Designer Christmas Trees and Community Branding

Gangplank’s guest-blogging series illustrates the array of personalities and experiences embodied by our community. All invited participants – past brownbag speakers, anchors, new members, City of Chandler employees and others – share their Gangplank stories. Interested guest posters should send a draft to our Director of Operations.

By Lori Quan, City of Chandler Economic Development Specialist

I finally got around to taking down our Christmas tree and was able to trick my 6-year-old son into helping me. It was fun to see him “ooh” and “ahh” and act out a little scene with each one of characters we had collected over the years. I will admit it – The Quan Christmas tree is a menagerie of Star Wars, Star Trek and comic book heroes .

But I didn’t always embrace the who’s who of Science Fiction that now adorns my tree. My husband’s aunt began giving him those special Hallmark ornaments long before he and I started living together. The first couple of years, he had to put up his own tree with his own ornaments. My tree was fancy. Showroom quality with color coordinated bows, shiny bulbs and designer ornaments mass produced to look unique.

The problem with this was that we couldn’t escape the reality that my fancy tree just didn’t reflect who we were as a couple and it certainly didn’t reflect who we were as a growing family. As much as I wanted to keep up the charade for a few short weeks around the holidays, it was impossible. We’re busy, our lives get kind of chaotic and, as true products of the 70’s, we love Star Wars.

Working in Economic Development, I see this kind of community Christmas tree dressing happen all the time. Marketing strategies often work really hard to project an image that doesn’t resonate with the place it represents. One of the reasons I’ve made Chandler my home is because it understands who it is. It’s a city that wants to develop true to its DNA, not something it selected from a catalog of successful cities.

I’ve seen many community branding efforts fail for the simple reason that no one is listening to the story at the street level. It’s not always sexy to talk about what is authentic to a city’s history. But when an expensive marketing program glamorizes a picture that doesn’t exist, you’re not fooling anybody.

One thing I’ve noticed about Chandler is it has a history of creating an environment for innovation and entrepreneurship that you can trace back to its founder. Its investment in infrastructure and understanding policy for that attracts and grows both companies and talent is evident. A partnership with Gangplank is a great example of this. I call it creating a “platform for possibility”. And while careful city planning is the easiest thing to build a tag line around, cities aren’t sustained on clever turns of phrases. Eventually that glitter wears off too.

I reached a milestone this year – not one shiny bulb on our tree. Aunt Carol keeps feeding our addiction, we’ve added a few “Baby’s First Christmas” ornaments and some homemade ones too. This is who we are. And frankly I can’t imagine a better way to say, “Happy Birthday Baby Jesus” than with a Princess Leia metal bikini ornament.

One thought on “Designer Christmas Trees and Community Branding

  1. The communities that seem to understand exactly what it’s going to take to build a sustainable place that will attract the jobs, creative minds, as well as set their sights on embodying what it will mean to be called home in a global community are what I think Lori is saying here. Lori herself projects a totally different set of proficiencies that one might assign to employees of a city. Chandler’s innovative approach to defining space, growing specifically, and recognizing an emerging work culture remain true to an identity that’s built as a “platform for possibility” for its citizens and business community. Both the city and Lori are not just improving but they are working to create new forms. As a collaborative force the Brilliance of Gangplank, the city, and the sources that inform our identity are providing a dynamic spotlight for second order change in the first order of a fixed geography.

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