Community branders have an important job developing public images for whole cities and towns. These experts descend on a town, take surveys of local residents, organize focus groups, explore the crevices and cracks of neighborhoods in order to answer this question: What is the essence of this particular community and how can we boil it down to a catchy slogan?
For so long, Worcester has had a branding problem. It's not just that we couldn't project a positive image to the outside world. Many of us had struggled believing that we were ok. See, here's the thing about positive community branding. The people who actually live in the place must believe in the slogan as well. Paris of the 80s? Worcesterites shook their heads. Are you kidding? What about Heartbeat of Massachusetts and all those little hearts on the street signs? Well, we are located in the very center of Massachusetts.
I've decided to bypass this whole branding process that hasn't panned out so well for us in the past anyway. I'm here to unveil an idea for a new slogan to show the world who we are. Here it is:
Good 'N Gritty
Or, if we are being very positive and thinking about where we seem to be heading:
Great 'N Gritty
Here is the reasoning behind this proposed branding motto. First, readers of this blog know that I tend towards alliteration, a habit left over from all those years in graduate school. Face it! Repetitive sounds roll off the tongue and are easy to remember. Secondly, we can resonate that we have "grittiness". Check out the synonyms - pluck, spunk, guts, fortitude, constancy, backbone. We may not be pretty but we have that stick-to-it spunk. Do you remember last April when a New York Times writer wrote a key article on our city? I recall how so many people were proud not only that we made the New York Times but also we were shown as a place where immigrants with a bit of fortitude could make it here in this country. The writer's fond remembrance and sharing of his own immigrant family's story made him declare his own love for our city. At the end of the article, he introduced us to Ahmed Yusef, a local tailor who grew up in Iraq. Ahmed professed his love for Worcester. "I have a future. New York is for dreams. Worcester is for working." There it is, folks. GRIT!!! Let's wear it on our sleeve and be proud! GRIT! GOOD 'N GRITTY!
With the right rose-colored glasses, one can literally change one's perception about the place where one lives. In order to feel some pride in her new town, Melody Warnick decide to develop a tour of places she could showcase to out- of- town visitors. She posted a simple question on her social media accounts, "What's the #1 thing you'd tell a tourist to do in Blacksburg?" So, I decided to do the same thing. I posted the very same question about Worcester on my facebook page. Within a couple of hours, Worcesterites were having a party in the flurry of comments back and forth. Some people mentioned the standard places (Worcester Art Museum, Ecotarium). Others left the borders of our city for fun (Tower Hill Botanic Garden, Purgatory Chasm). Several people mentioned things to do that I had never heard about before (a tour at the Regal Pickle Factory on Mason Street, stargazing with the Aldrich Astronomical Society at Anna Maria). In less than a couple of hours, my friends had generated a sizable brainstorm of cool things to do in our gritty city.
So, here is our list of what some real Worcester people do for fun:
- George Street Challenge ("One by one bicyclists ride up a very steep hill from a complete stop. The hill is where legendary black bicycle racer Major Taylor used to train. Who can get to the top fastest? Who can make it at all? It's a great time.")
- Shop at Crompton Collective
- Experience a drive through Kelley Square.
- Stroll through Elm Park or stop and picnic
- Worcester Art Museum ("I love 'Flora in Winter' when it is so cold outside")
- Skateboard at the Worcide DIY skate park
- Check out the night lights and stroll on the Kenneth F. Burns Memorial Bridge between Shrewsbury and Worcester. Exhibits on the history of Lake Quinsigamond and White City are displayed at permanent kiosks on both sides of the bridge. A great place to sit, walk and explore!
- Buy fresh food at the Chandler Street Farmers Market and the Saturday morning Farmers Market at Crompton Place
- StArt on the Street in the fall on Park Avenue
- Sledding at Greenhill Park or in front of Quinsigamond Community College
- Take the Wednesday tour at the American Antiquarian Society
- Discover Worcester history at the exhibits of the Worcester Historical Museum
- WPI frat sets up a haunted house at Bancroft Tower
- Easter egg hunt at Bancroft Tower
- Climb a wall at the Central Rock Gym
- Check with Preservation Worcester to see what scary places are tourable
- Eat at all the cool restaurants (once a month Loving Hut buffet, Fatima's, The Egg Roll Lady)
- Take a diner tour. Go from diner to diner.
- WooBerry for a snack
- 4th of July concert and fireworks at East Park on Shrewsbury Street
- Eat a hot dog at Coney Island!
- Get to look-out rock at Mass Audubon's Broad Meadow Brook
- Savor the grounds of Tower Hill Botanical Garden
- Brown bag lunch concerts at Mechanics Hall or Tuckerman's Hall
- Check out the graffiti under the 290 underpass near Crescent and Harlow
- Appreciate art at the Sprinkler Factory and all the amazing college galleries. ("I like the gallery at Holy Cross")
- Sit in the chapter house at the Worcester Art Museum
- Hang out the coffee shops - Nu Cafe, Bean Counter, etc.
- Observe the night sky with the Aldrich Astronomical Society at Anna Maria College
- Get fish and chips at the Pickle Barrel on Wednesday or Fridays
- Dinner on the sidewalk at Hacienda Don Juan
- Worcester World Cup in August
- Thursday food trucks on the Common
- Walking tours through Preservation Worcester ("I wish there were a Worcester triple decker tour!)
- Bloomsday, Worcester County Poetry Associations annual public reading of parts of James Joyce's Ullysses
- Hang out with the Turtle Boy statue on City Hall Common
- Hike the Cascades trail and experience a real waterfall in the spring
- Yoga in the Park on the downtown Common on Wednesdays and Saturdays
- Zumba in University Park in Main South
- Pet the animals at the Greenhill Park Zoo
- Hike the East Side Trail
- Canal District Art Walk on Water Street third Tuesday evening a month in summer
- Free summer concerts at Newton Square and Elm Park
- Free concerts at Crompton Place in the Canal District on Thursday evenings in summer
- Free Massachusetts Symphony Orchestra concerts at Institute Park ("We love 'Salute to Disney' each summer!")
- Art in the Park at Elm Park
- Run or watch the Canal Digger's Race
- Attend all the festivals (Latino, East Asian, Caribbean, Veg Fest, Greek Festival, Gay Pride, Albanian Festival)
- Check out the films at the Latin Festival
- View the alternative movies at Cinema 320 at Clark University
- Picnic at the parks, go park hopping
- Bike the Blackstone Valley bike trail to and from Worcester
- Take the Regal Pickle Factory tour at 41 Mason Street: ("When I learned my favorite Hebrew word 'malafafon chamootz', ( pickles!), I bought a bucket for my class. That was the year I discovered the pickle factory!" "I grew up around the corner and walked to the bus past it every day for years. The garlic is everywhere. I had no idea you could take a tour!")
- Join with other hackers at Technocopia on Open Hack Thursday nights
- Go for a tour of the new Pow! Wow! murals in downtown
- Ice skating on the Downtown Common
- Touch Tomorrow at WPI
- Old fashioned candlepin bowling at the Colonial Bowling Center on Mill Street
- Canoeing on Friday afternoons at Greenhill park in the summer
- Go for a train ride at the Ecotarium
- Take in a Broadway show at the Hanover Theater or maybe a local production of the Charlotte Klein Studio yearly dance recitals
- Buy a hotdog at Hot Dog Annie's in Leicester. Then hang out and picnic at the airport and watch the planes come in.
- Taste of Shrewsbury Street
- Catch the Tanglewood Marionette puppet shows at the Worcester Public Library during school vacations
- "Yesterday, we biked downtown (to do Major Taylor's hill!) and were happy to see amazing POW WOW murals, catch a volunteer fair at the library and a gay pride day festival on the common. We also love Worcester Shakespeare performances, tons of college theater, zillions of fall festivals, great running, Elm park, Worcester chamber music society performances, and having friends like you!
So, here are some final conclusions from this exercise:
- There is so much fun here! We may not be Boston. We may not be New York, but we have a heck of a lot happening here if we just open our eyes. This list of fun things to do just scratches the surface and represents a very small segment of our city. My friends tend to be folks who live on the West Side who are not so much into sports. If we continued to circulate the question of where you would take a tourist, I'm sure there would be even more ideas we never thought of before. We need to mention all the FREE lectures and concerts open to residents at our local universities as well as low cost theater productions. It is interesting to note that NOT ONE PERSON EVEN MENTIONED THE DCU CENTER! A single use mega project such as this is more geared towards the casual tourist and doesn't necessarily translate into the building blocks for making a livable city for the people who actually live here.
- Count our blessings! During this intense online brainstorming session, one facebook friend who has relocated, wrote, "All this is making me miss Worcester!" It's so easy to focus on what we lack, but if we change our perception, we can see the abundance that has been here all along.