Business mag Forbes published a glowing report recently on their website about Halifax’s “Be Bold” branding. The thing is, writer Victor W. Hwang was able to make the strategy sound kinda important and, yes, even bold, in a way that local boosters haven’t. The other thing is that Hwang’s company is an advisor to the Greater Halifax Partnership, so he’s probably got an interest in making the branding work. But taking him with a grain of salt, Hwang still makes the whole boldification sound like a real strategy rather than the justification for a new Halifax logo.
Hwang’s thesis is that while Halifax’s economic destiny has been shaped by the luck of being a deep port nicely located between America and Europe, “luck cannot be a long-term strategy.” Now that the internet-enabled “fast, cheap movement of valuable intangibles” means our luck has run out as a trans-Atlantic rest stop, we have to retool and become one of those modern economies that “are build on innovation.”
However, being amenable to innovation is a problem for the old, un-bold, vaguely racist Halifax:
Innovation thrives in ecosystems based on certain cultural norms, such as openness to strangers, diversity in talents and insights, empathy with outsiders, collaborative risk-taking, and paying it forward.
But many citizens of Halifax feel that the traditional culture of Halifax is not conducive for innovation. (By the way, Halifax citizens are called Haligonians, which definitely ranks among the coolest demonyms in the galaxy.) Haligonian leaders are concerned that too many of its people tend to shy away from strangers, stick to their own, and avoid unnecessary risk.
During my visit there last year, for instance, I met a man who was born in Eastern Europe but had lived in Halifax since he was a teenager. He confessed to me that he had never felt welcome in Halifax, despite having lived there for many years. He had always wanted to start his own company, but he felt that local culture stifled his ambitions. He couldn’t meet the right people; he couldn’t open the right doors. Although he lived in Halifax for most of his life, some less open-minded Haligonians still referred to him as a “Come From Away”—their term for people who are not native-born.
As Hwang puts it, “Halifax is going straight to the core of its economic issues” by trying to change the xenophobic, timid culture. The Greater Halifax Partnership’s Bold Promise is actually an effort to rewrite the social contract so that people who are normally nervous of other people become more receptive, in hopes that a fundamentally closed community becomes an innovative economy instead.
If that’s what Halifax is trying to, I can support it in a way I reject admonitions to blindly “Be Bold” and stop thinking critically because that’s just being “negative.” Halifax officials have never explained Boldness the way Hwang does, maybe because they’ve painted themselves in a corner: Somehow it's become Bold to never be negative, so you can’t admit our economic problem is actually a problem with racism and xenophobia, as that’s sorta negative. But if fundamental and real change is the goal, I'm gonna encourage our officials to be a lot more clear about it—if I may be so bold.