Towns need their mottos – really good ones

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There's something interesting going on in communities of all sizes these days. They're turning to marketing, with the idea of attracting visitors, residents, businesses, all that stuff. Even the small towns are trying to figure out how to make themselves destinations.

The Beaverton Valley Times kicked off the new year with a top-of-the-front-page story about what Beaverton's citizens want for their community. 'Public shares future vision,' said the big headline. The story offered details on city officials' efforts to determine what the vision of Beavertonians is for their town.

Janice Deardorff, assistant to the mayor of Beaverton, explained some of the findings. 'People are concerned about having a safe and livable community,' she said.

The headline could have said, 'People want safe community' - not exactly juicy news, of course, but true. Later in the story, Deardorff said something more interesting.

'We also heard from many people that they want Beaverton to brand itself and make it a destination. We were told we need a cultural identity.'

Tigard went through a similar 'visioning' process a few years ago, with similar results. Tualatin and Sherwood, being a couple of the fastest growing communities in the state, are also concerned with their identities.

Well, I can tell you - and I won't even charge for this valuable bit of insight - what these towns really need are official city mottos. Lake Oswego's informal motto is 'live where you play' - but the city doesn't have an official one.

Everybody knows that mottos are what makes a community really distinct and cool.

It's not unlike the way businesses have to distinguish themselves from the competition. To illustrate how that works in the real world, I like to refer to the definitive book on the subject, 'The Dilbert Principle' by Scott Adams.

'If your employees are producing low-quality products that no sane person would buy, you can often fix that problem by holding meetings to discuss your Mission Statement,' writes Adams in Chapter 3 ('Business Communication'). 'A Mission Statement is defined as a 'long, awkward sentence that demonstrates management's inability to think clearly.' All good companies have one.'

Adams goes on to explain that in cases where the Mission Statement doesn't cause the desired turnaround, 'you might need a Vision Statement.' Of course, he offers a lot of complicated and detailed information about how these statements differ, but my favorite example is one of the sample vision statements he suggests might work for a typical company: 'We will have all the wealth in the world while everybody else dies in the gutter wishing they were us.'

This is precisely where small cities are trying to head when they enact a visioning process. To that I can only add that all really good communities have a good motto. None of the towns around here have very good mottos, and this is a huge problem.

On the city of Tigard's Web site, right under the name of the city and the address of city hall, you'll find these words: 'A Place to Call Home.'

Now, scoff if you want, but Beaverton doesn't have one at all. Neither do Tualatin, Sherwood and King City.

At least somebody in Sherwood got a little poetic on their Web site's home page: 'Sherwood is a medley of juxtapositions - the old and the new creating a unique harmony . . .'

Hey, I got through high school and college flinging that kind of blarney around.

Oregon's motto is 'She flies with her own wings.' Kind of wispy sounding, but again, at least there is one.

Apparently, there's a debate going on in Chicago right now about what that city's motto should be, and a number of folks have proposed, out in the blogosphere, such pithy ones as 'Chicago: We Have TWO Baseball Teams'; 'Chicago, City on the Take'; and 'Like Other Big Cities, but Friendly . . . and Clean.'

There are others in surrounding little towns worth noting.

Estacada describes itself as 'Close to Everything, but Away from it All.' Oregon City is at the 'End of the Oregon Trail.' Sandy is the 'Gateway to Mount Hood,' and West Linn is the 'City of Hills, Trees and Rivers.'

The folks in Gresham were obviously reading the Dilbert book when they came up with this one: 'Creating community wealth through smart growth, smart kids and smart industries.'

I think we can do better than these, don't you? When I was younger and was going to lots of meetings as a reporter in Sherwood, Tigard and Tualatin, I heard more than one audience member yell out, 'At least we're not Beaverton!'

That's not a bad one, to be sure, but every other town can't have it.

What do you think would be a good motto for a local city? And why?

More on this important story as it develops.

Former editor of the Lake Oswego Review and former managing editor of the Beaverton Valley Times and The Times, serving Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood, Mikel Kelly handles special sections for Community Newspapers and contributes a regular column.