During the debacle surrounding that Guardian column which portrayed Spokane and Spokanites as having no purpose except for Gonzaga basketball, I have to admit I was taken aback by the ferocity of the public response. Don’t get me wrong—I disagreed with Cody just as much as everyone else. But in my experience, most local residents tend to be fairly low-key about expressing their feelings for our city. A public and vociferous outcry over a column published in a British newspaper did not seem to be in character.
But maybe it is. I noted during the mess of that article that our civic consciousness often takes the form of “un-pride.” We are so proud of our city, that sometimes we seem not to be. We are self-deprecating, choosing nicknames like “Spokompton” which have so little basis in reality that you have to wonder whether their original purveyors had a cruelly and deeply biting sense of humor. Some of us occasionally bash our city for the sole purpose of keeping it uncrowded, unvarnished, and inexpensive for everyone else. We embrace—and maybe even celebrate—our flaws. Where some might see blemishes, we see potential and opportunity, and we’re always searching for a diamond in the rough. Think North Monroe, Garland, an early South Perry. Even places like Browne’s Addition which today are some of Spokane’s most beloved neighborhoods.
It takes a special kind of savvy and authenticity to pull off this sort of “un-pride” (which, in a subtle irony, is actually pride) in a destination marketing campaign. Portland, Cleveland, and a number of other U.S. cities have promoted their cities using similar ideas and unconventional messages and visions. And local resident Derrick Oliver has crafted a concise, compelling, and deeply satisfying message of an “un-cool” city with his “Spokane Doesn’t Suck” campaign. It’s an incredibly “hip” sentiment. So as Visit Spokane and other local organizations reportedly work on a new vision to promote Spokane to regional visitors, perhaps it’s time to look beyond the subtle jab of “near nature, near perfect.” (Who wants to be near perfect?)
Imagine what we could achieve if we could craft a compelling message for our city that embraces its insecurities while at the same time drawing in curious visitors.
Sure, it might break just about every marketing convention and rule. But it would also be true to our city, absurdly trendy, and authentic in a deep and convincing way. What would you choose to promote? Which exhibitions of “un-pride” make you the most proud? Which “blemishes” would you put into plain view for all to see?
Anthony Gill is a Spokane native and graduate of Santa Clara University. He is the founder of Spokane Rising, an urbanist blog focused on ways to make our city a better place to live.