How New Yorkers are Cured of Homesickness

Yankees_Cap1.pngI get territorial when it comes to pride of place. It may be the psychic balm for the chronic case of homesickness I get whenever and wherever I travel.

With the exception of my university years, I have lived an entire life in the state of New York. In three places. I have lived in New York City for 40+ years. I grew up in the Finger Lakes region of the state, and for the past 20 years, spend time at a residence in Long Island in the eastern part of the state.

These places have been – for the most part – wonderful places for someone with my temperament. I have lived the life I dreamed of and wanted. I have built communities and friendships that are solid and long-lasting within the circumference of a few city blocks and internationally!

When I must get in that car to go to the airport, it is hard to leave. When I do, I go to places that you know about through ICF. Even your city. To be in these places, ultimately, is wonderful and a privilege and a great educational experience. I am glad I can share with you the success and stories of places that move from smart to “Intelligent.” It restores my faith in people and politics.

But the homesickness pains me like an earache until it is relieved.

And it is relieved in the most curious way. By the sight of a hat. A very specific one.

No matter where I go – whether it is Binh Duong or Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam; Taoyuan or New Taipei City in Taiwan; Tallinn, Estonia or Casablanca, Morocco – I see it. That is, I see someone – lots of someones actually and mostly younger someones – wearing a New York Yankees baseball cap!

Lest you think I am alone in this obsessive observation, take it from sports journalist Sam Borden, who wrote on behalf of ESPN:

I was in Pazardzhik, a small town in rural Bulgaria. How rural? There were horses pulling carriages through parts of the village. Most of the buildings were blocks of concrete built in Soviet times. Signs were written in Cyrillic. It is among the least American places I have ever visited. And yet, as I stumbled around looking to buy a bottled water there it was, an oasis of familiarity in the traveler’s desert of confusion, perched upon the head of a man reading a newspaper at a bus stop.

The interlocking “N-Y.”

The man and I met eyes. I said, “Yankees?” I went closer, gesturing to his navy blue cap. He smiled. “USA!” he said. I suddenly felt at home.

Sam’s and my source of obsessive community pride not only reminds me of home, it reminds me what a great brand can do for a city.


Photo courtesty of Shanghai Disney Resort

The “New York Yankees” hat is more than the familiar interlocking “N-Y.” Yes, the Yankees baseball team has won 29 league championships. This makes them Jupiter among the tiny planets in professional baseball.

That “N-Y” is more than those 29 World Series appearances. It gives me an emotional connection with people and a vision of the place to which I always return.

For the people wearing the cap, my guess is that it gives them a vision of a place that is free, creative, dynamic – an aspiration of a quality of life. And I love it. It is how a community should be felt of.

That cap promotes New York more than the Empire State Building. By far.

So, what am I saying here?

Simply this: if your community can build a brand, and if that brand is embraced and recognized for success in a positive way, you have struck marketing gold for your economic development efforts. Think of Dublin, Ohio and its annual Memorial Golf Tournament and the ICF Institute there. It is known in more places today than cities 10 times its size. It is the heart of what the world knows as “Intelligent Ohio.”

This is among the reasons one of our six factors is “community engagement.” In New York, this city is proud of the Yankees (except when they are in last place, such as now!) But even then, our passion and pride remains white hot. The brand is part of who we are.

For Intelligent Communities, the level of engagement with citizens and investors must go well beyond the marble floors in City Hall. It is essential to success. The brand and the pride a brand image brings help shape a place’s image of itself, which increases, in remarkable ways, the amount of time people are willing to spend making it more intelligent, prosperous, connected and safe.

A brand is a personal relationship. It is not solely a “marketing thing.” Marketing is how you communicate it. Think of the global greats: Coca-Cola, Disneyland, Netflix, the Intelligent Community Forum Top7 . . .

You get a vibe from them. You ID them and see your own ID through them. It works. It works at an even deeper level when that place is your home or your hometown. You can connect your identity to it and go beyond yourself. When this happens, you have something special. You no longer live in “the middle of nowhere.”

In October, you will see this at work. Greater Geelong and Sunshine Coast, Australia; Curitiba, Brazil and the other Top7 will be in New York with the kind of swagger a kid wearing a Yankees cap feels. The kind of swelling up of pride a region or city that has hit a home run should feel.

Come and see them and learn how they built their brands.

If you refer to this post and you promise to wear a Yankees cap, I will personally admit you at no cost!

Louis Zacharilla
Co-Founder of the Intelligent Community Forum. Louis Zacharilla helped found the Intelligent Community movement. He is the developer of the Intelligent Community Awards program. He is a frequent keynote speaker and a moderator at conferences and events.
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