People tend to judge me for the places I’ve chosen to go to. When faced with a choice between a city in Southern France–with all of the sun, sea, and beautiful climate that goes with it–and a city in Northern France–known for being cold, rainy, and backwards–I opted for a city in the north: Lille.
When faced between an entire nation’s worth of cities to live in, I was overjoyed when I was placed in Richmond Virginia; a city that used to hold the not-too distinct distinction of being one of the most polluted and crime-ridden cities in the country, as well as being the capital of the Confederacy.
Of course the Richmond of today is a city that has come to embrace its river and the culture that comes with it with Class I-IV rapids through downtown and frequent festivals on its islands. It’s a city with a notable food scene with scores of top restaurants in its Carytown, Shockoe Bottom, and Arts District neighborhoods. Richmond is one of the few cities that has preserved its industrial architectural style and humanized it with murals seemingly on every corner and with local coffee or restaurants dotting the landscape.
Lille, of course, is one of the cultural capitals of the Flemish region and was the European capital of culture in 2004. The city embraces its Flemish culture with beer and cheese-heavy dishes that leave you slowly walking out of an estaminet more content than you ever thought possible. It’s home to the second-largest art museum in France and one of the most democratized art scenes in France.
In both of these cases, its neither the history nor the climate that makes or breaks the city. It’s the people. Or rather, it’s the people’s love for the city they call home. Back in July, I wrote a piece about Richmond and about appreciating the context a city is in to better appreciate the city itself. Last March, I wrote about experiencing cities through their present, with Simone de Beauvoir summing it up best when she wrote:
We can imagine that each place, each city had a secret, a soul, an eternal essence and that the task of the traveler was to discover it…not only in their museums, their monuments, their past, but in the present, through their shadows and their lights, their crowds, their scents, their food…the mysteries of Berlin can be summed up in the smells that floated in its streets and that resembled nothing else. Drinking a Spanish chocolate was taking all of Spain in one’s mouth.
~Simone de Beauvoir, La Force de l’Age, 1960.
People inherently want to like–if not love–where they live. When we first arrive in a city, we seek out amenities that fit our interests and explore our new environment. Then somewhere along the line we lose interest. Our city devolves from its role as the canvas on which we live our lives and becomes a shell; a mere environment in which we complete our quotidian tasks.
RVA all day
In my city, a group called RVA Creates designed a logo for the city.
Then, instead of hoarding it with a copyright, or using it for some official mark of city approval meant to be used to attract tourists to the city, they gave it to the locals.
Today, the RVA wordmark is found all over town: on city Garbage trucks, as logos for businesses, included in symbols for sports enthusiasts groups, and on about 54% of all the cars in the city–including mine.
The symbol has become a symbol of loving and supporting the local culture of the city–of seeking out local businesses and of wanting to explore Richmond and the James River to know more about the many treasures hidden inside its boundaries.
The lillois had their own symbol, this time in the form of a hashtag: #lillemaville. Which is the most common hashtag when used to talk about the city. People from Lille take pride in the fact that they drank more beer than wine. They take pride in their local cheeses–pungent masterpieces like Maroilles
Both of these cities are barely blips on the radar of their respective national cultures.
But for the residents of these cities they are treasure troves full of places and experiences yet to discover; with each discovery being yet another reason to fall in love with the city all over again.
Best of all, every city has these secrets; so there’s no reason at all you can’t fall in love with yours. You don’t even need a fancy logo to do so.
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Cover image by author