For the past three years I fretted over Newton’s brand. In my opinion, an area’s brand is what can attract business, as much as its efforts around zoning and regulation. The problem is, Newton, from an economic perspective, has no real brand. When companies locate here they often hide it, choosing to post on their website that their office is in “Boston.” Boston, in that sense, is the region, not the city. 

I think most of us have a vision for what Newton’s brand is about, and not all of it is positive. Today the New York Times and the Boston Globe both offered their own take on Newton’s brand in very interesting ways. 

In a front page article, the Sunday New York Times looks at Newton as it examines the case of Judge Shelley Joseph. I’m not going to get into the Joseph case (the article offers little new to anyone who follows it locally) but it does offer up this little gem:

Newton District Court is a sleepy, two-room courthouse in a wealthy, liberal suburb. On a recent afternoon, a judge hearing a woman’s shoplifting case admiringly noted her degree from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

“This is Newton,” joked its clerk magistrate, Henry Shultz, “where you’re considered a dropout if you only have a master’s degree.”

As if that’s not enough, today’s Boston Globe has a front page story about how Newton (standing in for just about any wealthy suburb) fails its less-fortunate students when it comes to college readiness. Overall, 39 percent of low-income graduates make it through a 4-year college in a timely manner compared with 70 percent for their wealthier classmates.

The end of the article gets to the program at Newton North called Transitioning Together. In the piece, 2012 graduate Swardiq Mayanja, whose family immigrated from South Africa and had, what the article calls a “positive academic experience” struggled when it came to transitioning from high school to college. “Mayanja said he received little guidance from teachers or counselors at Newton North about paying for college.” And it’s not just that he didn’t receive guidance, it’s that the system is tilted entirely toward the needs of the wealthier students who dominate the school: 

Still, Mayanja wishes the college advising in Newton hadn’t been so focused on the needs and priorities of white, middle- and upper-income students. “We did not talk about money enough, and the second you graduate from high school, money rules your life,” he said.

So my questions are this: what do you consider Newton’s brand? If you feel that the brand portrayed here doesn’t accurately reflect the Newton you know, can you expand on why? And finally, how do we change this brand position? Do we want to? Is this important?

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