At Vine and 12th in Over-the-Rhine is the urban equivalent of wearing the band t-shirt to the concert. It turns out that you can also live, shop and play in Atlanta.
It seems that the ability to live, work and play [but not shop, or perhaps shopping is a form of playing?] exists in Boston, NYC, LA, Jacksonville and, in Canada, in both Calgary and Wawa. In Orlando, you can work, shop and play, but maybe not live. Those industrious Wisconsinites cover all bases — in both Mayville and West Allis, you can shop, live, work and play. Have your cake and eat it, too!
What does the ubiquity of these slogans tell us about these respective communities? Everything and nothing. They describe the qualities inherent to an urban neighborhood. If these qualities are true and obvious, the banners are redundant, serving to explain to you the place which you are, at that moment, experiencing. That can be seen as a form of condescending tautology.
Practically speaking, these banners always seem to appear in places in which these qualities need to be pointed out, places with that potential, if not that reality. If the qualities are not true or obvious, then the challenge is to make them so. Instead, the effect of the banners is to construct a kind of simulacrum of an urban neighborhood, one with a didactic that helpfully guides your understanding of where you are and what you can do. The simulacrum is no less condescending than the tautology if it convinces people that they are having a true urban experience because the banner told them so when, in actuality, the multitude and complexity of urban experiences has been reduced to a short set of action words that can be applied to any urban, or aspiring to be urban, location.
To a critical observer, the banners themselves beg the questions: what’s wrong with these places? Why does this need to be said? Why do we need to be instructed?