Slogans, Boosterism, and Being the City of Waterfalls

A slogan does not make for a great city, nor does a single dominant culture.

Hamilton is best branded as the City of Waterfalls, no matter how much effort and money is put into creating other brands. Why the City of Waterfalls? It describes Hamilton best, the brand was created by a group of citizens to promote the over 100 waterfalls in our city (no other city even comes close), and people can claim it as their own.

The best slogans are simple, and quickly capture the idea or emotion they need to convey.

Great cities cannot be distilled into a traditional corporate brand. I Heart New York works because you can choose the parts of New York which you love and project them onto the slogan.

Great cities are not monolithic, they are places of many cultures and many sub-cultures which come together to  enable everyone to pursue self-fulfillment.

Boosterism and Hamilton

Boosterism has an appearance of working for a short-time, there is advertising media to be captured and an odd short-term social status to be gained from jumping onto the latest marketing slogan put forth by established institutions. Hamilton is not alone in this, think of all the companies and public bodies which create campaigns which few buy into.

The closest Hamilton has come to a new slogan, supported by City Hall, is "Art is the New Steel". It almost works because it is based in the reality that, for a time prior to the current stage of gentrification, a local arts scene emerged to create a vibrant retail landscape in Downtown Hamilton where commercial storefront were boarded up after the decline of manufacturing in the late 1980s and into the 1990s.

The challenge for widespread adoption of the slogan is that Art is one part of Hamilton, and this new slogan was seen to challenge the feeling of Hamilton as a blue collar place. (That artists and blue collar workers have much in common is a whole other blog post)

Within the artist community, there were some who rejected "Art is the New Steel" for a myriad of reasons. The slogan began within the artistic community, but once City Hall tried to make official, they made it officially dead - even the artists who loved the slogan wanted no part in the City's efforts to gentrify Hamilton.

Welcome to UnStoppable, the official campaign launched by Mayor Fred Eisenberger in October 2017 as part of his top priority HAmazon bid. It did eventually gain wide use, when City Hall's cover-up of the 24-billion litre water-water spill was revealed by a whistle-blower, unstoppable was a good description of the mess City Council created.

The Ambitious City, a term coined as a pejorative against Hamilton in a 1847 The Globe column, worked when Hamilton's civic leaders of government and industry were doing many firsts. Today, attempts to return to this slogan have failed for many reasons. It is a good aspirational slogan, in order to succeed, we need aspirational people to reach positions of leadership in our public institutions. It may yet come back.

This brings us back to City of Waterfalls. When first introduced by the efforts of the citizen City of Waterfalls initiative lead by local philanthropist Chris Ecklund in the 2000s, people pointed to Niagara Falls and some laughed at the attempt to brand Hamilton's Waterfalls.

Niagara Falls as two big waterfalls beside each other, and a tourism district. That is it, Hamilton has a dozen really interesting waterfalls and numerous small ones. They are located all across our region, and they are truly something we all have in common.

This is why, despite naysayers at City Hall and elsewhere, despite some misstep along the way, Hamilton as the City of Waterfalls remains a favourite underground slogan.

A note of thanks to Margaret Shkimba's chapter in Reclaiming Hamilton for provoking my thoughts regarding boosterism and informing my view on City of Waterfalls