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September 9, 2009

An indistinct possibility

I’m sorry. I am sincerely proud of Louisville, but “Possibility City”? It’s just not true.

OK, it’s true in the same way it was possible that I was going to spend the entire Labor Day weekend repainting my basement. However, it was also highly improbable because I didn’t want to.

The Possibility City ad campaign is back. The goal this time is to sign up 20,000 people during a September recruitment campaign awkwardly called a “Friend of Lou-a-thon.”

I don’t remember which eatery I was in when I first saw little cards advertising something called a “Friend of Lou.” I remember thinking it sounded like a 12-step program.

In health clubs, at churches and on cruises you will often see signs advertising where “Friends of Bill W.” are meeting. That’s code for telling people where to find an A.A. meeting. “Bill W.” refers to Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Turns out, while being a Friend of Lou might involve cocktails, understanding what registration involves ranks on the level with making amends to everyone you’ve harmed. It’s difficult.

Even after reading the Friends of Lou website and watching a 43-second YouTube video, I’m still not clear just what the program does. The site says a Friend of Lou is a person who takes pride in the city and who, by signing up, becomes “A bona fide Ambassador of Possibility.”

Let’s dial down the spin and take a tip from Bill W. and A.A.: The first step in overcoming a problem is admitting you have one.

Before we go touting how possible everything is here, we’d better address some of our ever-present obstacles. With God all things might be possible, but if you want to accomplish something in Louisville, all too often your fellow residents beat you to a pulp until you surrender.

City leaders who push for advancement and improvement shouldn’t be considered Don Quixote-like dreamers tilting at windmills; yet for decades those with vision have had to fight unbelievable uphill battles.

Many say Louisville’s economic development lags behind vibrant river cities like Nashville, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Indianapolis because years ago a couple of power families selfishly decided to keep the city small and manageable. But what’s our excuse for standing in our own way today?

We have negative attitudes built on absolute nonsense: “Downtown is dangerous. That’s why I don’t go to Fourth Street Live.”

We have obstructionists in and out of politics intent to play out their private agendas because their egos weren’t sufficiently stroked: “The numerous studies don’t matter. The Ohio River Bridges won’t get built. We need to 8664.”

We have pessimists who refuse to see beyond their own sad, tiny lives: “We don’t need a new arena.”

We can’t even form a consensus among ourselves on what’s possible, yet we expect the Possibility City campaign to get out-of-town businesses and high-powered individuals to view Louisville as the perfect city for relocation, or a convention and tourism destination? We’re pinning our hopes on a smattering of commercials that proffer the city as one offering an overwhelmingly rich quality of life?

And no offense, because I have friends who are in these commercials, but out-of-towners won’t recognize local quasi-celebrities like Darryl Isaacs and Patti Swope. So just who is this campaign supposed to be appealing to anyway?

Beyond that are the characterizations included in this campaign: “There is a place unlike any other. A city alive with potential. Where dreams flourish in the fertile soil of can-do and ideas are the ultimate currency.”

No question there’s a myriad of reasons people say Louisville transplants “move to cities but stay in Louisville.” We do live in a wonderful place. But it’s not Shangri-La or Eden (pre-snake).

Nobody expects everyone in Virginia to be lovers, or secrets to be buried forever when you vacation in Las Vegas, but my fear concerning Possibility City is that we are buying into our own hype while contentedly resting in mediocrity.

We need to stop pretending our fair city is something it is not. We need to stop distracting ourselves with hollow initiatives. Louisville doesn’t need friends or more cute slogans for T-shirts. Louisville needs people of action to push it forward and those who won’t to get the hell out of the way. That’s how what might be possible will become reality. 

Tagged: Francene |