Monday, May 27, 2019

Should "Be Someone" be Houston's official motto?


Most Houstonians are familiar with Houston's most famous piece of graffiti, the "Be Someone" message in giant letters on the Union Pacific bridge over I45 north of downtown.  It's gone through a lot of iterations and defacement over the years, including recently, but the fact that it keeps coming back is a testament to its popularity.  Long ago I did a post here titled "What message is your city telling you?" discussing an essay by Paul Graham (of Y Combinator fame).  His basic theme is that each city has its own subtle message it's sending you about what's important and how you should direct your ambition.

Here are some of his examples:
  • New York: "You should make more money."
  • Boston/Cambridge: "You should be smarter." (or at least better read)
  • Silicon Valley: "You should be more powerful." (i.e. change the world)
"Cambridge as a result feels like a town whose main industry is ideas, while New York's is finance and Silicon Valley's is startups."
  • SF/Berkeley: "You should live better." (more conscientious, more civilized, better 'quality of life')
  • LA: "You should be more beautiful and famous."
  • DC: "You should know more important people."
  • Paris: "You should do things with more style."
  • London: "You should be more aristocratic." (higher class - although he says this signal is weaker than it used to be)
Here's the summary list of messages he came up with:
"So far the complete list of messages I've picked up from cities is: wealth, style, hipness, physical attractiveness, fame, political power, economic power, intelligence, social class, and quality of life."
And here's what I came up with at the time for Houston:
"So what about our little town of hard working engineers and entrepreneurs? The city of Canion, Cooley, DeBakey, and a gaggle of energy and real estate mavericks? Well, I think we can rule out style, hipness, physical attractiveness, fame, political power, intelligence, social class, and quality of life. Wealth, maybe a bit, but I think the primary one is economic power - "You should be a bigger player in business." (even the business of medicine) We don't seem to care too much whether you're an entrepreneur, developer, or top executive - just so long as you're a big shot. And if you're not a big shot, the message is to become one by whatever path necessary - whether on your own or through a large organization. 
Maybe not the ideal message I'd choose (although not bad), but I think it's an accurate reflection of the culture of the city." 
Later my friend Anne suggested maybe "industriousness" is a better ambition message for Houston rather than "economic power", because it's more inclusive of people working hard in all sorts of endeavors, including nonprofits. Both of those certainly fit well with a "Be Someone" motto encouraging people to go out and make a difference in the world.

I think it would great for the city to embrace "Be Someone" as our official motto and start baking it into our identity as a city (cue the T-shirts).  It's a great message we could put just about everywhere.  A similar example of an inspiring motto is "Live a Great Story".  On a practical note, that probably means cleaning up the sign and protecting it from future defacement, maybe with a protective spray-paint-repelling clear coat and/or some sort of physical protective shield added to the bridge.  But the real value is beyond the sign itself, but in the collective sense of identity it can unify Houstonians around.

Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments...

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12 Comments:

At 9:47 AM, May 28, 2019, Blogger George Rogers said...

"Be someone" is good as the motto but I also like "Change is the only constant" stylized as "\delta is the only constant."

 
At 9:48 AM, May 28, 2019, Blogger George Rogers said...

Chevron has some good ads on this subject.

 
At 9:53 AM, May 28, 2019, Blogger George Rogers said...

The city should pay to have gonzo247 paint both sides of the railroad overpass with be someone.

 
At 9:54 AM, May 28, 2019, Blogger George Rogers said...

I noticed the post was posted at 7:13

 
At 10:30 AM, May 28, 2019, Blogger Jardinero1 said...

Houston has a motto. No one realizes it. Houstonians say it all the time to non-Houstonians and new Houstonians say it to the family and friends they left behind. I know you know it; here it is:

<"Houston, It's not so bad.">

 
At 10:32 AM, May 28, 2019, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Lol, that's a very appropriate time! (7:13)

Yeah, we can do better than "it's not so bad", lol. That seems more like a Chicago or Detroit motto! ;-)

 
At 11:01 AM, May 28, 2019, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the graffiti message would lose its authenticity if there was any government role in preserving or protecting it. As you mention, whenever it is defaced it is quickly restored by the tagger(s).

 
At 11:16 AM, May 28, 2019, Blogger George Rogers said...

But it might be a good installation some other places in the city.

 
At 10:48 PM, May 29, 2019, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This' is such an awesome city, how 'bout "Houston, the city of genius and big idea"

 
At 4:00 PM, June 01, 2019, Blogger Bill Reeves said...

Houston is the best city for normal people to pursue their dream. It is run for working people, rather than chattering elites. Since there are lots more regular people, that means Houston works better. I think "Be Someone" signifies this notion of normal following their dream. Another tack would be some thing like "The real people's city".

 
At 6:31 PM, June 03, 2019, Blogger George Rogers said...

Bill Reeves: I couldn't put it better.

On a related note: "Houston the city you actually want."

 
At 8:30 PM, June 03, 2019, Blogger George Rogers said...

One of the key differences between Houston and Dallas is this: Dallas encourages you to be all hat, while Houston is all about being all cattle.

Dallas: Appear important and stylish.
Houston: Be important and not so stylish

 

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