A version of this story first appeared in Rustwire.
I think that troubled cities often tragically misinterpret what’s coolest about themselves. They scramble for cure-alls, something that will ‘attract business,’ always one convention center, one pedestrian mall or restaurant district away from revival. They miss their biggest, best, and probably most marketable asset: their unique and slightly off-center character. Few people go to New Orleans because it’s a 'normal' city -- or a ‘perfect’ or ‘safe’ one. They go because it’s crazy, borderline dysfunctional, permissive, shabby, alcoholic, and bat shit crazy -- and because it looks like nowhere else. Cleveland is one of my favorite cities. I don’t arrive there with a smile on my face every time because of the Cleveland Philharmonic.
-- Anthony Bourdain
It’s branding season again in my hometown of Cleveland. The Plain Dealer just announced plans to help rebrand the Mistake on the Lake “to change not only the look and feel of our region’s ‘capital city’ … but also the way the world and Clevelanders themselves look at it.”
Well, good luck with that. One need only examine the history of Cleveland’s branding campaigns to know past efforts have been a bit of a mess. There was the corporate-driven, perhaps overly optimistic motto “Best Location in the Nation,” coined by Cleveland Electric Illumination Co. in 1944 and adopted by city leaders. Then the Plain Dealer itself stumbled with a hopelessly hokey 1981 bumper-sticker insert reading, “New York’s the Big Apple, but Cleveland’s a Plum.” You don’t differentiate your city identity through omission, i.e., “we are not New York.” You do it by declaring what you are. And no Cleveland, you are not a plum. Sorry.