I've lived in some fairly miserable cities in my life--Kaohsiung and Shanghai spring to mind. Reese Witherfork tells me that Kaohsiung has gotten worse since I was there in 1986, and everything I've read assures me that Shanghai has gotten better since I was there in 1991. Still, I have no particular desire to return to either, and whenever I've felt inclined to lament the shortcomings of anyplace I've lived in the past 15 years, I can always cheer myself up by saying, "At least it's not as bad as Shanghai."
Although not as crowded or filthy or schizophrenic or cruel as Kaohsiung or Shanghai, the city I live in now isn't exactly glamorous or exciting (which I'm told Shanghai has become in certain ways, though even when I lived there you could find glamor and excitement if only you had loads and load of foreign currency, which I lacked). Instead, like so many once prosperous cities in the rust belt, it's economically depressed and culturally deprived, blighted by urban decay and bad management. Some cities have managed to remake themselves into something that can draw industry and tourists, but this place hasn't--partly because it's also cursed by crappy weather.
I can't help feeling, however, that it could be a reasonably appealing place if only someone could shape it properly, then sell that shape to other. Apparently the city council feels the same way too, because billboards have been springing up around town, bearing slogans to help residents feel good about their city.
Unfortunately the slogans are thoroughly half-assed. Instead of actually promoting the city, citing its strengths and inciting pride, the slogans bear witness to just how little civic pride we've got. One big billboard features big block letters written on notebook paper, stating,
It's OK to love this town. --Anonymous
Anonymous? Anonymous? The city council can't even find someone willing to go on record saying that it's OK to love this town? Then there's the fact that we're not assured that it's GOOD or GREAT to love this town--no, it's merely OK. Every time I pass the sign I snort in derision. The billboard is worse than blank air or even a derelict brewery in terms of announcing and advertising the city's strengths: blank air can at least provide you with a decent view of the land or city scape, while an abandoned beer factory announces to teetotalers that the place has cast off some of its hedonistic devotion to booze and announces to imbibers that at some point residents understood what a city needed to keep its residents happy.
Another billboard points out that "Lots of places are cold in the winter." Well, that's true, but it's not exactly a motto that warms the heart--or anything else, for that matter.
I'm waiting for a billboard that tells me, "Buffalo has more vacant houses than we do," or "Be glad you don't live on an Indian reservation." Though I could always offer them a slogan of my own: "This town isn't as unpleasant as Shanghai in the early 1990s."