#HamOnt – paradise of boosterism?

“The booster’s enthusiasm is the motive force which builds up our American cities. Granted. But the hated knocker’s jibes are the check necessary to guide that force. In summary then, we do not wish to knock the booster, but we certainly do wish to boost the knocker.” –Sinclair Lewis

Boosterism is the act of “boosting” (or promoting) a town, city, or organization, with the goal of improving public perception of it.

I have been watching the various social media outlets with a smirk on my face today as there has been quite a shitstorm of discussion of boosterism in my home town.

This discussion is of interest to me due to several of my comments on social networks and blog postings in the past about my perceptions of Hamilton, Ontario, its businesses and citizenry.  I love my city and promote it regularly as a hub of business, thought, community and yes, indeed, art to folks outside of its borders.

I do however also lament its rampant petty crime, high unemployment, devastated and empty stretches of the downtown core and the constant and consistent evidence of the local level of government’s entrenchment in old thought patterns and their seemingly ignoring the change that is occurring right under their fucking noses despite themselves.

It isn’t a perfect place to live, but its up to its residents to want to effect change in it.

As a recent (12 year) resident of this city and even more recent (7 year) full time employee within this city, I also find it great to see the influx of new businesses and young entrepreneurs to this city, bringing their visions of a future for Hamilton, Ontario.  I find their energies and ideas refreshing, however they also need to realize that folks HAVE been working and investing in this city for years before they even moved here or, perhaps were even born.

Ironic that a group whose blood boils over historic buildings being torn down has failed to even attempt to make inroads with the people who came before them and assisted in laying the foundations for their businesses within the city.

Keep in mind, I’m not aiming to knock the young’uns down here, merely ask them to think critically before they open their mouths publically and online.  Especially if someone questions your message or else GASP disagrees with you!

And if you think I’m being mean, keep in mind that I am one of the ones supporting your businesses by voting with my participation in your events, supporting you economically and – even in the case of a business that has banned me for a negative online review – I am sending customers your way!

Recent attempts at promoting Hamilton as a city to invest and do business in have left me feeling cynical, jaded and with a rather saccharine taste in my mouth – strangely enough, both of them involve a boosterish slogan message about this city, one currently heavily marketed on a t-shirt and one in a video. 

My main issue with both these attempts is that these slogans oversimplify the support of our city to where it seems hollow and turned into a commodity.  Yes the accentuate the positive, however it comes off as simplistic in my opinion.  I will happily explain further to anyone who asks me in person, however we also need to face up to the facts that this city is not perfect, nor are our attempts to improve it.

We need our dissidents, our naysayers, a sober second thought and a kick in the ass some times folks.  Anyone who says they don’t is either lying or outright delusional.

While we live in a city that has a bright and growing community of young entrepreneurs in arts, technology, medicine, business and other fields, we also have a large group of unemployed, underemployed and disenfranchised people living within the same borders.  These t-shirts and videos must ring hollow for someone struggling with supporting their family while on social assistance and visiting the various food banks.

I just worry that condensing things to a t-shirt or video slogan is overly simplistic and leans a little towards boosterism. We all know what our city means to us – we need to focus on communicating about and promoting it to people and businesses outside its borders without becoming jingoistic.

Posting these items and ideas online will indeed stoke a conversation from people, many of whom have been working in this city for years – just not the one the original posters apparently wanted.  However all the comments made on various sites, aside from personal attacks, are equally valid as the ones made by the folks producing the slogans. You may not like them or agree with them but they DO represent those folks’ experience as business owners in this city as well as the people in the video.

#MyHamilton unfortunately cannot be summed up with a glib marketing slogan.

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2 thoughts on “#HamOnt – paradise of boosterism?

  1. There is a naive exceptionalism to a lot of this boosterism as well, one that wants to reduce city life to a bright and shiny formula, and then recycling it in a social media fishbowl until it becomes reality. Richard Florida meets Rhonda Byrne, if you will. There’s also the faintly absurd reality of “being a tourist in your home town,” with all of the damning ideologocal baggage that goes with that, as if owning all of the merch makes you a more authentic local. (I always imagine it like the lead singer of a band who wears the band T-shirt onstage.)

    Your thoughts mesh somewhat with this interesting perspective on boosterism as civic immaturity: http://rustwire.com/2011/02/02/the-problem-with-boosterism

    Dissent is a core part of being in a great city. The fact that Hamilton is still stuck on cutesy kitsch should not be celebrated. Even some of those who have promoted the YCDAIH franchise know it to be a convenient fabrication (bonus points to anyone who Instagrams toes and tees on owners forced to commute to points west for gainful employment).

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