How do you solve a poser like Dunedin?

So, I Am Dunedin is to become I Was Dunedin; that is to say, history.

Surprising it lasted so long, actually.

Admittedly, I wasn't in these parts when the city slogan was coined but I still don't know what it stands for.

Perhaps that was part of its success.

It had an elusive, faintly ridiculous, but just possibly existential ring to it. A certain meaningless élan.

It's going to be hard to repeat.

About the time I Am Dunedin was finding its feet, I was in Canterbury where, after the appointment of a new city marketing manager, much soul searching, and a fair wodge of focus group activity attempting to define the essence of the province - or was it just the city of Christchurch, I really can't recall - a new slogan was settled upon.

It was - tah dah! - Fresh Each Day.

For most of us at first encounter that sounded like the sales pitch for a pint of milk.

Unfortunately, it pretty much remained that way, as much as the city's promotional people tried to thrash into all and sundry that it actually referred to all the different things you could experience and do in the city and the province daily.

From memory, after a prolonged assault on the Canterbury public consciousness, the campaign curdled and the slogan eventually faded from general currency.

Up north a bit in Wellington, the cheerleading was even more blatant: the city was all Absolutely, Positively - a catch-cry to the power of positive thinking, a triumph of hope over experience, an attitude of determined cheerfulness however windy it was, thank you very much; a slogan that would have been prepared to kick up its heels and do the cancan on the deck of the sinking Titanic.

You can almost admire that sort of singlemindedness. I said almost.

Uncharacteristically, or perhaps simply because they could not find more than two residents able to agree on any of the suggested mottos, which had obviously taken years and millions of dollars to compile - dollars that might otherwise have been sunk into widening a few roads and enhancing public transport - Auckland ended up by default with the lamely modest City of Sails.

Part of my cynicism over such things comes from the blatant attempt, often at great expense, to "corporatise", to market and exploit, the organic essence of a place.

To package; or to construct something self-evidently manufactured.

In either case, the outcome is most likely to be naff, self-conscious or imbued with a telltale and rather sad sense of look-at-me desperation.

Oh, I know, the marketing and promotions people will say I'm being a killjoy, that cities need a verbal hook on which to hang their many virtues and their oh-so tantalising visitor strategies.

But I still don't really buy it.

Cities and towns and provinces should speak for themselves; their virtues, their quirks, their beauties and their backsides should creep up on their visitors, even their residents, by stealth and earn a place in hearts and minds.

And as for those giant banners that welcome you into connurbations as you travel the length and breadth of the country - I'm making this up now, Rolleston, town of the future, Ohakune, the big carrot - as far as I'm concerned, they're the town-planning equivalent of bible-bashing.

As with evangelising religions, you either get it or you don't, and if you don't, there's nothing quite so off-putting as a holier-than-thou presence at the front door trying to sell you salvation.

Does it really matter whether cities or towns have a motto? I remain to be convinced but against my better judgement, and in an attempt to get into the spirit of things now that I Am No Longer Dunedin, I've found myself playing a little word-association game.

First thought that comes into the head during a little metaphorical jaunt around Otago.

And please don't be offended, or write pillorying letters to the editor, if you find yourself taking violent exception.

This is a social service; a kind of communal brain gym for the daunting task ahead.

Queenstown: Gay pride of the south
Cromwell: Where royalty never sleeps
Clyde: A bonnie wee place
Alexandra: Hello, blossom
Ranfurly: Shield Country, Not!
Wedderburn: And so does fire
Palmerston: A handy comfort stop
Milton: Let us detain you

There! Now that I've got the ball rolling, settling on a new moniker for Dunedin should be a breeze.

Simon Cunliffe is assistant editor at the Otago Daily Times.


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