Thursday, October 05, 2006

More Houston branding: Greenest City in the Southwest

Continuing our ongoing quest at Houston Strategies to help shape a strong branding identity for Houston (why brand a city?, history/list, latest), this week I had a simple insight: people have noted that Houston, because of our tropical climate, is one of the most lush and green cities around, especially if you can get an elevated view (see David Crossley's "Green City, Garden City" initiative). I've personally noted and heard others mention the slightly depressing brown tinge in most of the rest of the dry Southwestern U.S., especially in the winter. Houston could legitimately claim to be the "Greenest City in the Southwest", and year-round at that.

Every southwestern competitor I can think of is definitely less naturally lush in the vegetation department: DFW, Austin, San Antonio, Denver, Albuquerque, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Vegas, LA, even San Diego and most of the SF Bay Area. The Southwest is arguably the most popular and fastest growing region of America these days, and enjoys a pretty strong positive image. Being the greenest city in that region is not a bad image to have. I'm not saying it's our whole identity, just part of an overall brand, like Tropical Texas. It would also help directly mitigate many of the negative perceptions of Houston nationally:
  • Air pollution and refineries
  • Flat, ugly, concrete sprawl with too many billboards and too much traffic
  • Heat, humidity, flooding, and hurricanes
  • That we look like West Texas covered in dust and tumbleweeds (you'd be surprised how many people think that)
(I'm not saying these aren't real issues, but that the green imagery helps counterbalance them in peoples' minds.)

Playing on the double-meaning of the word "green", it could also support all of the Mayor's different environmental initiatives. It's a simple, short, powerful, compelling image for the city that helps neutralize many of our negatives, and one that could be woven into all sorts of communications, advertising, and marketing - from the Partnership to the Convention and Visitors Bureau to local companies trying to recruit employees.


At 10:27 PM, October 05, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Calling Houston the "Greenest City in the Southwest" is like calling Baghdad the "Safest City in the Middle East" or The Woodlands the "Most Diverse Suburb in Houston"... it would be extremely ironic and bordering on a practical joke.

I say we adopt from our rap community: Houston-- capital of the Third Coast.

At 10:55 PM, October 05, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Houston actually is actually right on the cusp of what is considered in gardening a temperate zone. We are actually closer to rainforest climate than even forest climates nevermind desert.

A friend of a friend used to refer to Houston as f-ing lush. I've been to a lot of cities in the southwest and most are incredibly brown just as you said. Despite the lack of actual green"space" in Houston, we are far more lush and tropical than our friends to the west of us.

At 7:43 AM, October 06, 2006, Blogger John Whiteside said...

We're lush, but we're not "green" in the way the word is understood. Branding won't counteract reality. Calling ourselves "green" is just begging to be laughed at.

At 7:45 AM, October 06, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Anon: I don't see the analogy, because the other two examples you give are clearly and obviously untrue - and you can't argue with our tropical plant life.

I do like that "Captial of the Third Coast" thing though - that's pretty cool.

At 9:01 AM, October 06, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really don't think of Houston or East Texas as part of the Southwest. It is the South. The Southwest is El Paso, New Mexico, AZ, etc. Houston is more like New Orleans and Atlanta.

I'm glad Houston is green and lush. Keep it up. Now just get rid of the billboards within the city!

At 10:32 AM, October 06, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have always thought one of the coolest things about Houston was that the eastern forest ends right in the middle of town. Try the Woodlands or Kingwood if you want to live in the deep woods. Or Katy to live on the Texas prarie. Or there is the beach and coastal plains to the South. Ever notice we have small gray eastern squirrels on the east side of town, and the large brown western squirrels on the other side? Maybe part of our lack of geographic identity is that we can be so many different things -- depending on which part of town you know.

At 11:38 AM, October 06, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would suggest that you enjoy the green while you can. At the rate we are covering over the land with new development, and putting in small shrubs instead of the required trees we will loose the green within 10 years in our urban area, and a large part of the green in suburban areas as well. After all we have already lost over 26% of our tree canopy in the last 10 years or so.

At 12:52 PM, October 06, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is wrong with the Bayou city for cryin' out loud. The money spent on rebranding a city that is not a tourist destination is a waste. Unless someone is a space program junkie, everyone who lives here is becouse of a job or they like the people in Houston. I have never heard anyone say "what a beatutiful city, I see why you like love this place."

At 1:11 PM, October 06, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this is a big step in the right direction compared to the previous brand. It's still not a bullseye, however. People will probably wonder what the intended meaning really is. I think most people will think green=environmentally conscious, and we're not particularly known for that (and I don't think we would want to be, because it would be economically negative with our energy base.) Some people will realize it is green versus arid, and some may think of the money.

Also, I don't see the brand as having a big benefit because the eastern third of the United States and the Pacific Northwest are just as green.

At 11:00 AM, October 07, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

To clarify, I think the "Garden City" label is fine for Houston - and great as part of a vision for the city - I just don't think it's unique. You can say Houston is *a* Garden City, but you can't say we're *the* Garden City. (a lot of historically-English cities like Vancouver, Sydney, and Melbourne can make a very strong claim). But you can say we are *the* Tropical Texas, and we are *the* Greenest City in the Southwest.

At 7:19 AM, October 09, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just tried a Google exercise with the brand of Paris: "City of Light". On the first page, out of 9 hits, 4 were related to the city. The top hit was, so in that respect their identity is successful. But less than a 50% appearance on the first page? That's not so good. Moreover, one frequently sees the brand mis-stated as "City of Lights". I suspect that a city's brand is a complex mixture of linguistic/cultural attributes and images (literal visual images, not made-up PR images and phrases). Paris-Eiffel Tower. One never thinks of another city when the image of the Eiffel Tower icon is present. Other powerful visual image/icons: the Golden Gate Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, St Basil's Cathedral, the Pyramids of Giza, the Acropolis; Diamond Head. Another indication that city/place identity is more complex than a simple brand is the fact that numerous cities that are big presences on the world stage lack a solitary prominent icon, yet do not suffer the kind of identity problem that Houston does. Madrid, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Mexico City, Prague, Berlin, Miami, Chicago, New Orleans; cultural and visual images arise in association with these cities. This all begs the question, are any of these identities intentional? Or, are they the serendipitous result of the actual histories of these places and are happily there for exploitation by those who wish to promote the city? If there is anything to that idea, then Houston's history simply may not have made enough of an impact to warrant any tie-in with its image/brand.

At 8:53 AM, October 09, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I consider an icon to usually be pretty different from a brand/identity - although in limited cases they are self-reinforcing. If the Statue of Liberty had ended up in Boston or Baltimore, would anybody think substantially differently about the brand/identities of NYC vs. Boston vs. Baltimore? I don't think so.

On the intentionality question: it's a self-reinforcing loop. If a city examines itself and determines what makes it unique, then promotes that uniqueness, it not only makes an impact on visitors, it also impacts how the locals feel about themselves, and then they do things to reinforce that self-image. For instance, if we promote "Greenest City in the Southwest" and/or "Tropical Texas", locals (including commercial establishments) might start to take note and then cultivate landscaping and gardens on their property to reinforce that image - whereas before they might not have thought much about it. People want to take pride in where they live and support the local identity. The same applies to "Open City" or "City of Opportunity" - locals will try to be more open, friendly, and supportive than they might otherwise normally be. I consider this local-reinforcement to be at least as important - if not more - than the image provided to outsiders.

At 9:16 PM, October 09, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Being the Greenest City in the Southwest is kind of like being the Fastest Walker, or Loudest Whisperer. It just doesn't mean that much.

Besides, we aren't even in the Southwest. Fort Worth, Austin... those are Southwestern cities. We're Gulf Coast.

Also, we need to change the fact that we're one of the lowest cities in park acres per capita before we start calling ourselves the Garden City.

At 9:47 PM, October 09, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Actually, we do really well on park acres per capita rankings. See here:

At 9:59 AM, October 10, 2006, Blogger Justin said...

This is a great idea - Austin was never the Live Music Capital of the World before they were branded as the "Live Music Capital of the World".

Also, on a totally related note, I was reading the book "You Shall Know Our Velocity!" by Dave Eggers, and this passage came up in regards to being surprised that Morocco was green:

"But the same thing happened with Houston. I always figured Houston was all dry and brown, but it's trees in every direction, for a hundred miles." (p. 162, paperback edition).

I say go for it. As energy companies diversify into different alternative energy technologies, I think Houston very well could be the "Greenest City in the Southwest" in more ways than one.


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