COLUMN: Logos a first step to city’s identity

NANAIMO – Logo a conversation starter for residents to ask: what are we about?

We’re putting a big emphasis on logos here in Nanaimo lately.

Nanaimo school district took a severe throttling from parents and residents for farming out its search for a new logo and brand to a Vancouver-based company.

Not only that, but it spent about $24,000 to do so, which is a hard sell when education is chronically underfunded.

Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation spent roughly the same amount for its new logo, unveiled earlier this week.

It features the city’s name prominently, with a graphic detail representative of the pillars in the city’s strategic plan. At first glance, I thought they were fireworks.

I didn’t mind either logo, although neither really stood out as a groundbreaking achievement.

But, then again, I liked the inukshuk logo from the Vancouver 2010 Olympics – and I seemed to be in the vast minority.

Perhaps my taste in art is severely lacking. Or it’s too refined.

It’s actually my expectations from both these exercises that put the project out of perspective and had me anticipating an astounding work of art that would magically solve all the city’s issues with industry, employment and development.

In reality, it’s just a thumbnail graphic on letterhead.

We put too much hope in it, thinking a logo will suddenly be the magic bullet that will bring economic prosperity to Nanaimo, or suddenly attract enough money to fully provide for the special needs of students in the district.

When it doesn’t, or we are underwhelmed by the end result, we consider the logo a waste of money.

But the logo is the first step in establishing a brand. It’s a conversation starter for residents to ask: what are we about?

Las Vegas is a city with a brand, probably the most recognizable in the world. Sin City, while it’s tried to reform its image in recent years, boasts of debauchery and excess – the place where people go to let off steam, party like a rockstar, all with the understanding that what happens there, stays there.

It’s not just large cities that establish identity.

It’s clear what comes to mind when you think of Nelson, B.C., which is vastly different from my hometown just an hour down the road.

A roughneck industrial town, Trail makes absolutely no apologies for being exactly what it is.

I’m not suggesting that Nanaimo become Las Vegas north, and I’m reminded regularly how much higher in the standings the Clippers rank over the Smoke Eaters. But perhaps a city of love? The Paris of North America?

We already rank in the top 10 for purchasing romantic DVDs, CDs and books, and a dozen places easily come to mind for a sunset stroll.

Nanaimo is no longer a coal town, or a logging town and it’s exciting to think that the folks who live here now get to shape the future for this city, one of the oldest in the province.

Are we a retirement community? A suburb of Vancouver (or Calgary)? A university town?

Do we want to cater to artists, providing grant money and facilities to foster creativity? Are we technologically innovative, or do we want to focus on attracting any and all business to the city?

All these questions will probably be answered in due time as the conversations start and the work continues. They will be answered by the people who live and work here, and those attracted to all the city has to offer.

I’d like to see what Nanaimo’s logo looks like when that happens.