Marketing a city consumes a city. Tourism agencies are symbiots of cities,drawing on their general funds and hotel tax revenues and in exchange attracting visitor spending the city’s budget relies upon. Not all cities have marketing departments. These functions may be hidden within less crassly titled departments such as economic and workforce development or within other executive agencies. And not just tourists:cities require people –workers and business owners,visitors and residents in static or increasing numbers –to sustain their vitality.
And cities crave wealthier,educated residents,giving rise to cottage (and controversial) industries such as Richard Florida’s “Creative Class”consulting and publishing business. “Marketing your city”brings up more than 1 million hits on Google,the first being a $87 book of the same name on growing a tourism industry. Cities spend tens of thousands –millions –on branding campaigns to attract affluent residents and growing businesses and their jobs. Cities jockey for spots on the stage of hip conferences like South by Southwest to sell their locales.
Meanwhile,Julie Michelle takes pictures that ignite desperate longing.
I think and advocate a lot on issues of increasing civic engagement,building a stronger civil society and creating a more responsive,human,adaptive and innovative public service. These thoughts and actions,which fall loosely under a large umbrella sometimes called “Gov 2.0”often call for greater collaboration between government and citizens. Municipal arts commissions collaborate with private citizens to create monumental public installations;increasingly,computer applications developers collaborate with municipal bureaucrats to build Web and mobile applications for interacting with civic space and public services. For government marketing agencies to make the leap to cost-effective and ultimately more productive efforts to attract residents,jobs and emerging industries,they should find,embrace and empower their Julie Michelles.
In March 2009,San Francisco’s Julie Michelle began documenting the stories of San Francisco’s friends and neighbors on a new blog,“i live here:SF.”On the popular photo-sharing site Flickr,Julie posts complete photo sessions with her subjects,who share with her in short essays their San Francisco lives. A single photo leads each vignette,with a closing link to a slideshow.
In November,Julie held a show for the project in a South of Market warehouse gallery,complete with an old Muni bus shelter that figured into one of her stories. Julie’s scores of subjects came,bringing several hundreds of their friends to opening night. Every person who’s been in the project –writers,City workers and political candidates,designers,musicians,fourth-generation homesteaders from dozens of San Francisco’s unique neighborhoods –and everyone who’s seen it loves their city more.
In Julie’s amazing project unfolds the wonder and infectious spirit of San Francisco. It so far has inspired three one-off projects:Hello Ottawa,This is my town:Bemidji and I Live Here:Seattle. It should inspire a hundred more,and the next should be joint projects between cities’marketing employees and Julie and the world’s other superlative photographers and creative storytellers.