Gill Holland, movie producer, gallery owner, green architecture investor and dedicated supporter of the city of Louisville recently published an editorial in the Louisville Courier Journal, speaking to the idea that Louisville needs a rebranding. Something that speaks more specifically than the city's current "Possibility City" campaign. Mr. Holland offers us "A City of Arts and Parks." While a little clunkier rolling off the tongue I can see where he's heading. Being a smart guy, he presents a laundry list of Louisville's great institutions for the arts and the long history of arts support in the city as well as the new-to-me statistic that Louisville boasts 22 acres of park land for every 1000 residents.
Unquestionably Louisville has made great strides in both of these areas recently and historically. But a question lingers in my mind as to whether these are the things Louisville hangs its hat on in terms of branding itself. Two specific questions I ask myself are, who exactly are we speaking to and – long though Mr. Holland's lists are – does Louisville truly stand out in these two specific aspects.
Aaron Renn writes at length and much better than I do about the idea that there are certain things a city must do simply to keep up with the times. The residents of mid-tier cities may certainly appreciate these efforts. However, Renn rightly points out that this isn't where you hang your branding hat necessarily. After all, these are the things that everyone else is also doing.
Holland mentions Austin, Texas in his piece and their success in becoming known for their dedication to their music scene. And indeed this is something unique to Austin. It should be noted that their park land acres to 1000 residents 35.4, and in addition to their thriving music scene they also have an opera, ballet, and orchestra. Kansas City, a direct Midwestern competitor to Louisville has 36.3 acres of park per 1000 residents, a stunning art museum, a history of blues and jazz, and a highly regarded art institute.
So what does one do when presented with the Louisville vs. Kansas City question? How does Louisville differentiate itself? The answer to that question tells you what "Brand Louisville" is. To drill down to that answer we have to look hard at the things we love about this city and ask ourselves if they are the things that actually embody what make us love Louisville as a whole, or if they truly are different from what other cities have on offer.
The most obvious and immediate thing Louisville has that others don't is a truly world class, all-attention-on-us event in the Kentucky Derby. But don't let the horses lead you to water, they aren't what's important. What's important are the things that Louisville has built in support of this World Class event. That would include world class restaurants, world class hotels, and a particular kind of service that can only be described as Louisvillian. This is supported by a pretty stellar school specializing in the hospitality industry in Sullivan College.
People often describe Louisville as a genuinely friendly place. The people are warm and accepting, and that extends to the services throughout the city. It's a city rife with hospitality. This has created a culture of food and drink and entertainment and camaraderie that makes Louisville a fun, lively, interesting place to live. It seems as though our history of debauchery and our present atmosphere of welcoming and entertaining people is something truly unique to Louisville. It's what makes us different from Kansas City or Indianapolis.
Arts and parks are vitally important to this city. As they are to every city. This is not to demean their importance, or to demean the importance of things like schools, and better transportation policy, and green initiatives and all the other things cities need to do to simply survive. This is trying to get at what makes us...us. What makes me love living here in the end. It's about what keeps me from moving to Nashville or Cincinnati. It's through kindness, service, and caring reflected in the businesses of our city, the way of life in our city, through these things Louisville feeds the heart and soul.
Louisville: "Feed Your Soul"
Look for a soon-to-be followup as to what Louisville could do to enhance those things that make us special.
And maybe ask and answer some other tough questions in terms of branding the city.