Cities are notorious for becoming the stereotypical unfriendly, corporatized concrete jungles we see in television and film. Places devoid of charm and authenticity, where the taller the building the more unattainable the lifestyle.
Unfortunately, too many American cities do often resemble this description. In the early-mid 1900’s, as many of our biggest cities began to grow, ideas of what made a place great to live were big, bright, and wasteful.
What people wanted and needed then versus what we want and need now, are very different. So, it isn’t a surprise that our largest cities were designed for an era long gone. But, in recent years, we have seen a change in the ways we approach city building and development.
As we have the unique opportunity to develop smarter and more sustainable communities, we need to prioritize recreational spaces that fit modern lifestyles and accommodate a new era of outdoor activity.
As the only state to exist entirely within regional Appalachia, West Virginia serves the United States as one of the greatest locations for exploration and outdoor recreation.
A 2018 report by the Physical Activity Council, tracking sports, fitness, and recreation participation in the U.S, states that:
“The interest in activities has started moving toward outdoor recreation. The top aspirational activity for all age segments was outside, ranging from camping to biking to bird-watching. While camping appears to be in the top three in most segments, solo adventures are becoming a lost art and most people who aspired to camp will do so if they have someone to do it with. People want to experience the outdoors, fitness classes, teams sports, etc. with a partner.” (PAC Report 2018)
This report means two things: To the average reader it means that the U.S. is exhibiting more interest in outdoor activities – likely as a result of general improvements in economic status, or people simply experiencing cabin fever. To West Virginians, this report is a treasure trove of economic opportunity.
The economic history of WV is perhaps best exemplified by it’s economic present – not great -and it hasn’t been great for sometime. But, I believe that WV has the most amazing opportunity for economic growth right at our feet – the development and enhancement of parks and recreation.
We have many beautiful state parks and tourist attractions that bring thousands of people a year to our great state, and according to a 2017 report by the WV division of tourism, we have made a pretty penny from tourism thus far.
THE ECONOMIC IMPACT OF TOURISM (2017 report)
- Annual direct spending resulted in $4.1 billion in 2017
- $11.3 million per day in direct spending
- 3.5 million visitors to welcome centers each year
These are big and important numbers, but compared to our surrounding states – this is how we stack up:
West Virginia: $4.1 billion in 2017
Kentucky: $9.5 billion in 2017
Virginia: $25 billion in 2017
Ohio: $35 billion in 2017
Pennsylvania: $40 billion in 2017
(Data generated from DVS (direct visitor spending) and tourism impact revenues)
Although, the numbers show a glaring discrepancy between comparative tourism revenues – the smallest being a mere 5.1 billion dollars, the economic impact of tourism in WV is on the rise, and I believe we have an incredible opportunity for cities like Wheeling to make changes to increase outside traffic and inside satisfaction.
Here are 3 key areas that I believe will help our city tourism and recreation revenues climb.
Everyone knows that WV has a messaging problem, but what can we do to fix it? By using strategic targeted messaging for certain cities like Wheeling, we can help communities grow more socially progressive and economically stable – especially in areas of business, tech, and entrepreneurship.
Once Wheeling is able to establish itself as a socially inclusive, small business friendly environment, I believe we will see more concentrated interest in exploring the city from both residents and visitors alike.
To do this we must employ social media strategies that help create a fresh WV identity as a leader in culture and commerce.
We want to build spaces that people travel to – not from. That requires us to recognize the strengths of our landscape and maximize it’s use. Historic preservation, new construction, year round farmers markets, fresh storefronts, and locally created art installations are all proven and effective ways to enhance the look and feel of our downtown area.
Wheeling resident and local preservationist, Kellie White, gives her thoughts –
“The most important aspect to consider in downtown beautification is sustainability and feasibility. I am a regular fixture at The Heritage Port because it is convenient, accessible, and inviting. More green spaces are needed throughout downtown Wheeling to provide a respite from concrete and asphalt.” – Kellie White, Wheeling Young Preservationists.
To do this we must engage fresh ideas. We should look to our sister cities like Pittsburgh and Columbus, who each have engineered diverse downtown spaces, to maximize our own pedestrian and small business environments.
Although we are not trying to be the next concrete jungle, there are many practical changes that we can implement here at home to enhance our city experience for all.
Bike Sharing and Creative Transportation
Cities that have employed new and creative ways to get around have always prospered. From the original Wheeling trolley to today’s Uber service, we are always developing new and creative ways to move about.
This is why, I believe, the city of Wheeling should join many of its great surrounding cities by investing in BikeShare .
“I would love to see a BikeShare program in Wheeling. I think that it would greatly improve the pedestrian and tourism experience of our city. Other places have installed these with great success.” Jesse Mestrovic – Director of Parks and Strategic Planning for the City of Wheeling W.V.
According to a recent study, bike sharing has become a very popular mode of transportation, and is popping up in more and more American cities.
It should be a no-brainer to begin implementing new and creative transportation services in the city of Wheeling. With the advent of smartphones, our ability to communicate and explore should not be hindered by our inability to travel –
Where do we go from here?
It is clear that we have some work to do in order to make our cities and state more attractive to tourists. If we want to fully bring WV into the 21st century we must begin to explore new and innovative ways to engineer our cityscape for the future.
This requires that we continue listening to our residents, looking to other successful cities for inspiration, and electing representatives who are looking far enough ahead to anticipate the needs of our communities for decades to come.