Do Cities Have Identities?

It’s true: I grew up in a town so far South, it’s North.
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With residents mostly emigrating from colder climates, my hometown really is a Southern  (geographically) and Northern (cultural) fusion.  Nicknamed “Paradise,” Sarasota, Florida’s motto boasts “Big City Amenities Meets Small Town Living.”

The town has plenty of personality with its big-meets-small mentality, beaches, and population. If you land in the airport, you’ll find a shark tank to greet you just outside of TSA Security. The “small town living” note on the sign should really say “small beach town living,” since Sarasota boasts one of the USA’s consistently best-rated beaches. Its affluent nature no doubt relates to the culture that John Ringling helped infuse into the society.


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While travelling recently to a community on a rabbinic visit, I encountered another city with a very clear, yet completely different identity: Kilgore, Texas.

I had the pleasure of driving over from Longview after my visit had concluded to play a round of golf with some fellow golf-obsessed Nice Jewish Boys. Titled the “city of stars,” it’s not for astronomical or astrological reasons.  Instead, it’s due to the discovery of oil in 1930. The “stars” to which it refers are the tops of oil derricks.


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Never had I entered a city whose identity is so clearly played out virtually everywhere you go. As you drive in, instead of a shark tank, you are greeted by a giant oil derricks holding up the road sign. Immediately following is another oil derrick with the welcome sign… on which stands yet another oil derrick. I stopped in Circle K to grab a Gatorade to stay hydrated— lo and behold, an oil derrick was a column holding up the front overhang.

When I pumped my gas on the way out of town, I noticed that even the liquor store’s sign was modeled after the oil derrick. There’s something important about a town’s history, identity, and culture from what they make sure you notice while you’re there.

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Whether it’s beaches or bohemian flair, olive trees or oil derricks, all towns are built around something. I will certainly pay more attention to the cities I enter from now on, looking for these markers that help explain who they are. It’s all part of hitting the road and really getting to know the communities we visit.

For what is your city best known?

Does it have a slogan?

How does its identity on display as you wander the streets?

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