On being honest

Wow!  This is our 50th post – how exciting!  When I started this blog back in September I was hoping that it would last and that we would start building this type of consistency.

So for this 50th post, I’ve decided to take a moment and rap serious about the importance of honesty.  First of all, I’d like to say that I truly do love the city we live in.  If I didn’t I wouldn’t live here, and wouldn’t spend the time I do thinking of ways to make it better.

The City of Regina recently launched it’s new brand “Infinite Horizons” as well as a website.  While I can support our city trying to create a collective message, and I know that brands are meant to focus on the positive (i.e. no one is attracted to a city because of it’s weak points), I think that consistency says a lot.

If I focus just on the “Regina Living” Section – we have a better quality of life, a shorter commute, and spend less on homes, and generously voluteer our time more than a lot of cities… well, selective cities.  This is where the consistency comes in.  I do not think it is fair or accurate to compare ourselves to larger centres in one context (i.e. we have a better quality of life, a shorter trip to the airport, and less expensive homes than those in Toronto and Montreal)  and not another (i.e. we have a higher percentage of people who bike, and more doctors per 1000 people than those in Kitchener and Oshawa).  I am sure all of this is true, but I think it is more accurate to compare ourselves to similarly sized cities like Oshawa and Kitchener, than Toronto and Montreal.  Of course it takes longer to get to the airport there: the island of Montreal is 4 times the size of our city; and of course it will cost less here: the population of Toronto is over 10 times as large and space is at a premium.

Now, again, I understand that positive branding is important, but I think we could do it with more accurate comparisons and not give ourselves the impression that life is just perfect here, when it isn’t.  We need to look at ourselves in the mirror and be honest.  For example, we are one of only a very few Canadian municipalities that do not have a comprehensive recycling program.

It is akin to the times when I have tried to placate myself with the impression that I am doing everything I can to lessen my impact on the environment and therefore need try no more.  I know that I am very consientious of my ecological impact and try hard to live a life of relative “voluntary simplicity“, but it isn’t until I fill out a survey or questionnaire that measures my impact (and am very honest about what I do and consume, etc), that I see what I could be doing better.  And really, that is all I am saying – that through hard honesty you see the opportunity to change for the better.

I am all for positive branding and positive momentum in this City – I simply don’t want to see this become another “I love Regina” movement where it devolves into settling for what we are, instead of striving for what we could be.

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On being honest

4 thoughts on “On being honest

  1. wourliem says:

    Great post Laura. It made me realize how often the city switches the scale of cities it compares itself to. Remember that the city vision statement is: “Imagine Regina 2020 as Canada’s most: vibrant inclusive attractive sustainable community; where people live in harmony and thrive in opportunity.”

    If you hang around a city councilor long enough you can hear this for yourself. Yet they never distinguish this goal geographically (other then at the national level) or give it scale (medium cities, CMAs or whatever). This goal is challenging Summerside the same as Toronto. There are historical and geographical issues that limit the position Regina can obtain in the world today.

    There are cities like Rome or Damascus that have maintained importance for along time; cities like Cordoba or Florence that were once great important centres and are currently less significant centres and there are places like Dubai and Calgary have never been so important to the world. We can busy ourselves saying how great we are and watching our population grow a little.

    To what end? Would being the smallest market with an NHL team make us equal to New York or Montreal? Would having Regina host U2 or Rod Stewart in a dome stadium make us equal to London or Stockholm? Would sprawling suburbs demand the admiration of Houston or Sao Paulo?

    Regina is a regional centre in a fairly unpopulated part of North America without significant markets or connectivity to significant markets. Isn’t it ok? We are small, quiet and out of the way. There advantages to that too.

    The branding: Well, I wrote a comment on the Prairie Blog about this and perhaps got carried away in some sections. I’ve calmed down a little since.

    What set me off the most about the new brand was not the quality or money so much as the idea that all corporations use symbols to define themselves and, as a corporation, Regina should be no different.

    I suppose I don’t see the city as a corporation exactly. Certainly it is incorporated but my idea of a corporation as a business with shareholders providing capital investment in order to receive profits through the guidance of an operating officer’s management of selling some product is hard for me to reconcile to the city.

    This administration directed by the Mayor/City Manager are in charge. I can see that connection. But the customers and shareholders are the same people, the citizens. It is they who drive the identity of the corporation. Where is the profit motive or what is it’s equivalent? Service provision? Livability? How does the corporation measure success?

    Recently it seems this council/administration has a great mandate to define Regina, with the LP proclaiming wide approval of council’s work of late. Yet only 20-25% of the shareholders-customers actually gave approval to the council during the election.

    Besides the corporate language of the branding there is the goal of attracting people to Regina through videos and a consistent positive image. I can’t name very many other cities around this globe who’s brands I know by heart. Certainly countries may do this better, and most cities have them, but they don’t drive me to want to go.

    Lastly, as I was watching the Olympic opening and the world was being informed that in Canada there are prairies where people run through golden fields and fly through blue skies. I think the brand tag line reinforces this rural association with its Infinite Horizons. Our new civic oxymoron from, a marketing point of view, seems en vogue; promoting the business/growth side of the city. But its natural connection also resonates with people from the outside who only think wheat fields when they think Regina.

    It would be nice, from my point of view, to have a more urban reflection on the city. I’ve lived here 23 years and to me this is a city, with culture, academics, films, music writers, bookstores and artists of so many stripes. I grew up, for better or worse, on shopping and movies downtown, TV from LA, New York and Toronto, my school yard and international soccer. There was a blend of local and global but none of it took place in a wheat field, ever.

  2. I hear what you guys are saying. But to be fair… the brand is for external marketing purposes. Times are going to come up when the city has to have a presence at some event or conference or what have you — like the Olympics — and having a fancy marketing image so your brochures, backdrops and dioramas are all consistent and pretty is important, I think. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve a level of ambivalence about the new brand. But it’s a BIG improvement — aesthetically and message-wise — over I Heart Regina. Granted, $400,000 seems a hefty price tag. But I console myself with the fact that at least some of it went to pay the wages of graphic designers and copywriters, who’re people I feel strangely sympathetic towards.

    1. Paul – I totally agree. Cities have brands for reasons and I am not opposed to Regina freshening up its image. The “I love Regina” brand has been around for quite awhile now, and while officials have said that “Infinite Horizons” is not its replacement, I think in essence it is.

      What I take issue with is the way that many citizens have grown to see this city. I think “I love Regina” started out as a positive mantra and eventually became the rallying call for the mediocre. I heard more than once (on various forums, etc) that if people had a beef with the way things were being done, it meant that they didn’t love this city and therefore might as well move. This is not a productive way to become a progressive, sustainable, vibrant city. So, at a conference back in November I suggested that instead of “I love Regina” the slogan should be “Because I love Regina…”

      I am all for people loving the city they live in and promoting the positive aspects of it. But again, I think we have to be honest in our evaluation and comparisons to other cities with respect to services, amenities, culture, etc. I understand that comparing the commute to the airport in a large city is to emphasize the convenience of smaller city living… however, if we continue on with that comparison, I can tell you from first hand experience that Regina is no match for Montreal when it comes to cultural richness, vibrant street culture, walkability, bikability, and general joie de vivre. That is not to say that I think Regina should be expected to match that…

      I think I would like to see a more accurate comparison with similarly sized cities. Stephen Whitworth mentioned on the Dog Blog a few days ago that we could be similarly branded to Halifax or Portland, and I think those are definitely cities we should be striving to emulate. They too are larger than Regina but are culturally rich, vibrant cities worth following at a scale that is a little closer to home. And, to give credit where credit is due, I believe some City administrators have taken field trips to Portland to get inspiration for things like biking culture as well as the revitalization of the downtown. A great first step to be sure.

      I think we need to honestly compare ourselves to the best of our size (or slightly larger) and see where we need to improve instead of acting like a shorter commute to the airport makes us the best city to live in. I think we all know (deep down) that great cities are built from more than that.

      1. I agree on all points. Absolutely.

        To be honest, I’m not sure what my point was. I think, maybe, just that external marketing is a different game from the communications plan a city has internally. I think we should be putting our best face forward when we’re out and about on a national or international stage.

        The more people we draw into our little burg by focusing on the positives, the better our burg becomes.

        But yeah… it’s a problem if this “I Heart Regina” mentality means that honest critiques here at home are met with hostility. There’s a lot what needs fixing.

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