Why did you put on the clothes you are wearing this morning? What did the dishes you ate breakfast on look like? How about the design of your car, the decor in your office, your lunch container, the color of your bedroom, the shape of your glasses?
Every single day, we are bombarded with thousands of choices, and if we are fortunate, many of them have something to do with aesthetics. What does something look like? How does it make you feel? Does it align with your personality?
Imagine your favorite clothing store. What does it sell? Jeans, button downs, t-shirts, sweaters, dresses, dress pants, sports coats, skirts and accessories. That’s pretty much it, right? More or less, every store sells about 8-10 general categories of clothing, but that’s not where it ends.
Walk into a large gathering of people and you will see everyone is wearing some variation of the basic elements in the 8-10 categories listed above, but no one looks exactly the same. Why is that?
Because we have an intuitive value for aesthetics.
We understand that what we wear says a lot about who we are. There’s a reason we dress up for weddings, funerals, job interviews and first dates: we are presenting our best selves, and clothes are an immediate marker of how we see ourselves and how we want to be seen by others.
That value extends beyond the personal and into the public, or at least it should.
Take the first date image and extend it to a first visit to a community from a prospective new hire for a business.
Let’s imagine a little: “Sharon” is coming from the Seattle area to interview for an executive job at a local tech firm.
Looking out of the airplane, Sharon is stunned at the agricultural patchwork quilt and how unbelievably flat the land is. She gets off the airplane and enters a pleasant, albeit utterly taupe, airport. Not much art or even design greets her. As she waits for her bags, she likely looks at some kind of large hauling equipment that she is unlikely to need at her potential new job.
She’s picked up and driven down University Drive. If she’s here in January, she’s greeted with mostly brown and gray utilitarian design all around. The driver heads down 13th Avenue or 45th Street or Main Avenue. Strip mall after strip mall greets Sharon on all sides.
The mall is a bright spot — effort has clearly been made to create a welcoming entry at the center of the inevitable vast acres of parking lot. The college campuses offer some aesthetic diversion — each showing a different academic design.
West Fargo’s City Hall extension and many of its new schools show an intent to make an attractive space for its citizens. Historic neighborhoods in both Moorhead and Fargo proudly show off their beautiful, architecturally unique homes that have survived the great bulldozings of years past. Downtown Fargo has a definite charm. In fact, for anyone bringing in a potential employee, this is the place to end the tour.
Sharon notes the independent shops, galleries, restaurants and living opportunities above it all. She marvels at the beautiful architecture of the small area. You park and take her to one of those restaurants, or you were smart and reserved her a hotel room downtown, although, it’s not close to where she will be spending her days in interviews, so maybe not.
OK, enough play-acting. You get my point.
What message are we sending to the Sharons of the world in this community? We have become too comfortable making sure that we are being “smart” with our tax dollars, that we aren’t being ostentatious with “unnecessary” design. After all, if work can be done inside a big plain box, why would we embellish the box?
We embellish the box for the same reason we don’t wear the same three pieces of clothing day in and day out. We embellish the box because it says something about who we are as a community. It says we are putting our best selves forward and welcoming people to be here. It says we understand that how we look is, fairly or not, a representation of who we are.
Clearly, there are great jobs here, but will that be enough to bring and keep people, or do we need to invest in the aesthetic to show off our best selves, Fargo-Moorhead metro? What would Sharon say?
This article is part of a content partnership with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and originally appeared in the Monday, January 30 2016, issue of the paper.