The city of New Haven recently developed a program to help increase the foot traffic in one of its downtown districts. According to this article, the program, called “On 9,” can be viewed “as a set of open houses emphasizing different attributes of the area.” The first open house event will be “Art on 9,” which will introduce people to the district’s art scene.
This idea of a community open house seems extremely appealing in terms of economic development. Such events provide communities with a cost-effective means of generating immediate revenue while also marketing their assets, building a buzz, and attracting new residents and business. For these reasons, the “On 9” concept should be expanded beyond just neighborhoods and infused with more substantive info about a place, we should have “city open-houses.”
Imagine a Hoboken, NJ Open House program. Each month the city could have an event that showcases the city’s strengths and gives real, substantive insight into how great life in Hoboken can be. These events would not be limited to just “restaurant weeks” or “art exhibits,” rather city officials could conduct events that go a little deeper into why Hoboken is such a great place. For example, a city bus could be used to drive “open house” attendees around to different neighborhoods and a guide could discuss housing prices, schools, and recent community developments. After the ride, the attendees could sit down with a councilman or mayor over dinner to discuss Hoboken’s recent history and future promise.
Oftentimes, cities shell out millions of dollars to have events in their cities, such as sporting events or concerts, with the goal of increasing the appeal of their city to a wider audience. It is true that these events bring people to a city that wouldn’t have otherwise came to the city and may have a better opinion of the city as a result. But, will these people be tempted into making some kind of more permanent investment in the city as a result of such a brief and isolated outing? It doesn’t seem likely. On the other hand, an “open-house” in which a city really informs people about its strengths seems likely to have much greater returns for a city than a mega-event. Furthermore, an open house is likely much cheaper. A city can cheaply leverage its existing resources in a way that entices people to attend the open-house. For example, the opportunity to sit down with a mayor, have a discounted meal and drinks, and be privy to a private city-bus tour would likely appeal to a large variety of people.
At the end of the day, all cities have something to offer. The open-house approach can help cities effectively communicate their strengths while ensuring a little fun as well.