Why a campaign targeting young professionals and creatives in and outside of Norfolk? In May, The Brookings Institution’s State of Metropolitan America report noted Hampton Roads’ slow-growing, aging population with less diversity than the national average. (…That’s bad.)
I love Norfolk as much as I am frustrated with it.
I love its natural beauty, its restaurants, its history, and its people. I love how far it’s come in the last 15 years under the cultural and political leadership of some brilliant folks. Most of all I love it for its potential.
But the truth is I feel badly about Norfolk quite a lot, also. Right now, Granby has no daytime foot traffic on the weekends. Ghent gets a little claustrophobic. There aren’t bike lanes or solid mid-sized music venues. And to put it in the simplest terms: Norfolk has yet to reach the level of activism, progressiveness, hometown loyalty, or culture that I look for in a place in which to live.
I’m here because my family is here and I love my job. If it weren’t for those two things, I probably wouldn’t stay. I hate that I feel that way, but it is the truth.
My ambivalence is shared by many people of my generation living in Norfolk. How do I know? Well, because many of the young Norfolkians who have inspired me in the last few years have either moved away or are making plans to. Because what Nelly did for St. Louis, Timbaland is certainly not doing for this place. And because they will tell you so themselves if you ask them.
Worse yet is that most of the people who feel this way are not trying to change it. They’ve accepted that Norfolk is stuck, or slow at best, and are so ready to leave that it’s like, why even bother? Or they’ve tried to do something cool and it didn’t work. Or they’re too lazy. Or they don’t care.
Last week, when I wrote “Youth In Revolt: How Norfologists Will Inherit the City,” I was writing it to them. To wake them up. To say, “Hey, it’s about to be our turn. Get up and get ready.”
You see, we at AltDaily are aware that we are oddly positioned to call our generation to action. Our medium by nature is used most widely among 20- to 40-year-olds and our readership reflects that (nearly 65 percent are between the ages of 18 and 34). And through our events and editorials, we have already dug into changing the things that leave us unsatisfied with this city.
This is why we were approached by the City of Norfolk’s Economic Development office to take on the Norfology campaign: an effort to attract young professionals and creatives to Norfolk and retain the ones that are already here.
We took it on as an AltMarketing project (click here to read about the relationship and division between AltMarketing and AltDaily) because we believed in it–the mission of the campaign–wholeheartedly. It is a campaign that we would have supported even if we weren’t involved.
Norfolk ought to be on the radar of a young professional on the move. The brighter the minds of the young people of Norfolk, the brighter its future. And I don’t think anyone can argue the positive impact a strong community of young professionals and creatives can have on a city’s economy and culture.
Before this campaign there has been little effort to support and connect young people in Norfolk. Sure, there are young professionals groups throughout the city, but there is not one entity that brings all of them together.
The fact that Norfology is also an anti-Brain Drain campaign meant a lot to me. Here is an opportunity to help stop the exodus of the young, creative and talented to the Pacific Northwest and beyond.
And moreover, The Brookings Institution released a report on the State of Metropolitan America in May. The Hampton Roads region, the nation’s 35th largest metro area, was noted as having a slow growing, aging population with less education and diversity than the national average.
So I wrote “Youth in Revolt” as a rallying cry in support of the Norfology campaign. A call to arms. A statement that might shake young people from their complacence and show them that a slow revolution can happen–because (as I said in the article) the people in power now will eventually retire and die and the city will be left in our hands.
Unfortunately my tone in the piece rubbed some AltDaily readers as exclusive of the older generation. (And yes, we do have older readers–25 percent of our readership are above the age of 50, in fact.) The suggestion was that Norfology, and to an extent AltDaily, is ageist.
I was consternated by the reaction for a few reasons. The first is that the promotion of one thing does not correlate with the discrimination against another. A campaign directed at Baby Boomers to take back their lives, for instance, is not discrimination against me as a young person. There are programs and campaigns and messages out there promoting every demographic and every type of person, and this is just one.
The second was my concern that the criticism of the campaign’s mission, being specifically focused on the young generation, bled over into criticism of AltDaily. Not only are a quarter of AltDaily’s readership 50+, many of our contributors and partners are as well. Among them are columnists Bob Chorush and Kathleen Fogarty; Walt Taylor, whose illustrations appear all over the Norfology campaign and frequently on AltDaily; Paul Shugrue at WHRO; Tench Phillips at the Naro; Elliot Juren at Fair Grounds; ODU professors and AltDaily contributors Tim Anderson, Luisa Igloria and Michael Pearson. Missy Schmidt of the Hampton Roads Partnership, Mayer Fine Art gallery owner Shelia Giolitti, and Cynthia Cutler, a recent honoree for Equality Virginia’s Legend Gala, are three other people who have inspired and influenced AltDaily.
We openly admire all of these people and highly value our relationships with them. If I regret anything about the article, it is that it made some people I greatly respect feel that I don’t appreciate them and the work that they do–and worse, that I am eagerly awaiting their demise. Nothing could be further from how I feel.
Not only do we acknowledge how these people help to shape AltDaily, we acknowledge how they help to shape Norfolk. This city wouldn’t be half the city it is now if it weren’t for people like Bev and Tench; as well as Tom Robotham, my mentor, who represented the alternative voice of the region for 10 years at the helm of Port Folio Weekly; and even Paul Fraim, under whose leadership Norfolk has developed into a city on the verge of greatness.
We know that these people are not done, and we would be appalled if anyone did think so. These people are our leaders, our sages, and will continue to be. And we reflect on that sentiment and everything these people do to make Norfolk great throughout AltDaily.
Their efforts are what inspires Norfology.
The third reason is that it’s besides the point. The spirit of the Norfology campaign is to inspire our young generation to do even greater things than the people who came before them. It’s not an us-versus-them thing. And it’s not even to say that older people are explicitly not Norfologists–I would say each of the people that I name above are Norfologists. But again, that’s not the point.
It’s simply a message that says, “Young people of Norfolk–get involved and get excited about your city. It will be yours soon, anyways. And young people of America, come to Norfolk, where you can truly effect a city’s future in infinite and positive ways.”
Norfology is a multi-faceted campaign that is evolving and consists of so much more than the one article. We’ve built a site that will grow with the “scene” and reflect the Norfolk that appeals to America’s young creative types and professionals (visit norfology.com and check it out). We are continuing a viral video campaign that spotlights successful local upstarts, creators, and rising stars. We are nurturing a galvanized community online and through networking events. We will be moving into seminars and creating mentoring opportunities and ways to directly plug in to the city and its job market. And we are developing ways to help support entrepreneurship and career advancement in Norfolk.
Yet Norfology is just one effort to make Norfolk better. AltDaily, and its reflection of all local culture young and old, is another, separate effort. And both are a part of a greater movement that involves those leaders of the older generation as well as many younger people who have already taken up arms.
No matter what avenue you take to tap into that movement, ultimately you will find that we have one shared goal: to make Norfolk better. To help people like me get over our wanderlust and stay. To create a home that we’re all proud of.
And you certainly don’t have to be a Norfologist to get that. But if you do, then, hey, you probably are one.