While heavyweight cities such as New York and Paris have iconic buildings and centuries of thriving culture to convey their identity and sense of place, smaller less-prominent cities must rely on other measures of soft power such as music festivals, public art projects, easy-to-use bike share systems or other unique methods of building their municipal brand. Though branding on a city scale may seem artificial or contrived, it is an important part of attracting new residents and businesses and building a sense of identity – conveying who we are and what we stand for.
Despite a host of great amenities contributing to a strong quality of life, a mixture of heritage and modern architecture and a beautiful location along the Fraser, New West doesn’t distinguish its own distinct identity, independent of being a suburb of Vancouver as well as it could. For many unaware of the new New West, the city is still synonymous with bridal shops, sketchy transit stations, a love affair with its own history and rough pubs. As a proud resident of New West, I often find myself explaining what life is actually like here, giving friends an idea of what brand Nouveau West stands for. Few are aware of the transformation that has been underway for some time and are astonished to hear about a waterfront park, busy market, improved culinary landscape and diverse population.
Much of this misguided perception is due in part to a tug of war mentality between what New West was – a quaint mill city with royal roots – and what it has become – a dense, diverse and increasingly more interesting place to live. In many ways, New West’s reinvention is similar to that of many smaller rust belt cities in the states that have used their industrial pasts to attract young diverse population of entrepreneurs, artists and others in the creative industry.
Though almost three times as big as New West, Chattanooga, the fourth largest city in the state of Tennessee, is using its look to improve its brand – the look of its communications that is. For just over a year, local typeface designers Robbie de Villiers and Jeremy Dooley have been developing Chatype, a font developed in Chattanooga for Chattanooga.
Both established and accomplished designers, the pair felt that the time was right for Chattanooga to have its own font, to improve its branding and to help convey the energy in the city. Not wanting to ignore the city’s past, de Villiers and Dooley consulted with historians to consider important historical influences on the design of the font. In Chatype, they incorporated aspects of Chattanooga’s industrial past, while giving it clean lines and a modern touch that allude to the city’s creative future.
While the font is still in development, it has garnered much support from the local and international community. The city itself hopes to use it in their communications – from bike lanes and streets signs, to city memos and other documents. Local businesses as well will have the opportunity to use the font for their own signage, bringing visual continuity to streets across the city. Internationally, branding and marketing experts with Monocle magazine and Wink Creative, have applauded the work of the pair and think that it could have a strong impact on the city’s future.
Though New West might not need its own font per say, it will certainly benefit from similar small-scale resident driven initiatives that convey a message about our city, what we think about it and us as a group of people. With the River Market supporting local initiatives through their ONE program, it is possible for just about anyone to get a tiny idea off the ground. Whether it be greening a small patch of a neighborhood, creating a small public art project, or supporting local businesses, the more unique ideas we put together that transform the city, the stronger the sense of what this city of ours is and what it means to live here will be.