Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Monday, August 10, 2015

I don't get DC's visitor marketing ad campaign at all

I've "complained" ("Area tourism development") about the DC Cool campaign by Events DC, the city's convention and visitors bureau, as being disjoint, disconnected, and misfocused, plus the ridiculousness of #WeGotThis as a tagline and the supposed sum up of what makes DC worth visiting.

This ad is at one of the baggage carousels at National Airport.  I guess it is promoting the National Monument and picnicking, but it would be a major pain in the a** to lug food and drink and kids to the National Mall for a picnic as part of visiting the city.  But for the most part, the image might as well show a city playground.  In any case, I don't see how that does a good job of selling what DC has to offer visitors in a way that distinguishes a trip to DC from any other place.

Most of the content and the images seem to be disconnected and poorly communicate what DC has to offer.

Although I will say the content on the DC Cool website, which backs up the campaign ads is better, although it's insane that the section on the Southwest Waterfront promotes the Wharf development, which won't be something people can visit for many many years.

I've seen DC Cool ads in national magazines, ads in local publications and on the Metro system--those locally placed ads are mostly a waste of money, because they aren't directed to visitors, ads at National Airport (I haven't been to BWI or Dulles for awhile so I don't know if the ads are also placed in those airports), and finally, a web-based video ad, via Chicago Reader (I do like the music in this ad, but I can't seem to find a straight up URL to embed the ad in this blog post).

The ads are all similar to the one above, mostly in black and white, communicating that DC is Cool, I guess riffing off the brief post-2008 election image of President Obama (cf. "The millennials flocking to DC redefine 'hip'," Washington Post).

American Automobile Association guides for Washington, DC dating around 1960.

Granted, DC has a visitor marketing challenge, because we have the tough issue of trying to promote the "local offer" in the face of the reality that most visitors come to DC to consume the "Federal City" and the national experience of US history and DC's role as the National Capital.

And frankly, a lot of our local offer doesn't always measure up, especially on the neighborhood-commercial district side, outside of Georgetown and Dupont Circle and the night life districts like H Street.

In any case, we also have to work to develop, strengthen, and extend our local offer, along the lines of what Kathy Smith, the founder of what is now called CulturalTourismDC, wrote about in the now out of print publication, Capital Assets, where she categorized neighborhoods as being ready for tourism, capable with assistance, or not ready.

That approach is in need of an update, given how the increase in the city's population has strengthened neighborhood commercial districts, which if not offering very much in the way of retail, may have some decent restaurants worth checking out while visiting the sites.

One of DC's best assets, our unique historic residential building stock, is viewable from a distance, but typically we don't have much in the way of the opportunity to do house tours, and we lack a good set of neighborhood and commercial district brochures, maps, walking tour publications, etc.
11th Street NW Rowhouses
There are the guides that go along with the Neighborhood Trail program, in those communities that have them, but increasingly they are hard to find.

And our transit system doesn't do a good job of marketing transit access to neighborhoods and sites.

Plus, we don't have a comprehensive visitor center, and for the most part, federal visitor centers are prohibited from having information on the local city (because that is seen as promoting local business, which somehow is against the law).

I tried to take a photo of the visitor desk at the Convention Center and I was informed it is illegal to take photos there...

Why we don't have a tourism development plan on the scale of plans for other cities such as Charleston (even though that plan, as good as it is, has defects) is something I do not understand, given how significant tourism is to the city's economy, and we have upwards of 17 million visitors each year (about 1/3 of the visitation experienced by New York City or Chicago).  See "Tourists getting in your way? There's a $7 billion reason to be patient," Washington Post.

Note that the National Capital Planning Commission, which is the planning agency for the federal government, does have a Visitors Element in their section (called the "Federal Elements") of the city's Comprehensive Plan.

The top postcard has a 1942 postcard.  The message on the bottom postcard, postmarked 1957, discusses the person's trip but not much in the way of impressions.  I like to collect postcards that have messages about people's impressions of the city.

The postcard below is dated 1911 and shows one of the House Office Buildings on the front.  The message is a much more detailed and interesting recounting of their trip and experience.

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At 10:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've never felt the "local offer" was all that interesting. Without the federal presence (and monuments and attractions) it wouldn't be that much different from other east coast cities. Compared to other cities, the DC housing stock is quite monotonous.

At 12:21 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

While I disagree with you that the city's housing stock is monotonous, because there is great variability within the architectural styles as a system, in general I agree with you.

We have some decent nightlife districts, but our average neighborhood districts don't usually compare well to other places.

We have some good restaurants but they can be pretty expensive in terms of what you get.

Frankly, there's this awesome seafood place (a little add on to a gourmet deli) in Colonial Beach that I would rather eat at compared to any of the Black's restaurants, etc.

Our non-chain retail stores are pretty weak. Etc.

... If you don't like rowhouses as a style though, that eliminates a lot of places to visit including Baltimore, Philly, Manhattan and Brooklyn, many many small cities in Pennsylvania such as Lancaster, York, Reading, Gettysburg, Richmond, etc.


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