Plain old nice. The anti-claim to fame.


What is your hometown famous for?

Maybe this is an -ism of places with an inferiority complex, but there are a lot of titles floating around there. World's largest _____, Oldest _____ in North America, First _____ to _____, longest, tallest, celebrity endorsed, most expensive - we've all seen this stuff. Some people really go to town with the specious claims to fame, even throwing in branding campaigns, slogans, signs and banners.

If anyone works in tourism, you'll have to fill me in on how well these tactics work. Personally, I struggle with the whole thing. I think it's great for places to identify what makes them special and focus on that. I think it's great for places to feel like they have an identity. But it's hard to build an identity on anomolies like having the tallest something or other west of New York, or the oldest thingamabob.

I think we're further ahead just doing a nice job with the normal everyday stuff. 

"Don't underestimate nice." My mom told me as we were sketching out stencils with which to spray chalk the streets that night. "It doesn't have to be 'wow' - it's just nice. Nice is underrated."

Here's what we ended up doing (I know it was posted earlier but I wanted to offer some additional contex).

People quietly just killin' it in a great little city from Gracen Johnson on Vimeo.

These are not the things that make it into our tourism pamphlets but when tourists stop me in the street asking for a nice place to go, these come to mind. They make my daily existence more enjoyable and inspire me to try harder. They're just nice.

I'm curious, can a city survive on nice? Cities compete so much on nearly every arbitrary factor they can think up, regardless if it even means anything. But I know that where I'm living, we don't actually talk much about the factors within our control - the stuff that makes a place feel cared for.

I'm not sure our obsession with claims to fame is indicitive of what we truly value about our cities. More likely it's a tourist ploy and a symptom of competition between cities for resources and people, or an attempt to build morale in a place lacking confidence. But are claims to fame even effective at any of the above?

Nothing boosts my morale more than seeing other people that are trying. Every nice paint job, every flower pot, every new business is what lifts my spirits and makes me excited to be here.

That makes me wonder if cities even need to compete. Rather than fighting each other for employers and government infrastructure projects, how much development of better health, happiness, and wealth can we unlock endogenously? There must be some case studies on this so let me know if you have any lessons on community-driven growth to share.

Chuck and friends of Strong Towns talk a lot about the hidden value of our cities. They talk about the hidden value of people in our cities too. The people I see tapping into this value are not aiming for spectacularly impressive changes. More often, they are looking to make something plain old nice.

Nice is achievable, it's meaningful, and in my experience, nice is more than good enough.