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Sad attention grabs are something you expect from reality show characters or self-important activists, people who don't really have any dignity to lose. Surely our civic institutions are above all that.

No, not really. Cities apparently are as anxious to get people to like them as any small child or eager puppy, and often just as clumsy in their attempts to win that attention. That's why you see them doing things like...

6
Pandering to UFO Nuts

Fyffe, Alabama, population 971, was allegedly visited twice by aliens in 1989 and that's apparently all that ever happened in that town. The Alabama legislature almost immediately proclaimed Fyffe the official "UFO Capital of Alabama" and gave the town a $10,000 tourism grant. Fyffe eventually established the annual "UFO (Unforgettable Family Outing) Festival," which is apparently an ordinary small-town fair that stretches to relate every attraction to UFOs somehow.

For some reason, that is enough to draw 10,000 visitors. Before the UFO business, Fyffe did not have any kind of civic celebrations at all, so basically the entire town's culture and civic events are based around a few people thinking they saw UFOs in 1989.

Fyffe's mayor says it makes perfect sense - "Ider, Ala., has its Mule Day," he said. "UFOs are what we're famous for."


That looks like a pretty identifiable FO to me.

Of course this is pretty small-time compared to Roswell, New Mexico, whose official tourism site is designed to evoke a 1950s B-movie poster, thanks to the 1947 event where an alien ship crashed into the ground near that town, and the government covered it all up and did alien autopsies or something, because they were afraid of nerds with beards finding out the truth.

Roswell has a UFO museum as well as an annual UFO festival, and unlike Fyffe's all-in-good-fun festival, this one is for people to talk for serious about real UFOs. This festival is funded by the city itself, which put $150,000 into it in 2010.


"Why won't anyone take our theories seriously?"

Unlike Fyffe, apparently Roswell actually had a history and a culture, and some of the citizens were against cheesing out their town as Alien Disneyland but I guess they're screwed.

It could be worse. At least the phenomena they're building their image around is something some people actually believe exists, even if it's mostly crazy people. Meanwhile, Riverside, Iowa, is building its appeal around being the birthplace of Captain Kirk.

Other than that giant off-brand Enterprise (lawsuits, you know), they also renamed their annual "Riverfest" to "Trek Fest," named all their shops after Star Trek puns, and sell $3 vials of dirt from the exact site Kirk was (will be?) born. So they actually previously had a festival celebrating their community or heritage or whatever, and now it's celebrating a fictional sci-fi universe whose only connection to the town comes from a throwaway line and a fan petition.

5
Pretending to Have the Power to Make Foreign Policy

Every so often, maybe two or three times a day, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors forgets San Francisco is a city and starts making foreign policy resolutions. Previously, they've declared elections in Burma illegitimate, passed a resolution to condemn Israel's attack on the Gaza flotilla, and come up with a policy of how the entire world should deal with Peak Oil. One blogger calculated that the five hour session for the condemnation of Israel cost approximately $7,000 in city money.


"Hey, did you hear the San Francisco Board of Supervisors thinks our government is illegitimate?"
"Who?"

Not to be outdone by their cross-bay neighbors, Berkeley has passed a resolution calling for German prosecutors to prosecute Donald Rumsfeld for war crimes and another demanding that the U.S. pull troops out of Iraq. They made an attempt to pass a resolution to honor Bradley Manning (the private who leaked the military documents to Wikileaks).

Curiously, you'll find hundreds of articles about the Bradley Manning thing leading up to the vote, but it takes a fair amount of digging to find news articles from the day after, when the measure was voted down (to the compelling counterargument of, "oh, come on"). You could almost hear the media deflate and walk home sadly. But whatever will become of Private Manning without the symbolic support of Berkeley?

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4
City "Branding"

So apparently the concept of "city branding" became a hot new trend a while ago, probably inspired by cities like Las Vegas, which changed its image to a family destination in the 90s with ads showing off their roller coasters and fake European cities, and then swapped back to its "Sin City" image a couple of years later with slogans like, "What happens here, stays here," hinting that it would be a good place to commit crimes.


"People who cheat the house, also stay here."

Both image changes were decently successful at the time, and apparently the takeaway message for other cities was that if you came up with a new logo and slogan, people would magically flock to any crappy city. They forgot that Vegas actually built all those roller coasters when they told people to come ride roller coasters, and that they actually hired dozens of shows worth of live nude girls when they promised travelers live nude girls.

Meanwhile, the city of Melbourne's $240,000 logo promises people... uh...

You tell me. Anyway, many citizens of Melbourne were not happy with the city spending so much money on... that... while they were making budget cuts to community programs, nor were they happy with the fact all the money went to a design firm in Sydney, so they could tell Melbourne what Melbourne was all about. Proponents argue that it's money well spent because now everyone can tell that Melbourne is... uh... something.

Meanwhile, the German city of Cottbus had a contest to design its logo. The 8,000 euro prize went to this:

Pretty much every user-submitted alternative on this page is better than that, but that's cool, some disturbed grade-schooler now has 8,000 euros toward his college fund I guess.

At least they didn't pay $487,000, like Montreal did for this logo:

Whose slogan seems to imply that Montreal is imaginary, but had the potential to become tangible.

And Abilene, Texas paid $107,000 for someone to design this:

And then they decided not to use it. Probably because it was stupid. One tourism official pointed out the stars would just look like dots if they put it on anything small, like lapel pins. Presumably she was too polite to also point out that "frontiering" doesn't make any sense.

So does the "branding" thing ever work? What do you think? Would you ever change your mind about a city based on its logo or slogan? I mean like, in a positive way. Would you ever go, "Well, I always thought of Detroit as a shithole but wow they have a snazzy logo. Maybe I'll go visit."


Convincing!

So no, it doesn't work in that sense. But it does keep graphic designers employed during a recession.

3
"Name-Change" Stunts

One thing that's guaranteed to get a city or town in the news is changing its name to something stupid and gimmicky, even temporarily. Because news articles don't have to put the "temporary" part in the headline, and people are so sick of nasty, self-serving "I'm going to burn a Koran" or "I'm Snooki" type attention grabs that they're just happy to read about a tame, harmless publicity stunt.


After a week of this, wouldn't you be glad to read a story about a town called "Farts" or something?

A while ago, Topeka, Kansas changed its name to "Google" for a month, as an attempt to get Google to pick their city for a pilot program where they'd wire up a city with fiber-optics for free. It got Google's attention enough that Google changed its name to "Topeka" for April Fool's Day:

... but as for the fiber-optic winners, well, nine months later, Google is still thinking about it.

Elsewhere, Ismay, Montana renamed itself "Joe," after the legendary quarterback Joe Montana.

Joe Montana wasn't born there and has no connection to the place, and the whole idea actually came about because of a radio station stunt. Nevertheless, apparently every news outlet had to pounce on this. According to the town clerk: "HBO is talking about us on television, we were on CNN, in Newsweek, on NBC Nightly News and now I am talking to Seattle."

Other name-changing municipalities include Richland, New Jersey becoming "Mojito," due to a Bacardi sponsorship, Hot Springs, New Mexico becoming "Truth or Consequences," after the game show, Halfway, Oregon becoming Half.com in return for money, and Clark, Texas becoming DISH in exchange for free satellite TV.


Classy.

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2
Begging Shamelessly To Host World Events

Nothing brings out the whore in a city like a chance to host a world event, like the Olympics, or the World Cup. San Francisco spent the past month hyperventilating about whether they would get the America's Cup yacht race while the organizers played them against Rhode Island of all places, to try to get a better deal.


One of the committee's biggest concerns was how the boats would get up the hills.

The recent awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup events to Russia and Qatar was such a big deal that even American sports fans got upset, despite not knowing which sport the World Cup was for (half thought it was Quidditch).


There actually is a real Quidditch World Cup championship. Unfortunately it looks like this.

Competing for the Olympics also brings out the worst in organizing committees, with at least one big bribery scandal and apparently many smarter bribers who don't get caught.


Pro Tip: Try handing it off UNDER the table.

But it's all worth it, they promise, because the Olympics or World Cup or International Frog Racing Championship is going to raise your city's (or country's) profile and bring in tons of tourist money and everything in the host cities will be rebuilt new and shiny with those tourist dollars. Your city will hit the jackpot.

Unfortunately, history shows that's not true. More often than not, the Olympics ends up costing countries more money than they bring in. The World Cup isn't much better, with one analysis showing that the 1994 U.S.-hosted World Cup lost all the host cities $5.6 billion - $9 billion combined, with the average host city losing $712 million while misleading millions of American youngsters into believing that soccer is an important sport.


Even after they saw the uniforms.

Another analysis shows that host countries' economies actually underperform the world average the year before and after they host the World Cup). If you're lucky, visitors spend just enough to cover your expenses while they're there, and then after the event they forget you exist.

All a city is really guaranteed to get out of one of these international events is civic pride, and if they're cool with throwing away a lot of money to feel good about themselves, so be it. But it seems like every time one of these things are up for grabs, some politician is doing their version of the Simpsons' Monorail song-and-dance promising world fame and gold falling from the skies, and the whole city falls for it.

1
Imitation Space Needles

And here is where things take a turn for the oddly specific.

It used to be a thing that when a city hosted a World's Fair, they'd build an impressive, attention-grabbing structure of some sort -- that's how Paris wound up with the Eiffel Tower, for instance. Well, in 1962, Seattle went with the Space Needle.

Space was very cool at the time and they built a fairly elegant Jetsons-esque tower with a rotating restaurant at the top and a temporary elevator until flying cars were invented, which will be any day now. It's been there ever since and is a defining part of the Seattle skyline, causing other cities to sit up and take notes on how to make a cityscape look memorable and unique.

So six years later, San Antonio built this for their World's Fair:

"What, the building next to the air traffic control tower?" you might be wondering, but no, that tower is their 1968 World's Fair attraction, the "Tower of the Americas". San Antonio wasn't the last city to try to make its skyline unique by copying the most distinctive feature of another city's skyline, either. There's also Calgary:

And Macau:

Auckland:

Sydney:

And so on.

Some people might point out the Space Needle itself wasn't totally original and was actually based off a TV tower in Stuttgart, Germany but it was the first time a city tried to distinguish its skyline with an observation tower of that shape. Once the world associates a landmark with a city, everyone else is just going to look like copycats, hopping on board a trend like a high school kid wearing what the popular kid wears.

And in the end, I suppose being a cool city is like being a cool teenager. You've got to stop trying so hard and just be yourself. Unless you're Detroit.

Check out more from Christina in 8 Stupid Amazon Products With Impressively Sarcastic Reviews and The 6 (Wrong) Questions Men Love to Ask About Women.

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