Branding Merced like a world class city

May 18, 2017

Editor’s note: Last week, in a news story, we introduced Eric Moore, who heads up a volunteer city beautification effort called Paint The Town. He also worked on a “Master Welcome Sign” report over the past year that offers insight into the current City of Merced process to come up with a strategy about creating new entryway signs. The Times asked him about his views on some of the issues.

What’s the purpose of this Welcome Sign effort?
The project has three purposes if done properly with an open heart.
The first purpose is about local leadership sincerely and effectively engaging local peoples in an ongoing manner and allowing them to participate in this creative process. Merced is filled with many creative people that have something important to say about their home. It's time to let local peoples positively impact their community in an open and notorious way. This is what a ‘Community of Belonging’ is all about. … Merced's people need to be shaken-up and their intentions directed to reviving ownership over their families, homes, neighborhoods and community spirit. The world wants to hear Merced say something inspiring and positive. In this regard, welcome signs are a reflection of something bigger - Merced's identity – not just a highway billboard. Merced must rediscover its identity to effectively brand itself with welcome signs.
The second purpose is to simply organize and drive local commerce. People entering the county and city are given little information about where to go to find the city center, county attractions, the Farmers Market/Fair Grounds, the Yosemite Corridor, UC Merced/Merced College, or know something about Merced spirit. I've lived in Merced on and off for 10 years. I still don't know what exit to take off US99 that takes me to the city center and County Courthouse. In time Campus Parkway and University Village will evolve into important commercial corridors – maybe a separate city - eclipsing the traditional City Center. The city collected extra money from downtown businesses for years, yet there is still no sign that tells a traveler how to get there, relax and spend money. What a tragedy. The new and the old need to be joined in spirit to put Merced on the map in new effective commercial ways. I want to see people from Turlock get in their cars and drive to Merced on Friday/Saturday night and spend money. What do we need to do as an organized and sharing community to make that happen? Welcome signs are a start to tell people Merced is where they want to be. The county and all cities can use this project to produce new effective working relationships and share cogent economic development ideas. At least that is what other California counties do.
The third purpose is create the best Welcome Signs in California and otherwise make Merced a world-class Open City filled with generous adventurous people and celebrate that spirit. Yosemite National Park receives over 4 million visitors annually. Merced touts itself as the “Gateway to Yosemite,” yet does nothing to capture this important regional visitor traffic and revenue. It's a normal and customary activity for local business and community groups to take pride and ownership in calling Merced home. Indeed, site-selectors want to see local peoples and commerce engaged and empowered. Merced is a world class agricultural powerhouse and basic science research community. It's natural to take this welcome sign opportunity and make it remarkable in every way with honesty, goodness and meaning for the benefit of all peoples. It's time to stop being afraid of apprehending and sharing Merced's remarkable place and opportunities. Merced might just be the most exciting city in California's future.

What impressions should these signs convey?
A welcome sign is an invitation – an invitation to work, thrive and explore a new place, not just be welcomed to a happy home. The entire process of building creative and effective welcome signs is an invitation by local leaders to invite our people into the process of sharing information and building an attachment to Merced. After that practice is established, the idea of sharing information and spirit with new people is an important cornerstone to healthy commerce, investment and growth. Welcoming people to Merced is not just about telling them where they are spatially, but indeed to tell them they have arrived at a special place that they can grasp and make for themselves a vibrant home and adventurous community. To welcome all to Merced is to invite everyone along an inspired heroic journey to make their life, intention and time remarkable for themselves and others.

Are they about making a statement, or more informational, or more decorative?
This is the exciting thing – it's a blank canvas. How do you balance “information” with “decoration?” The prior welcome sign between Merced and Atwater were jumbled words on a blue background that communicated disorganization amid an uninspiring background on an unlit sign. Merced can do better. Its people demand better. There are all kinds of clever aesthetics and psychologies that can be exploited and deployed by local stakeholders. The ideas and needs of south Merced are different than downtown business owners, which are different than UC Merced students — yet each has an important role to play across the city and county. Paint the Town has enormous ideas to attack these challenges, but we see our role more to inspire and facilitate others to forge our Community of Belonging.

Would you consider these signs more like monuments?
With all the regional investment, Merced is at a crossroads. It can limb into the same disorganized and uninspired efforts that earned it a lowly-ranked reputation, or it can consider these welcome signs to be an important public art opportunity for the benefit and enjoyment of all. Ultimately this project and the dozens to follow is about joyfully sharing Merced with strangers and each other and building a Community of Belonging. To that I would like to see these welcome signs to be monuments to local people's dignity, ingenuity and empowerment and fearlessly telling the world all about it. After all, any schmo can live in Modesto.

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