In the City’s Image: City Slogans and Mottos

To help guide my blog for the next month or so while I gear up for exam season, I’ve decided to start a little series of smaller blog posts which will discuss the images of cities around the world. Lots of pieces fit together like a puzzle to create a city’s image, and I want to examine certain aspects of this kind of puzzle and comment on some examples from around the world. This time I will be discussing city mottos; be ready to read about city flags, demonyms, and landmarks later on, too.

I want to start this one off by asking a question. What do you think of something when it is described as ‘technically beautiful?’ Something that would come to my mind is maybe a piece of art that is technically done very well in its composition and creation, but it just doesn’t sit with me very well. So, it could be argued as technically beautiful, but the personal connection to it just isn’t there for me. Something that you may not think of when you hear this term is Ottawa, Ontario; I bring that up because ‘technically beautiful’ was actually Ottawa’s slogan in 2001, believe it or not. If you cringed at that, then you would agree that slogans have an impact on the creation (or ruin) of a city’s image.

In order for a slogan or motto to effectively market a city, the use of language must be perfectly accurate. (Keep in mind that typically a motto is an historically created name, thus usually isn’t there to market the city but provide a small description of it. Slogans are much more of the marketing material.) Obviously, the word ‘technically’ was not the best choice for Ottawa. Though it may have been somewhat true to a lot of people that Ottawa is technical beautiful, the word ‘technically’ has widely understood connotations which change its meaning to something more sarcastic. A more definite word choice would have possibly been ‘absolutely beautiful’ or ‘almighty beautiful’ where there is no (or at least very little) room for interpretation.

A slogan isn’t just a marketing tactic that appeals to a city’s beauty, though. While beauty is an excellent thing to market (because no one wants to travel to a city that is ugly), a lot of cities incorporate their main industries and histories in their slogans. For example, Kitchener’s motto is ‘prosperity through industry,’ reflecting on the industrious heritage that has contributed to its growth.

Regardless of what city’s merits contribute to its motto or slogan, a city’s slogan has a big effect on its tourism and image as far as it is marketed. Below I’ve included links if you’re curious to read some silly, odd, or brilliant city mottos:

National Post – Canada’s Best, Worst, and Most Confusing City Slogans

City Lab – [American] City Slogans

Wikipedia List of City Mottos

Some favourites from the Wikipedia list:
Karawang, Indonesia: ‘Struggle starting point.’ At least they’re honest.
Valletta, Malta: ‘The most humble city.’ Well, not really now.
Falkirk, Scotland: ‘Strike one, strike all – easier fight with the devil than the children of Falkirk.’ 100% badass motto.

Katie on, ugh, snow removal.

Weeks away from turning twenty years old, I still don’t drive a car. I’ll learn the skill somewhat soon, but as of right now and in the foreseeable future I am 100% a pedestrian and public transit user. I really like it this way – while I may be bound by weather and transit timetables (and the rare occurrence of a possible GRT strike next Monday), I like the cost effectiveness of my way of travel and how it forces me to be outside in more social environments than when I would otherwise be alone in a car. Also, I’m an environmentalist, and that argument speaks for itself.

I enjoy my transportation lifestyle, but of course there are things that irk me; drivers who think they have the right of way when they don’t, late (or worse, early) bus arrivals and departures, and snow. I will admit that my opinion of snow is that it’s problematic in cities. It is only this way, though, because cities seem to make it so. That is to say that if there were better organization of snow removal, a minor blizzard wouldn’t be that disruptive of an event. Other technologies such as heated sidewalks are an option, too. However, these things can’t happen by the snap of someone’s fingers. This technology is expensive.

What I will focus on in this blog is the relationship between snow and the bus system. However, I won’t really be focusing on the mobility side of things, but rather the accessibility of the situation that snow creates (or, rather, the lack thereof). Everyone knows that snow throws off bus schedules by a little bit due to poor visibility and often dangerous road conditions, so there’s no point talking about that. There’s something else that has really bothered me over the course of these winter months: the lack of snow removal or salting at bus stops. To get you more engaged in the topic, here are some pictures I collected on a recent walk home after the bus:

You can see how difficult it would be to enter and exit the bus at stops like this, especially if you had a stroller with you or mobility issues. Take note that these pictures were taken days after the last snowfall after the snow had frozen over due to low temperatures. The terrain would be just as frustrating to cross in fresh snow, pure ice, and even thick slush.

There is a solution to this that the City of Waterloo doesn’t seem to care for (except at extremely popular stops which look plowed). When sidewalk plows do their sidewalk work, it should not take more than an extra minute to plow over the majority of the snow that currently inhibits the accessibility of passengers entering and exiting buses at those stops. In addition to this, to ensure that street plows don’t negate the work sidewalk plows have done (which happens way too often, unfortunately) better time organization and scheduling would ensure that roads are plowed prior to when sidewalks and bus stops are plowed to keep all snow out of the way. Also, where is the salt? The bus stops I frequent are not salted, making the snow and ice trek all that more dangerous.

You could say in response to this blog post that I shouldn’t be complaining about the snow because I choose to live in Canada, etc, etc. While that’s somewhat of a valid point to make (it’s a little expensive to move to a whole other region at my age, but sure, technically I could move away) I would argue that it’s important for cities to accommodate transit riders and ensure more safe and comfortable areas for people to enter and exit the bus. This should be true regardless of the weather-related situations these cities are forced to be in. However, these winter accessibility issues aren’t the fault of the bus service. It should be the responsibility of both the bus service and the city to provide safe accessibility for transit riders. According to Grand River Transit and the City of Waterloo, they are both committed to high accessibility standards, yet they need to work together on this issue to resolve it.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Katie on the Relationship between Cities and Loneliness

cropped-img_20160717_082352.jpg The Rideau Canal, Ottawa, taken by me on a solitary walk on a July morning, 2016.

 It’s been a while since I’ve last written a blog post. In the meantime, my classes and the search for a summer job have both been demanding yet rewarding. Since my last blog post, I’ve come across a podcast called ‘The Lonely Hour,’ with which I’ve explored the feeling of loneliness through multiple avenues. Some I’ve identified with, and some not; mental illness, motherhood, travelling, writing, and even dining alone are some of the topics  it explores. In one episode, there was talk of how cities can make you feel lonely. This is the relationship I attempt to explore in this blog post.

   In ‘The Lonely Hour’ episode 10, traveller Matt Gross recites his essay, ‘I’m Never Alone Anymore, and I Miss It.’ While answering some questions afterwards, the relationship between cities and loneliness was brought up, which inspired this blog post. I’ve included it below:

   ‘Do you find that some cities are more lonely-making than others? And if so, how so?’

   ‘Cities can be very lonely making because they’re cities – they’re places where lots of people go to be anonymous, to live choc-a-bloc with their neighbours, yet not know them. People in some ways go there to be alone, to be lonely, but also be in a position where their solitude makes it possible to meet people. So, I’m not sure if there are particular cities that do that more than others – the bigger they are, the messier they are, sure. It has to do more, though, with the particular culture of the country: whether people talk to strangers; whether people are looking to have conversations; whether they’re outgoing. Certain cities like Buenos Ares and Ho Chi Minh City are great for being alone! Everybody wants to talk to you, it’s wonderful! It’s hard to be lonely just sitting on a bench drinking a beer or fresh coconut juice there. But other cities, I don’t know, Chongqing in Southwestern China, that’s not a great place to be alone. Nobody will talk to you, nobody will pay attention to you. There’s too many millions of people, too many billions of activities going on for anyone to notice that you’re there. It can be a pretty lonely place.’

What is loneliness?

   In order to accurately assess the relationship between loneliness and cities, there is one very important word that should be defined: loneliness. I think loneliness is different to everyone, in terms of what it is connected to, what evokes it, and how to overcome it (if at all). To me, and from what I know, loneliness is the personal experience had when there is too much silence and too little engagement going on for too long of a time. It’s up to the person to define how and where those lines are drawn – I think everyone has a different threshold for accepting independence and solitude before it becomes lonely, as everyone leads a different social life under different circumstances.

   Everyone deals with loneliness differently, and it can be equally understood as a negative, positive, or neutral emotion. It definitely has stronger negative connotations, for example, in the thesaurus you can find ‘loneliness’ is apparently synonymous with ‘heartache,’ ‘desolation,’ and even ‘friendlessness.’ However, loneliness can be a freeing lesson that can teach one how to live alone, which is something I’m learning right now. Ultimately, it’s an emotion that is just as valid as happiness or anger, and should be given the same amount of attention.

   It seems ironic that cities are hot spots for loneliness, because there are so many people living there compared to rural communities. It’s quick for people to assume that where there are more people, there is a bigger opportunity for conversation and connection. Mathematically, of course, this makes sense. However, behaviourally, this isn’t so. At least, this isn’t true for every city on the map. This brings me to the question: why? How do cities affect how people interact with each other, and why do they have the affect that they do? Whether cities have a positive, negative, or neutral affect on human interaction, this seems to be due to a mix of reasons which all interact with each other as mechanisms driving human behaviour and influencing human emotive response.

   From my own observations, I’ve noticed that whether or not I feel connected to people in my community is a result of how the community is built, the culture of the community, to what extent I can be engaged in the community, and to what extent I actively engage myself.

Loneliness and the Built Environment

   I’ll start with commenting on my first noted element affecting human emotion: the built environment. I’ll specify and say that by this I mean how the community is organized physically, what physical amenities are offered, and where all of the elements of the community are placed with respect to each other.

   In my planning classes, I have learned again and again how the built environment can influence social isolation in a community. The example used time and time again that speaks to this sentiment is suburban built form. It is argued that suburbs influence social isolation (which can be exacerbated to loneliness) because of multiple reasons: they are homogenous and uninteresting; they offer no connections to meaningful destinations if you are not driving a car; the layout of the community demands a car for travel which isolates people from each other; and they are physically isolated from other parts of the city which offer an opportunity for community engagement and human interaction. I’ve included a visual below to help you understand why:

   Perhaps now you see what I mean about the lack of connections accessible to the individual when you stray from the urban form of the core of the city, which is often built in either gridiron form or some form offering a similar amount of connection opportunities (which I define as intersections). It is easy to see how the Warped Parallel, Loops and Lollipops, and Lollipops on a Stick forms don’t do a lot of justice for human interaction – these forms do not support a mix of land uses (residential right beside community stores, for example) resulting in a homogenous society where everyone only eats and sleeps in the community between travelling to and from work. Here, there is very little opportunity for community engagement such as neighbourly chitchat, except when you and your neighbour travel from your front doors to your cars in the driveway every morning.

   Of course, built form isn’t directly nor is it solely correlated with loneliness – that is to say, just because you live in the suburbs, does not necessarily mean you are feeling lonely all of the time. It is arguable, however, that you are greater subject to loneliness than people who live in city centres which boast the opportunity for multiple activities at all times of the day. Even still, the built environment is definitely not the only mechanism at play in affecting people’s emotions or solitude. Here I argue that the culture of the community (or region, or even country in general) has a very large impact on a person’s solitude and, hence, loneliness.

Loneliness and Culture

   In his interview on The Lonely Hour, Matt Gross mentions ‘whether people talk to strangers; whether people are looking to have conversations; whether they’re outgoing’ is a playing factor in determining whether a city is lonely-making. For the purposes of this blog post, I argue that rather than the culture of the country, it’s more the culture of the community that plays this role. (However, I say that as a Canadian in an ultimately multicultural national community – in a much smaller country such as Liechtenstein, for example, the culture of the country may be spread nationally. But this is just arguing semantics.)

   This is interesting to consider, and it’s different for every place. In your city, are people welcoming? Do you say hello to people passing by the street, or is it at the very least not too weird to smile to them? Are there lots of different ethnic cultures in your community, and are they culturally accepted by your neighbours? Are there events that you can participate in around your community which you feel wholly welcome to join? If you are actually playing along and answered these questions negatively, perhaps your community is subject to being more lonely-making than other communities which are more welcoming, accepting, and engaging.

Loneliness and You

   Even after the considerations this post makes, the biggest lonely-making factor is yourself (at least, this is what I’m arguing). A city or community could offer so many social connection points, social activities, parks and green spaces, a welcoming atmosphere, and it would still be you who is in the driving seat making the decisions of where and how to participate in your community, if at all.

   An example to illustrate this which I’m very familiar with is myself. I go to an engaging university through which I participate in some volunteering, I go outside a fair amount and take the bus at least twice a weekday, and I go out some nights with friends. I have a lot of friends in my program and in many faculties while also maintaining lots of long-distance friendships. I’m confident with myself and can easily chat with strangers, and the communities I’m a part of are what I would consider welcoming, interesting, and friendly. Even with all of this that my city offers and which I engage in, I still find myself experiencing loneliness at times when I didn’t even know it had creeped up on me. Is this the city’s fault? I doubt it – Kitchener-Waterloo is definitely a place with an engaging atmosphere, offering so many things to do and places to visit. Rather, my loneliness might be a result of some personal decisions of which the built environment and culture of the community were seperate. My emotions might be influenced by the built environment and culture of my community, however, these are not the decisive factors; I am seperate from the place in which I live.

   The idea for this blog post sparked after listening to that podcast episode, but it really came into fruition as a university student who is experiencing living in a relatively unfamiliar city on my own. Then again, I will be living in another relatively unfamiliar city when I move for my co-op job in the summer, then I will be back here in Kitchener-Waterloo for another four months, then off to who knows where for another four months for co-op, and so on. I anticipate the University of Waterloo’s co-op stream to be very lonely-making as I experience living in a new place every four months after this summer, testing relationships with all of my friends. I wanted to explore how cities influence our emotions because I’ll be exploring new cities every other four months for the next three years, and I think it’s good to prepare myself for the loneliness which that may cause.

 With that said, I hope you learned something new about how you are emotionally connected to your community, and perhaps how your city’s built form or culture has affected your mental health, if at all. To learn more about how people are approaching loneliness in cities around the world, check out the links below:

The Lonely Hour Podcast – Matt Gross’ Essay (text)

Talk To Me London – an initiative to curb London’s norm of ignoring passers-by

Edmonton has a Mental Health Action Plan – does your city have one?

‘The Lonely City’ by Olivia Liang (review) – now on my reading list.

   I take a lot of time coming up developing blog post ideas because I really like to put a lot of thought and research into them. I hope to have another one up before April, but March is a very heavy month in terms of class work, so we will see about that…