This week's select content from the Strong Towns Network comes from Tory Brecht, the Business Development Manager for the city of Davenport, Iowa. Brecht is a former corporate communications specialist, journalist and junior college adjunct faculty member. You can follow what is going on in Davenport on Facebook, email Tory your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow the latest from the city on twitter @DoingItDPort. Their website is www.doingitindavenport.com.
I didn't know whether to be flattered or offended when I saw this map on a newgeography blog post entitled "Is the Rust Belt a Dirty Word?" It was interesting to me that the cartographer carefully extended the rusty blob to reach up and grab Davenport (where I am the Business Development Manager).
On the one hand, the post was yet another in the relatively recent phenomena of extolling "rust belt chic" and embracing the moniker as a point of pride rather than running away from it. On the other hand, many of us have worked very, very, hard to show that our cities that took big hits in the 70s and 80s with the double whammy of a downturn in manufacturing and agriculture, ARE rebounding fairly nicely, thank-you-very-much.
What it really got me thinking about, though, was the power of perception. And that's something we've been working hard to change - especially, a bit surprisingly - to our hometown audience. Like many other mid-sized cities, Davenport's downtown emptied out and turned into a shell of itself during the rush to sprawl. What has been interesting over the past 10 years or so, however, is that it was primarily OUTSIDE developers who saw the potential of urban infill and re-creating a cool town center here. Davenport's central city turnaround (it is now the fastest-growing Census tract in the entire Quad-Cities metro area and is in the top ten fastest growing small-city downtowns as noted in this 2012 article by Kaid Benfield) was sparked by developers from St. Louis, Chicago, Madison and other surrounding communities. They saw what many locals - developers, investers, residents, business owners - took for granted or under-valued: solid bones of a downtown district, cool historic buildings begging for re-use and a fantastic riverfront location on th Mississippi.
So one of the first "to do's" I took on upon arrival here was to re-sell the community and what is happening here, to our own internal audience. To keep momentum going, we had to prove that momentum was real to a fairly skeptical audience.
We created a blog called Doingt It in Davenport, with the intent to highlight public-private partnerships that are tangible proof of progress and re-development. We also sprinkle in interesting demographic and other data that show Davenport (despite it's rust belt chic-ness) is on the rebound. This post with an animated GIF, in particular, turned a lot of heads. To take the message offline and into the real world, we also ordered up a batch of Doing It in Davenport signs that we ask our blog interviewees to post up on their new or re-developed sites. We just put in a second order for more signs last week!
The takeaway for me was that while it's important to "sell" your community to potential prospects, sometimes the most important (and most difficult) sell is to your own hometown folks. Once you do, however, they will become your biggest allies and promoters.
If you have some great content that you would like to see appear in this space, head over to the Strong Towns Network and share it as a blog. Each week we are taking the top blog content from the Network site and sharing it here. Many thanks to Tory Brecht and DoingItDavenport for their contribution.