Baltimore: The City that Reads!

By Jarrett Bellini

Forward: In early January of 2006, I wrote about Baltimore's search for a new city slogan. Months later the final result was: Get in on it. For a short phrase, it's kind of a mouthful. It's also pretty stupid. Here is what I originally wrote:

Some cities are diamonds. Some cities are stones.

Baltimore is getting a makeover. And why not? After all, this is the same town once dubbed by a former mayor as The City that Reads, left only to watch as local graffiti artists strategically placed B’s, E’s, and L’s on public benches (re-slugging them as The City that Breeds and The City that Bleeds.) It’s a good thing he didn’t go with Let Us Tuck You In!

Poor Baltimore. Things are so bad that the city has inspired at least two television crime dramas in its honor... and they're gritty. They make you want to shower and go to church. They’re dark. They’re nasty. And nowhere is a crab cake to be found.

So, where does a city go from here? Well, that’s the $500,000 question being offered up to Landor Associates, a worldwide branding consultancy with a rather impressive portfolio for city mottos. It's a pricy investment, for certain, and it goes without saying that everybody's hoping Landor can do better than We’ve Got Crabs! or Inner Harbor? I Hardly Know Her!Clearly this is a challenging account, so it might be time for their creative team to visit the Chesapeake.

I actually had several opportunities to treasure the Chesapeake while I was attending college in nearby Washington, DC. Usually, it was just a few of us heading down to Camden Yards to catch an Orioles game. Talk about a selling point! I’ve been to several ballparks in this country, and can say, without any hesitation, that Oriole Park is the gold standard. Never mind the brilliant architecture. Second to none, Camden Yards serves up the best atmosphere and finest food known to baseball. This includes garlic fries so potent even your ideas begin to smell bad.

Of course, an Orioles game hardly counts as getting the true Baltimore experience. Granted, the house that Ripken built is a heavenly oasis and the area immediately surrounding the ballpark is more than agreeable, but, really, outside of all that, Baltimore is stink-town. Drive down the wrong avenue going away from touristy Fells Point, and you can clearly see how the city inspired HBO’s Homicide: Life on the Streets. That’s not really a title that tiptoes around the subject, is it? Somehow, I think Homicide: A Minor Annoyance doesn’t quite ring with the same enthusiasm.

The most fun I’ve ever had in Baltimore was actually at one of the trashiest events I’ve ever attended… The Preakness. This annual springtime horse race at Pimlico marks the second leg of the world famous Triple Crown. It also marks the first stage of degenerative liver disease. While Baltimore’s upper crust enjoys the day’s festivities from their fancy-pants box seats, college students and true Baltimoreons pack the infield for an afternoon of heavy drinking. Without any exaggeration, I didn’t see one single horse the entire day. I did, however, witness a carnival of mullets. This was also the same year that some drunk guy jumped over the track's guardrail and tried to punch one of the horses as the entire field came barreling down on him. Good times!

But let’s get back to Baltimore’s positive points. It has a great aquarium, a wonderful harbor, and, pound for pound, more Old Bay crab cakes than anywhere else on planet Earth. As far as I’m concerned, that, alone, is a good enough reason as any to stop in for the day. Wait, now there’s a concept… stop in for the day.

Perhaps city officials are reaching too far in their aim to be a world-class travel destination. It’s Baltimore, for crying out loud – not Paris. There isn’t a slogan or motto in the world that will change that. A husband has never turned to his wife and asked, “Honey, where do you want to go with these sky miles… Hawaii, Vancouver, or Baltimore?”

Instead, the city needs to focus on something they may perceive as a weakness - their location. Nestled right along that northeast stretch of I-95, connecting Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston, The City That Reads needs to become The City That Concedes. Instead of trying to be one of the big boys, Baltimore needs to embrace its role as a B-list city. Just look what that kind of thinking has done for Emilio Estevez. Three Mighty Duckmovies certainly keep the electricity on!

So, I officially offer up my suggestion. Baltimore: We’re on the Way Up!

Not only is it practical, but it’s also mildly inspiring. Geographically, one might want to drop in while heading north to The Big Apple, The City of Brotherly Love, or Beantown. Culturally, it suggests that, hey, we may not actually be a city of literates… but we’re on the way up!

For the time being, however, we’ll all just have to sit back and wait patiently for this big corporate wasteland of ideas to come back with their overpriced, loser of a motto. And then we can go through this whole thing all over again in a few years. They’re calling it destination repositioning, but it’s nothing more than lies.

Of course, if you’re going to lie you might as well make it count. So head on over to Baltimore and visit (I kid you not) The Greatest City in America! Seriously. That’s their current slogan…The Greatest City in America!

A stone by any other name...

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