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The DL: Tucson meets itself on weekend packed with events

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Downtown Lowdown

The DL: Tucson meets itself on weekend packed with events

  • Tucson Meet Yourself
    Downtown Tucson PartnershipTucson Meet Yourself
  • Lowriders are one of many cultures represented at Tucson Meet Yourself.
    Downtown Tucson PartnershipLowriders are one of many cultures represented at Tucson Meet Yourself.

Tucson has often found its self with an identity crisis. When it comes to downtown revitalization, we've looked to successful cities like Portland and Austin and tried to find some tips and tricks to follow in their footsteps. There's nothing wrong with that. We should look at best practices from other places, see what works and what doesn't. Strong communities and vibrant downtowns have realized elsewhere. We don't have to reinvent the wheel.

But while we've observed many cities across the country, we may have overlooked what has always made us great. Visit Tucson, the group tasked with marketing Tucson to potential tourists, released a new brand their promotional efforts recently. A presentation by the marketing gurus that created the new image had a quote that really hit home for me. It was from Anthony Bourdain, talking about what he wanted to do on his new tourism show.

The quote started, "I think cities often tragically misinterpret what’s coolest about themselves. They scramble for cure-alls, something that will 'attract business,' always one convention center, one pedestrian mall or restaurant district away from revival."

"They miss their biggest, best and probably most marketable asset: their unique and slightly off-center character. Few people go to New Orleans because it’s a 'normal' city – or a 'perfect' or 'safe' one. They go because it’s border line dysfunctional, permissive, shabby, alcoholic and bat-shit crazy – and because it looks like nowhere else."

Once I saw that statement, I knew the new Tucson brand would be good. And it is. So is the shift in our attitude about how we approach downtown and development across Tucson. Dan Gibson, editor of the Tucson Weekly, articulated it really well recently at a fascinating roundtable discussion on Arizona Public Media. This new approach is authentic. It's organic. It looks forward while making sure that we remember our past, where we came from and who we are while determining who we want to be in the future. It allows us to be ourselves, strive to be Tucson, just more so.

As a city, it seems that we've often had a bit of a chip on our shoulder, a bit of a lack of identity. We define ourselves as "not Phoenix" or "kinda like Austin". We think about how nice it would be to be a little more like Portland. While looking elsewhere, we may have been been missing the best of what is already here, the things that make Tucson the place we're proud to call home.

Some of this defining essence of our community will be concentrated this weekend at one of my favorite annual events, Tucson Meet Yourself, a free event that draws over eighty different cultural traditions displaying their art, culture, music, dance, and food (oh, the food!). Over 100,000 Tucsonans attend this event every year, coming together to, eat, yes, but also learn about the people who live next door and connect with each other. Then we eat a little more.

Tucson Meet Yourself, now in its 40th year, is classic Tucson. It shares this weekend with 2nd Saturdays, the Gay Freedom Day Parade, AIDSWALK and dozens of other events, making an incredibly diverse and strange mix of activities. That's part of what makes Tucson what it is. We're a little odd, but proud our quirks. We care about our culture, which can't be identified as just one defining thing, but a unique mix of different communities coming together, meshing, crossing and blending. Culture isn't isolated, only on display in a museum. It's comes through in every aspect of our lives. We create an environment in which people feel free to be themselves. We have an event where, as legendary folklorist and Tucson Meet Yourself founder "Big" Jim Griffith said, "one can watch a Ukrainian Easter egg decorator, eat a Vietnamese egg roll, and listen to a Tohono O’odham polka band, all at the same time."

Tucson has a soul. A lot of us like it here, love it, and want to work not to change it, but to improve it, make it a better version of its self. Downtown revitalization just keeps booming, led by locals and folks with a passion for the city, for preserving but enhancing the existing vibe. We don't need to be like any other place in order to thrive. We're finding that being Tucson, as quirky as we can be, is good enough.

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