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6 Ways Cities Are Getting Into the Attention-Whore Game

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 last year.


"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?

#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.

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