If your city identity resembles a stew—made up of a little bit of everything—you’re in hot water, identity-wise. An identity is ONE THING that reigns supreme. Too many ingredients will smother the extraordinary “you” that’s trying to stand out. When you’re a stew, all you can do is blend in. As a city, that’s not what you want.
How city identities can become stew-like concoctions
City identities, often against their best intentions, can easily fall into stew-like concoctions. In an attempt to please everyone locally, they often try to accommodate every local constituency and interest, as equal ingredients. To insure that no one is “left out” they add everyone in, pretty much at face value. The result is a compromise identity, usually stirred with a time-worn slogan that means next to nothing. A slogan like “Someplace Special.”
A compromise identity full of contradictions
A compromise identity can’t differentiate a city. The city will appear like every other city singing the same tune of “everything for everybody.” An additional peril is that compromise identities often teem with contradictions in their attempt to please all local interests and all potential outside interests. A city with such an identity will often be portrayed as a peaceful, walkable hamlet—with the nighttime pulse of New York. It will be a city that’s both great for shopping—and wilderness hiking. It’s a city that’s dreamily romantic—and a kid’s paradise. It’s a city renown for its luxury boutiques—and bargains galore. Eventually the city’s identity boils down to a classic hodgepodge, i.e., a stew. It’s a mishmash, with nothing really memorable.
The city identity is not a directory
You can usually detect a city’s compromise identity because the identity itself reads like a directory. Everything—and the kitchen sink—is tossed into the mix. The city itself never transcends this directory. In effect, the city has positioned itself as a mall—which makes it harder for the city to stand on its own.
The solution: a higher context of identity
The solution to this common problem is to find a new context for the city that rises above the classic identity stew. This requires some careful, critical and creative thinking, because we want the identity to differentiate the city in a manner that’s most productive for its residents and businesses. We aim for a strategic identity that will serve the city now and into the future. As a first step we re-imagine the city as a platform for more meaningful values, and behaviors. These are often already there inside the city, in latent form, waiting to be developed.