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Cultural Mapping: Preparing For The Future


In mid-March I wrote a column titled “Get a map; see where you are,” which was altered by the editor’s prerogative. My title was “Get a map; see where you were.”

Cultural mapping is about seeing where you are. More so, cultural mapping is an important tool for community understanding, growth and development.

Such a tool helps citizens value the scope and possibilities of the community and could enhance the promotional goals of the City of Ogdensburg, the OBPA and the chamber of commerce.

In the simplest form a cultural map of Ogdensburg is a municipal inventory.

On the list are historic buildings and places, libraries, museums and archives, festivals, fairs, theater, crafts, arts, artists, galleries, bookstores, social organizations, clubs and associations, as well as sports facilities, parks, playgrounds, marinas and natural heritage.

In addition to the arts and heritage categories usually recorded, I’d consider additional common activities and services. I’d catalog houses of worship, schools, clinics, hospitals, trades, industries, businesses and professionals.

Missing assets will be confirmed by examining the list.

Cultural mapping in the simple form is not much advanced beyond the Yellow Pages or an old-style city directory. However, the development process and outcomes can be customized and far more sophisticated.

According to the web page, “the outcomes achieved from cultural mapping depend greatly on the knowledge and expertise of those doing it, the ownership of the process, and the way that cultural mapping is undertaken.”

A vast difference exists between the middle school exercise to produce a cultural map of the state and the consultation and research required for advanced purposes.

Online and on paper, the results appear as a color-coded, indexed map or a conceptual diagram of linked and labeled shapes.

An interactive, online cultural map is an advanced tool revealing a community category by category in transparent layers.

The multidimensional mosaic is a tool reinforcing the promotional messages of the city, the OBPA and the chamber marketing Ogdensburg.

At this point you may be asking, “What has this to do with history?”

This is about reversing the legacy of past decisions, which the three bodies strive to overcome.

Since 1960 the city’s population declined about 20 percent. Fewer than 25 percent of properties pay taxes.

If imaginative, creative actions are not soon implemented, the city will become a ghost town, which none of us want to see.

Cultural mapping is about identifying, bolstering and publicizing Ogdensburg’s assets.

I’d hope there’d be a resulting wow factor, recognition of having more to offer than people expected.

Cultural resources presented in the broadest context should stimulate ideas and the imagination within the city government to push beyond the traditional, tried and less than effective development concepts.

I believe this is the constructive direction the city is targeting.

I’d hope more than the current crop of involved citizens would see opportunities to move past soliciting and importuning the city to act or take the lead.

The sweet taste of success does not come from a refined whine. Ogdensburg cannot be and will not be what the city was in the heyday.

That zenith has passed. The city must accept and ascend in the new economy.

The St. Lawrence River was the commercial link to wider markets prior to the first railroad in 1850.

The telegraph reportedly arrived in 1853. The first telephone in 1881 linked the home and offices of lumber entrepreneur H. I. Proctor.

A lesson here is the increasing speed of communication impelling the economy. We continue breaking the speed limit, shifting from copper to fiber optics to the Ethernet carrying increasingly large packets of information.

In the new economy Ogdensburg is not lost at the top of the North Country wilderness

Ogdensburg is nanoseconds from the Big Apple, Hong Kong and London or anywhere in the world.

Intellectual, artistic, creative enterprises can prosper here.

Map the culture. Tackle shortcomings. Grow the city.

Michael Whittaker resides in Bishop’s Mills, Ontario, and is a former member of the Fort La Presentation Association Board of Directors. He currently serves on the association’s marketing committee. His views do not necessarily reflect the views of the association

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