Never did any city planner, urban designer or economic development division in cities across America imagine the day that your city would be judged not on the quality of education, the city political makeup nor the debt and bonding ratio, but instead what your busiest intersection near a Costco would look like followed by a series of hashtags and a vintage Clarendon filter. Well, it’s not just a possibility, with today’s advent of social media and the millennial generation using the power of social influence in decision making, the way your city looks and feels is more important than ever before. That’s why we ask, do city politicians ask Is Fort Wayne Instagram-Worthy?
In January of this year, I and a few friends gathered in Cleveland Ohio, the lovable rust-belt city that is starting to make a comeback in an ever so unexpected way. After years of political and social turmoil, rivers catching on fire and blight stretching for miles, Cleveland has embraced its raw, gritty identity and added a spark of Austin into the mix. The goal is to create this urban core filled with winter-loving lumberjacks, craft beer, so-so sports teams all displayed on a canvas of once-inhabited buildings that are being rehabbed into high-tech data communities, software startups, and millennial innovation hubs. Cleveland is unapologetic about its oil-slicked past but has put a focus on its downtown, gateways, bridges and uprising neighborhoods. They understand that first impression is essential to the success of a community that once was about to turn into Detroit. On that Sunday morning, we gathered in this little diner in the historic and once run-down neighborhood of Tremont just a stone's throw away from downtown. As I walked near the kitchen, a large display board over the chef table said: “Is this Instagram-Worthy.” Below those words were two boxes, one said yes…the other said no. If the food was placed in the ‘no’ box, the food was sent back or thrown out (not certain of their food removal process) and never brought to the table. Even at Grumpy’s cafe, first impressions are extremely important because, in today’s world of social everything, even your pancakes must look good with a Nashville filter.
In the field of psychology, the term first impression is the event when one person first encounters another person and forms a mental image of that person. In the urban design field, you replace person with city (which let us not forget to mention that all cities are treated as a singular person because the shared emotions, unique traits, expressions, etc.) which would change that phrase to say ‘A first impression is the event when one person first encounters a city and forms a mental image of that city.’ The notion of the first impression is not new, in either the psychology field or city and urban design. Kings and queens of royal monarch days would plant lavish gardens and beautiful pedestrian lawns in their front yards, not necessarily as a symbol of good gardening and environmental protection, but to show a welcoming and good first impression. Realtors will often tell a homeowner who is listing to invest a couple hundred dollars on planting new shrubs and flowers to enhance your curb appeal because that first impression for a buyer is critical. Businesses today spend millions in upfront marketing and what they call gateway plans to welcome clients and potential new investors for the first time. Architecture firms like Hoch Associates will often work with medical facilities and business owners to design impressive front entryways because, in the end, first impressions really are everything.
So you might be asking why an architecture blog is asking, is Fort Wayne Instagram-Worthy? It’s simple really, first impressions ARE everything! June 13th, 2012 a quote said: “A community built for success understands the power of the first impression.” The quote comes from Front Door Fort Wayne, an initiative launched in 2010 and finalized in 2012that would look to improve and enhance several city gateways, bridges, and highways. The program was guided by a 14-member citizen advisory committee and sought extensive community input, identified key entry points and ways to enhance them. Completed projects would range from large to small including a rehab of the railroad bridges over Jefferson, Clinton, and Lafayette to beautifying public art, lighting, signage/wayfinding and bike paths. The plan called for key transportation corridors that need to be addressed including Ardmore Avenue, Airport Expressway, Coliseum Boulevard, Coldwater Road, North Clinton Street, Lima Road, Dupont Road, Jefferson Boulevard, Maysville Road, Stellhorn Road, Crescent Avenue, Washington Boulevard, Lafayette and South Clinton Streets. Key areas not only include the entrances from the highway but overall improvements to the areas around Fort Wayne International Airport, Downtown and Glenbrook Mall which has seen some urban blight since it was constructed 50 years ago.
it's even simple to read the objectives from Front Door Fort Wayne which clearly state that the goals are to identify and prioritize important gateways into the City and Downtown, Establish priorities for the use and function of the gateways and overall install a positive city image which ties into the question we asked. Quoting a 2009 Visit Fort Wayne impact report says that the city tourism industry welcomed over 5.7 million people each year to the city and those people spend nearly $466 million on a wide variety of goods and services. Nearly $14 million in tax revenues are generated each year for the city from visitors which is a significant portion of funds that go to enhance the city in a variety of ways. With so much positive impact that tourism provides the city, it’s amazing to see that some city leaders are so interested in cutting the funding to such a vital and important program.
From the study itself, the General Comments section includes things that Fort Wayne citizens said during the interview process.
- “First impression and consistency make a big difference to visitors. Was impressed with the difference even some of the lower-cost enhancements can make.”
- “With the ever increasing sports tourism dollars coming into our community, we should upgrade signage for our sports facilities.”
- “From a cost/benefit standpoint, what could be a better investment than people’s impression of our community. They only typically see a small part-put our money there.”
- “It’s the first thing people see in Fort Wayne. Gateways need to be well maintained. We need increasing signage as a part of the beautification project. People will feel more welcomed and comfortable if they know how to get around.”
- “The beautification of the city is the key to attracting businesses and individuals.”
So it seems that the citizens of Fort Wayne want the city to place additional funds into create stronger gateways and focus on better first impressions.
I go back to that sign on the wall at Grumpy’s in Cleveland. Every part of the city from the design to marketing, to the restaurateur is looking at ways to enhance the city image on social media through first impressions. It might have been a stretch to say three years ago, but today first impressions take place on Social Media and a person who is looking to relocate a business, move their family or even look at a place to visit will begin research on Instagram over a polished website with glossy professional photos. They say the times have changed, and truly they have as authentic, raw, real photography and storytelling are becoming the currency in which economic development and business is handled.