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Thread: Cities claiming to be more "real", "authentic", and so on

  1. #1
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
    Mar 1996
    Upstate New York
    Blog entries

    Cities claiming to be more "real", "authentic", and so on

    One commonly heard cliche among boosters of Buffalo, New York is that the city, the surrounding region, and its people and culture, are somehow more "real","authentic", "genuine", "honest", "character filled" and so on, and that the world outside of Western New York is "fake", "plastic", "corporate", "sanitized", "Anywhere USA" and so on.

    Some examples:

    "Are you interested in the real thing? Ready to step off the Interstate and discover an authentic American city?... If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, make plans to visit Buffalo -- an authentic, original, real American city."

    "A while back, I left Buffalo and moved to Amsterdam. The 1 year experiment turned into 7 years... and I am still here. My heartstrings are naturally always pulled by Buffalo and my nostalgia. Trying to explain it to my Dutch partner was difficult. Why is Buffalo different then any other city, she asked? Because it is. It's more human I said."

    I love Revitalize Buffalo, but this entry has another "Buffalo is more real" article.

    "Here it is: Buffalo - The Real Deal!
    I think it’s a pretty brilliant one and anyone who has lived here for a year or two can attest to that fact. Everything about Buffalo is real. The people, the architecture and history, the culture, the sports teams and their fans…if you’ve been here for more than five minutes, you already know that about Buffalo…Marv Levy said it best during his coaching tenure, “Where else would you rather be, right here, right now?”"

    Ed Healy from the Buffalo CVB:
    "It's tough-minded, to the point, matter-of-fact. It says this is an authentic place . . . We are what we are, and proud of it. It's smash-mouth football. Chicken wings at the corner tavern. Beers and kielbasa. It's not glitz and glamour, but the authentic America that has been lost in so many places.""

    Paul Goldberger, architecture critic for The New Yorker:
    "Buffalo has a kind of power, the power of the authentic place."

    It's got a lot more heart, a lot more real-ness, than all the up-and-coming suburbs and growing-too-fast cities across the country.

    "I encourage everyone to come to Buffalo for a good time, good people, good drinks, etc. Buffalo's image is not perceived very well around the country, and I really have no idea why. Buffalo is not the most amazing place on the planet, I'm quite sure of that. However, you'll be hard pressed to find a place where the people are more real and passionate than Buffalo, New York."
    In recent weeks, there has been a barrage a lot of promotional commercials for Detroit airing on Cleveland television stations.

    The commercials:

    "In our pasteurized and sanitized world, we're crying out for something real."
    "When you need to feel something, come on down to Detroit, because the thrill of a real city is pure Michigan."

    "What's the definition of a day out? Going to the mall, or a chain restaurant?"
    "But what if there was a city that was different, where things were like night and day?"
    "We all need to get away from the norm, and there's no better city to experience a real city than Detroit"
    Looks like they got their copy verbatim from the comments of boosters in Buffalo's newspapers and blogs, and substituted "Detroit" and "Michigan" where appropriate.

    Given the Detroit campaign, I'm increasingly under the impression that describing a city as "real" or "authentic" is the rough equivalent of calling a retarded person "special."

    I believe that some Buffalonians throw around the "real" tag like some larger women call themselves "real women", implying that thin women aren't "real". When Buffalonians claim that their city is more "real", could it be a way of applying a positive word to what might be seen as negative traits: urban grit (not "sanitized" like an evil mall), working-class attitudes and lifestyles (as opposed to "pretentious" but affluent yuppiedom), and a sense of being in a "time warp" (nostalgia for the simpler days of past, as opposed to more complicated 21st century living). Just like "real women", claims of Buffalo's "realness" might be a way of implying that more prosperous, affluent cities aren't "real"; it's a last-ditch weapon to validate one's loyalty to Buffalo when people sing the praises of cities like Denver or Portland, and the qualities and amenities of those cities that are lacking in Buffalo. "Sure, Portland might have urban growth boundaries, great public transit, a growing population of young educated professionals, and a thriving downtown, but Buffalo's more REAL."

    Are there other cities whose residents seem prone to promoting the attributes of the place as "authentic", "genuine", "real" and so on, much in a way a hipster hypes their favorite unsigned band? Are the cities that claim to be more "real" generally less prosperous than the norm? Do you think these terms are really code for "we don't really have anything else going for us, so let's put a positive spin on our gritty side?"

  2. #2
    Jun 2005
    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    Given the Detroit campaign, I'm increasingly under the impression that describing a city as "real" or "authentic" is the rough equivalent of calling a retarded person "special." Are there other cities whose residents seem prone to promoting the attributes of the place as "authentic", "genuine", "real" and so on, much in a way a hipster hypes their favorite unsigned band? Are the cities that claim to be more "real" generally less prosperous than the norm? Do you think these terms are really code for "we don't really have anything else going for us, so let's put a positive spin on our gritty side?"
    It's funny, when I saw the headline of this thread, I immediately thought of Buffalo...because it's always a part of Buffalonians attitude about their city. Whether or not it's good, bad, right, or wrong, I am put off by it. I think there is an element of defensiveness in it, but defensiveness usually masks one's own doubts about things, in this case, whether or not a city is all that great. I am disappointed to see that Detroit is starting a campaign using that message. Instead of saying, "look what we have to offer," it's more like "Look, we're proud of all of our problems and don't think there's anything wrong with them." It's a defiant attitude that may serve them well but doesn't really do anything for the cause. I had a roommate from Buffalo, my best friend grew up there for the first 10 years of her life, and I drove through once...so I don't know anything about Buffalo and have no opinion on it, but hearing all those people sound so defensive makes me wonder what's wrong with it.

  3. #3
    Those Michigan adds are really bad.

    As for real and not real. There certainly are areas that are all-consumed by chains. Chain food and Chain stores are corporate driven in their offerings instead of by individuals. There are parts of the Chicago area that I consider more real and parts that are pure plastic. Michigan Avenue...Not Real, Broadway and Clark....Real (and there are chains at this corner). That is not to say that "real" places have no chains. Just that when you have nothing but chains there is nothing left of that particular place that is unique or indigenous to that place. If the food offerings are generated in a test kitchen and then vetted through focus groups and rolled out in every shopping center it just is not real. It used to be that every downtown in America had a unique set of stores that could only be found in that city. Now there are few downtowns with unique stores and there are virtually no malls with unique stores. That is a bit sad.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian jsk1983's avatar
    Feb 2004
    Chicago, IL
    Quote Originally posted by steel View post
    Broadway and Clark....Real (and there are chains at this corner)
    Broadway and Clark seems to me to be chain dominated. Although obviously not the way Michigan Ave. is. I'm thinking there's a chain on every corner, although I'm sure you mean the area in general. It seems most "real" areas these days are either yuppified or ethnic. Independent shops these days largely tend to be upscale. Although there are some categories where independents seem to thrive. Still for everyday needs it usually tends to be the chain store.

  5. #5
    I used Broadway and Clark because it has a good mixture of chains and independents. I meant to use it as an area and as a specific place. Both of these streets have chains but the chains do not dominate. It seems like a good interesting mix. You will always get some surprise and the street scene is unpredictable

  6. #6
    Jun 2007
    Oklahoma City

    Most people who have responded to this town are from Chicago, and this might be slightly off-topic.

    Based on the criteria debated and questioned above, I'd argue that a "real city" incorporates everything, and Chicago is probably the best example of that anywhere in the United States. Chicago has it all, blue-collar mentality and white-collar yuppie-dom, grit and glamor, unpretentious but incredibly impressive, poverty and affluence, and everything in between these extremes.
    I've used these terms (especially "unreal" and "pretentious") to describe Austin. I love Austin, but still...

  7. #7
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
    May 2005
    New Town
    Quote Originally posted by TexanOkie View post
    I've used these terms (especially "unreal" and "pretentious") to describe Austin. I love Austin, but still...
    And much as Dan's hipsters hyping their favorite unsigned band, many people remember fondly "the good ole days" of Austin, before it got discovered and signed to that major record label...

    The same can be said of Santa Fe...

    I think it is true that the "authenticity" card is often played with respect to places that are financially challenged, and I would put Albuquerque in that category for sure. Still, there is some truth to that in the sense that these kinds of places often have the sort of dives and other funky spaces that in a more affluent city might be wiped clean and sanitized because it reminds people of the hard times of yore. And this is definitely what a certain sector of tourists/travelers are interested in experiencing (which is a different experience from dealing with it daily).

    Here, we're living the dream of close-to-the-bone living and I must say I actually do feel it puts people on a more even footing with one another (yes, we have rich people too, but most folks are earning within a pretty narrow range - ie. not a whole hell of a lot - and most are not much better off than the rest). There does prevail in certain settings a sense that we are all in this together and that's a nice feeling.

    Being a little out on the fringe here, there is also a lack of hyper-commercialism that I forget about until I travel elsewhere. The billboards are smaller, too. Taken together, I guess that makes us more "real" or "unpretentious" than many other places. In fact, I would say the lack of pretention is one of our strongest qualities - there is hardly an event or fancy restaurant you can go to where you will be the most under-dressed person in the room.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  8. #8
    Jun 2006
    "Real" is one of those terms that can be interpreted in different ways. It can mean that the city has grit, crime, poverty, and other social ills (like when people say that their life is "real" to signify struggle). It came mean that the area isn't completely dominated by corporations. Or it can mean that the city simply exists. To me, a "real" city is a city with some type of character. By character, I don't mean endless sprawl, chain stores, and shopping plazas that makes it look like Anyplace, USA. I agree with the poster's comment about Chicago being a real city; it is a very diverse place and isn't completely yuppified. Chicago still has some of its industrial past to hold onto and a very rich history that younger more sprawling don't have. Then again, Vegas, which is considered artificial by many people has a very unique character and past too.

    I do agree that for a lot of cities use "real" as a coverup for "we have race issues, crime, and many historic (yet decaying) buildings."

  9. #9
    Suspended Bad Email Address teshadoh's avatar
    Mar 2004
    Boulder, CO
    I think the 'real' tag is a handicap & anyone that truly believes a city to be 'more real' than another city or location is delusional.

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