazaar.com/>. Vukets, Cynthia. "Diverse Businesses Could Breathe"Gerrard Street (Toronto)." Wikipedia, the Free Life into Struggling Little India." Toronto Star. 21 Feb.Encyclopedia. Web. 09 Apr. 2011. 2011. Web. 15 Apr. 2011.<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerrard_Street_(Toronto)>. Anholt, Simon. Places. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.Brouse, Cynthia. "Indian Summer." Toronto Life. Sept. Hildereth, Jeremy. "Place Branding at Arms Length."2005. Web. 10 Apr. 2011 Palgrave, 2010.<http://www.cynthiabrouse.com/writing/indian_summer.pdf>. 31
JT Singh is a think and do tank providing innovative and actionable insights. We help places evade sameness by enabling them to become relevant, unique and productively creative.1(416) firstname.lastname@example.orgWWW.JTSINGH.COMThis project was commissioned by TABIA 32