Backstory: Baltimore - 'Home of 1,000 slogans'
Crafting an identity is a million-dollar affair - but would a city by any other name, slogan, or motto, sell as well?
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(The mayor lives preoccupied about Baltimore's bad rep. He blames it, in part, on David Simon, the creator of three acclaimed HBO series: "Homicide: Life on the Streets," "The Corner," and "The Wire," dramas about cops and drug addicts and the hard side of life in Baltimore. But Landor researchers have found these series may actually attract out-of-towners.)Skip to next paragraph
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Not every Baltimorean attentive to city affairs favors the branding project. Lee Gardner, editor of The City Paper, the alternative to the Sun, says, "A lot of people would question the use of that money for that purpose."
As a brand or name for Baltimore, Mr. Gardner prefers the one his paper favors, Mobtown, an epithet pinned on Baltimore after the street riots here in 1812, sparked by the decision to make war on Britain. Despite its venerable legitimacy, Mobtown probably wouldn't attract tourists.
Bernard Lyons, an impresario who books gigs for jazz artists, abides in a cozy green pocket of the city called Lauraville. When told of Landor's purpose, he said, "Instead of drawing tourists here, seems to me we've got to get people out who live in the city." He's a satisfied immigrant, from England: "I love it here!"
He's averse to the kinds of changes image makers bring about. "Corporatization," he calls it, by which he means the invasion of national chain businesses that shoulder aside local enterprises.
It may be that Baltimore isn't amenable to branding, compromised by its very diversity. Some say it has no swank, no "there." Perhaps. Clearly it has few pretensions to high taste. Every Christmas, for instance, people from all over town visit a single block in Hampden, to witness the world famous (in Baltimore) Hub Cap Christmas tree, illuminated by thousands of lights.
John Waters's movie, "Pecker," made Hampden briefly famous for its kitsch, but changed it not at all. It thinks of itself as different, unique from other neighborhoods. It's a common conceit here; many of the others feel the same way. It's understandable: Little Italy is full of Italians; Highlandtown, Poles; and Pikesville sometimes seems as Jewish as Tel Aviv.
One can sense this in Fells Point, from where the old clipper ships sailed out to fight the British in 1812. Though gentrification has come, bohemian Fells Point remains free of Starbucks, Burger Kings, and most other outriders of globalism. Not to be outdone in that regard, Hampden is turning to the City Council to zone out what one Hampdenite called "formula retailers," as a danger to the neighborhood's uniqueness.
Robert Schultz, a Fells Point artist, is disdainful. "People who design slogans and such are never up on how rich this city is. They only try to generate interest in the Inner Harbor, the boutique hotels, and fake Irish pubs."
The rest of town, with its old markets and restaurants in diverse neighborhoods such as Greek Town or Canton, are rarely recommended to tourists, though that's where Baltimore is found.
"Besides," Mr. Schultz added, "Some of the slogans are silly."
Or desperate. Kurt Schmoke, Mayor O'Malley's predecessor, painted "The City That Reads" on every bus stop bench in town. Graffiti artists, apprised that half the children in Baltimore were born out of wedlock, changed it to "The City That Breeds."
Mayor O'Malley, when it was his turn to decorate the benches, came up with: "Baltimore: The Greatest City in America."
The staggering hyperbole stunned every would-be parodist into utter silence.