The Allegheny Conference and the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance and the Convention Bureau and associated other movers and shakers have worked on and off over recent years to create a new Pittsburgh "brand" (what an awful word for a city!) via slogans and marketing campaigns. Most of these things have been ridiculed out of existence, partly because the very idea of doing this sort of thing is just short of ludicrous, and partly because the slogans and campaigns have been related only marginally to what we find in the city and the region today.
They're at it again. The Vision Thing is back. The ambition is a mite more realistic. Will that make a difference? Should it?
From the folks at ImaginePittsburgh, celebrating the upcoming 250th birthday of the city (click on the link to their homepage at your own peril; it comes with an irritating sound file), itself brought to us by the usual powers-that-be, an RFP: "The Pittsburgh Region Re-Imagined."
Pittsburgh is poised for yet another re-birth as the region simultaneously celebrates its 250th anniversary and navigates its decades-long transformation from its seat of the industrial revolution to the edge of other greatness. It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who penned that “each generation must write its own books,” and so it is: this generation of “Pittsburghers” endeavors to write a third chapter to the Pittsburgh region’s renaissance.
In some ways, the writing has already begun. Researchers, journalists, and ratings gurus beyond Pittsburgh have declared the Pittsburgh region to be among the most artistic, most literary, most recreational, most family-friendly, most civically-engaged anywhere. It’s celebrated for its unlike-anywhere-else neighborhoods and towns; for its world-class universities and medical centers; for its historical spots as well as cutting-edge industries; for its not-to-be-surpassed entrance and vistas; for its organized and dedicated regional leadership. [Don't miss that last phrase!] . . .
Applicants should propose to create visual (and possibly printed) materials that present the Pittsburgh region as-it-is as well as what the Pittsburgh region might be – substantiating both with fact-based scenarios and projections. Importantly, the work product resulting from this project may be used to engage regional leaders and the broader public in conversations regarding the future of the Pittsburgh region. Indeed, should the Pittsburgh region undertake comprehensive regional visioning, the resources produced by the selected applicant will likely be used to position and provoke civic dialogue – in-person, on-line, and otherwise – among tens of thousands of citizens. As such, the resultant work product should unmistakably convey current trend projections and straightforwardly forecast scenarios for the region’s future prosperity so that any citizen could quickly understand and easily participate. The resultant work product should thus not amount to branding campaign materials or business recruitment pieces.
The project requirements likewise tries to convey a sense of realism:
1. Do not conduct any original research. Utilize currently available information, data sets, presentation materials, etc., to present a scrupulously accurate and highly informative “picture” of the Pittsburgh region today as well as scenarios for its future progress. . . . .
2. Think big. The Pittsburgh region extends far beyond the borders of Allegheny County, including thirteen other counties in southwestern Pennsylvania and several counties located in West Virginia, Ohio, and Maryland. . . . . [Let's call this the Pittsburgh city-state]
3. Embrace all multimedia. Applicants who propose to publish only a report – even a wellcrafted, absorptive one – will not succeed. Only those applicants who propose to knit together a story and a vision – utilizing not only the written word but also perhaps film, photography, images, video, electronic arts, etc., will receive serious consideration.
4. Be broad. Frame the region’s potential not only in terms of economic development but also on such matters as environmental conservation, governance, social equity, public health, education, fiscal policy, safety, taxes, the arts, land use, etc.
5. Think globally. Compare the Pittsburgh region to other regions around the world using benchmarks and other indicators. Describe the extent to which the Pittsburgh region can compete with leading regions elsewhere by offering the best mix of economic vitality and lifestyle amenities.
6. Be critical. Do not sugarcoat the region’s adversities, and do not exaggerate competitive advantages. Document the base case and describe realistic scenarios.
7. Be highly compelling and provocative. Prepare products that tell the Pittsburgh region’s remarkable story, capture the imagination, and inspire forward-thinking discussions.
So what's going on here? You can't create Renaissance III with a marketing campaign, but you can try to frame a public conversation about the future by concentrating the conversation and managing it from the top down. The opposite tack, I suppose, would be to follow distributed bottom-up efforts to do the same sort of thing. In, say, a seven-point Manifesto for a New Pittsburgh. The two approaches will co-exist; the Web guarantees that. The question is who owns Pittsburgh's future? The RFP makes clear that ImaginePittsburgh owns your work. Coordinate with the Manifesto, and you own your own work.