Friday, July 29, 2005

A Memphis Welcome Begins At The Airport

The chairman of the Memphis and Shelby County Airport Authority is quoted in the Memphis Flyer as saying that Memphis without FedEx is Shreveport. Well, music heritage, an MSA twice as large, a more vibrant business base and innate authenticity aside, Shreveport’s airport at least knows how to welcome its guests.

If you doubt it, just take a look at the “M” that was supposed to extend a flowery welcome to guests to our city as they enter the airport connector to I-240. It was modeled after the ever-popular photo op at East Parkway and Madison -- the “M” of beautiful flowers that magically appear every year to brighten our environment and our attitude.

Instead, the “M” at the airport is a weedy eyesore that would be better off bulldozed, because it sends the subconscious signal to every visitor that we are a city whose reality fails to match its resonance.

This is because when we visit a city, there is an intuitive city that is just as powerful as the actual one. It begins to be formed subconsciously long before we form conscious attitudes.

It’s built on things like whether the airport is like a mall and could be located anywhere; whether the drive out of the airport is landscaped and appealing; on whether a city has graphically appealing and helpful signage; on the cleanliness of the streets; on whether flowers and trees are planted on the interstate; on whether public spaces are well-maintained; on whether details of design are addressed in a careful way; and whether public art by local artists gives insight about what kind of city it is.

It is inarguable that the airport is a powerful force in forming the Intuitive Memphis. It’s also inarguable about the impact that its “M” has on these attitudes.

When you think of how airports can create positive, unconscious opinions, think Austin. The Intuitive Austin is immediately positive because of the impact of its airport. There is Austin music played by Austin performers; there are Austin eateries and shops; there are Austin medallions above the water fountains and Austin public art; and there are gift stores selling Austin City Limits’ music and South-by-Southwest memorabilia. In other words, there’s no doubt that you’ve landed in Austin, and from your first step inside the airport, the city begins sending messages on the kind of city it is.

It’s almost impossible to be objective enough about your own hometown to see it in this intuitive way. But try, because it gives you a whole new view of the intuitive city that we offer to our visitors. But if you want it to begin with a positive feeling, you better avoid the airport.

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