Perception of cities
I was recently visiting a neighborhood in a major US metro. It was a nice neighborhood. Had neat shops, entertainment options, and parks. However, the more I walked around it, the more a specific perception of this neighborhood began to take over in my mind -- one that might not show up on a neighborhood search website or one that city planners might not give it. I started to sense it was lacking something and for me, that something was starting to redefine this neighborhood all over again. Personally, I felt like it lacked some cohesion or perhaps even a healthy dose of civic pride. The more the details I observed, the more I began to recognize this theme.
In this case, I created a perception that became as intimate and powerful as any reality.
Defining a city as active, accessible, and inexpensive might be a good description. But perception is about sense, realization, and comprehension. People are perceiving your city not necessarily based on what they initially see, touch, or smell, but what they eventually come to discern. Those experiences are going to communicate a perception that you will want to understand.
You see this clearly in towns where it is hard to find a fan of their own community. Or conversely in a city that is full of cheerleaders. Those emotions are the patchwork of experiences and comprehension.
The next time you ask your citizens to describe your city, cut right to the important stuff and ask them to give you a thoughtful comment on how they actually perceive your city. After all, it is more likely that they are making essential personal decisions about work, family, and recreation based on that intuition and not what is in your marketing materials.
Describe your city. Then tell me how you perceive it. Which is more useful if you are trying to improve your community?