Deputy Mayor Abel seems to be suffering from his own identity crisis of late. I see him at events now appearing as a send up of Jerry Lewis’ character The Nutty Professor sporting a Blues Brothers hat. But it isn’t his identity crisis that I’m concerned of it’s the one he’s looking to impose on our town.
I can’t make up my mind if a recent piece he has contributed to the Aurora Community Focus site is either poorly conceived or poorly written. The more I re-read it I believe it is both, decide for yourself here: http://www.livinginaurora.com/aurora-downtown-core-
The Clr. refers to the Aurora “Cultural” Centre as “treasured”, this only a few weeks after the very controversial issue of the outrageous Lease and Cultural Services agreements that were thankfully reformed and a wholesale turnover of the board at the Centre was achieved, also thankfully.
Unfortunately this ongoing mess has seen the displacement of the town’s paid for Heritage Centre, only to be re conceived in a single room.
Later in the piece the Clr. turns his attention to a real treasure, that being Austin Texas.
Austin does brand itself as live music capital of the world, as evidenced on their website here: http://www.austintexas.org/visit/music-scene/ but the key to their identity is that it is unquestionable, deeply rooted in almost a century of history, not the by-product of some revitalization effort a mere 15 years ago.
I’m not sure if Clr. Abel has ever visited the live music capital of the world but being a live music fan myself I have. Back in 2004 I went with the sole purpose of listening to live music. I flew in for one show and left the next morning, and yes it’s true in Austin even the airport rocks : http://perceptivetravel.com/blog/2009/07/16/austin-rocks-even-the-airport-is-cool/
The venue was The Continental Club: http://www.continentalclub.com/Austin.html a small club that exposes and embraces it’s history from the late 1950’s.
One of the opening acts included a washboard player, but I was there to catch the recently formed trio Grady. Grady was born out of the Big Sugar crash that saw Canadian guitar legend Gordie Johnson find a new home in Austin. Here’s a photo of the line-up at that time which included Chris “The Whip” Layton on drums:
Here’s a shot I managed to pull off while sitting practically on the stage:
While Johnson was working on his new sound he brought with him a fellow Canadian act that he was producing The Trews : http://www.thetrewsmusic.com/. This was prior to their Den of Thieves release.
It was a raw, energetic night of musical mayhem for a crowd of no more than 40 or so. A night to remember.
That was Austin to me, and still is.
So what does any of that have to do with Aurora?
I will not disagree with Clr. Abel, it is certainly amazing what identity can do, but Richard Florida, who Clr. Abel cites makes a distinction when it comes to identity, one that is authentic and unique:
“Artists and creators help regions, cities and regions create a sense of social inclusion and authenticity. Economic prosperity relies on cultural, entrepreneurial, civic, scientific, and artistic creativity. Creative workers with these talents need communities, organizations, and peers that are open to new ideas and different people. They also look to places that are authentic and unique and the large presence of artists helps a community create an identity that is distinctive. Places receptive to new forms of culture, alternative lifestyles and identities and new views on social status and power structures will benefit significantly in the creative age.”
You can read more in this interview here: http://www.labkultur.tv/blog/interview-richard-florida
This is why Clr. Abel’s proposal that Aurora adopt Austin’s shadow as its identity so preposterous.
Austin’s culture that cannot be re-created in a Petri dish by politicians, urban design comities consultants or expensive planning studies.
There’s one key element to Austin’s success that Clr. Abel has seemingly glossed over. Robert Rodriguez said it best “People don’t live in Austin to work, they work to live there.”
If that’s the motivation for revitalization of our downtown core, how exactly do branding and identity fit into all this?
Trevor Paetkau’s piece from May 30th, 2012 on branding and the hollowing out of our cities should be required reading for Aurora council as they look to revitalize the downtown core, and god forbid look to embrace Clr. Abel’s proposal. You can read it here: http://trevorpaetkau.com/branding-the-rural-city/
The following are Paetkau’s more salient points:
In the last year we’ve seen strategic reports commissioned by towns across the region come back with curious similarities; one of which is that they engage in a process of attracting Richard Florida’s creative class. As recent arrival in one of these small cities, I’m all in favour of the initiative. As a long time resident of the nation’s biggest city I know damn well that crafting an authentic message that will attract the creative class is a pipe dream.
either a) don’t look for external validation or b) pony up
Stratford is instructive that way. Already $90,000,000 in debt (gulp, for a town of 35,000) the city builders have invested $10s of millions more into a University Campus focused on Digital Technologies, a communications infrastructure, and the consequential spinoffs. The result is international attention from foundations and academic institutions worldwide.
The thing is, it didn’t start with a branding project. Only after the investment was made is the story being told. And only because the investment was made is the story authentic.
And probably most to the point, the initiative was not about brand at all our city builders should remain wary of the processes and promises. The truth is, if there is a compelling reason for people to choose our towns as a place to live, work and be entertained, they will. On the other hand, no amount of market research, no big number of ads, billboards or social media pages will convince somebody otherwise if there isn’t something REAL on the ground … a reason.
Before Aurora, and its Deputy Mayor gets all giddy about painting any more cheesy murals around town, or converting flower boxes into ramshackle craft projects reproduced exhaustively elsewhere and meaningless here.
Before we mirror Newmarket’s Riverwalk without recognizing the one missing ingredient being a river.
Before we build an expensive Performing Arts Centre with money we don’t have to build or operate, you know considering we hand over $370,000 a year to a “Cultural” Centre, that doesn’t have to be self sustaining.
Before we sound off on how to burn through gobs of money and then hope to recoup it by way of “inclusive creativity”.
Before all of that we do need to arrive at an identity.
Perhaps more of an inclusive one and one that makes a difference, not a bastard offspring of the live music capital of the world.
Aurora will never be Austin 2.0, nor should it.
We have our own path to take, and if the Council Critters want to string together a couple chords and busk outside town park in the hopes that others may lend an ear that is their choice.
I certainly won’t be putting anything into Clr. Abel’s hat, which is a shame because whether he is wearing it or not form this vantage point it looks quite remarkably empty.