Here are the seven worst city nicknames and slogans in the United States

Oooh, a map. But which town does it show? Read on to find out! Image: Google.

The United States has a penchant for adding taglines and nicknames to anything and everything it possibly can. Whether it’s to sound folksier, friendlier or just to scrape a shred of individuality, almost every city is nicknamed or sloganed with something someone thought would make it sound worth visiting.

I’ve trawled through what I’m nearly certain is every single city nickname in the entire country, and picked out the best (worst) there was to offer.

Fruita, Colorado – Home of Mike The Headless Chicken

Image: Librarian Hat AG /Wikimedia Commons.

If your city had an interesting paleontological history, a booming fruit industry and a range of interesting outdoor acitivities, wouldn’t you want to showcase one of these fun and positive topics to attract visitors?

Absolutely fucking not, thought the people of Fruita, Colorado. Instead, the friendly piece of city history it wants to be known for is that Fruita was home to a chicken that stayed alive for 18 months after getting its fucking head chopped off.

Image: Wikipedia Commons.

In 1945, a local farmer tried to decapitate a chicken for dinner, but that headless bird simply would not die. Mike the Headless Chicken – a.k.a. ‘Miracle Mike’ – became a national sensation, gracing the covers of national magazines Time and Life.

Despite his death over 70 years ago, Mike is still honoured every May with a festival in Fruita and, of course, through its city nickname.

Augusta, Georgia – officially The Garden City, but better known as... well, you’ll find out

Upon first look, Augusta seems branded with the normal enough, pleasant enough, albeit boring nickname of "The Garden City’. It’s on a river, it’s warm, hosts a famous golf tournament every year: great! On the surface, and very much only on the surface, it seems relatively well-liked.

 

Image: Mildred Pierce/Flickr/Wikimedia Commons.

However, upon making the effort to do literally any further research, you’ll come to find that Augusta is better known affectionately by a myriad of other titles: ‘Disgusta’, ‘Hellscape’, ‘The Asscrack of Georgia’, ‘The Shithole of the South’.

What’s the rationale behind these vulgar nicknames? Augusta’s climate is subtropical, leading locals and visitors alike to find the heat overwhelming. Urban Dictionary describes the town as “a place so humid your underwear becomes permantly [sic] plastered to your ass”.

Baxter Springs, Kansas – The First Cowtown in Kansas

Move over, lesser cowtowns: the first cowtown in Kansas has arrived.

Image: AbeEzekowitz/Creative Commons.

Take a quick glance at the list of Kansas city nicknames and it will become immediate obviously that the state is rife with ‘cowtowns’: that is, cities that are either small and unsophisticated and proud of it, or which have a large beef-cattle production industry. There is the Queen of the Cowtowns, the Old Cowtown, and so on,  and honestly, it’s not clear which ones fall into which category.

Baxter Springs is uniquely pathetic for no longer fitting either description, but having so little else to offer that it has to do the equivalent of commenting ‘first’ on a popular Facebook page’s latest upload.

Oberlin, Ohio – The Town That Started The Civil War

Image: Weatherman1126/Wikimedia Commons.

Ah, yes, you remember it well, the wonderful days of the Civil War, the bloodiest war in American history. It was a grand old time where people were literally being brutally murdered in every corner of the country, and the US faced its most racist institution head on while half the country argued it should continue to exist.

So, after all of this positive PR, the city government in Oberlin, Ohio that thought, “You know what’d be great? If we were best known for starting it.”

Although Oberlin was, actually, an abolitionist heartland, spinning your city as kick-starting the most deadly war the US has ever witnessed is perhaps not the proudest emblem to whack on your municipal buildings.

Youngstown, Ohio – Murdertown, USA

Image: Jack Pearce/Wikimedia Commons.

Despite an array of cultural attractions, decent universities and a growing tech industry, Youngstown, Ohio is known for one thing and one thing only: crime.

In particular, it is known for having one of the highest murder rates in the United States.  With a 1 in 136 chance that you will be a victim of a violent crime in the average year, and just over a 1 in 20 chance that you’ll be a victim of property crime too, you are almost three times more likely to be a victim of crime in Youngstown than in the rest of Ohio.

Image: Flickr/JimBobTheBoss/Creative Commons.

While most young thrill-seekers would go skydiving, white water rafting or parasailing, the adrenaline junkies of Youngstown are known for just getting dropped off downtown without a mobile phone.

Jennings, Kansas – Czech Us Out

Image: Arkyan/Wikimedia Commons.

With a city slogan that can only be read in the voice of a middle-aged dad doing a Borat impression, Jennings proudly sports a xenophile name celebrating its immigrant population.

This name is derived from its heavily Czech population due to mass influx of natives moving there to start their farms in the early 20th century. The city planners jumped on the bandwagon – but despite this powerful rebrand, the population has dwindled to 96.

Hurley, Wisconsin – Where 51 Ends... And Family Fun Begins

Image: Royalbroil/Wikimedia Commons.

Picture this: It’s a Tuesday afternoon and group of 40-something white women have gathered for their weekly knitting group to gab. One of their spouses has a birthday coming up; or perhaps they’re planning a big family vacation. They want to, need to, pick a name for this wholesome gathering. What should it be?

The scene I’ve just described to you is the only possible scenario I can fathom that would lead someone to, for literally any reason, write these seven words in succession. Hurley is where Route 51 ends, is 97.5 per cent white, and seems to have one or two historic attractions – the source of the aforementioned family fun.

However, why anyone would pick this dry hump of a city slogan to brandish their town with is, and forever will be, beyond me.  

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There isn’t a single national housing market – so we need multiple models of local regeneration, too

Rochdale. Image: Getty.

This week’s budget comes ten years after the 2007 financial crisis. The trigger for that crisis was a loss in confidence in mortgages for homes, with banks suddenly recognising the vulnerability of loans on their books.

In the last ten years, the UK’s cities and regions have followed very different paths. This week’s focus on housing affordability is welcome, but it will be a challenge for any chancellor in the coming decade to use national policy to help towns up and down the country. Local housing markets differ drastically. The new crop of city-region mayors are recognising this, as rents in parts of south Greater Manchester are on average double the rents in parts of the north of the city-region.

When it comes to buying a home, politicians are increasingly articulate about the consequences of inequity in our housing system. But we must recognise that, for 9m citizens who live in social rented homes, the prospects of improvements to properties, common areas and grounds are usually tied to wider projects to create new housing within existing estates – sometimes involving complete demolition and rebuilding.

While the Conservative governments of the 1980s shrank the scale of direct investment in building homes for social rent, the Labour governments from the late 1990s used a sustained period of growth in property prices to champion a new model: affordable housing was to be paid for by policies which required contributions to go to housing associations. Effectively, the funding for new affordable housing and refurbished social homes was part of the profit from market housing built next door, on the same turf; a large programme of government investment also brought millions of social rented homes up to a decent standard.

This cross-subsidy model was always flawed. Most fundamentally, it relies on rising property prices – which it is neither desirable nor realistic to expect. Building more social homes became dependent on ratcheting up prices and securing more private profit. In London, we are starting to see that model come apart at the seams.

The inevitable result has been that with long social housing waiting lists and rocketing market prices, new developments have too often ended up as segregated local communities, home to both the richest and the poorest. They may live side by side, but as the RSA concluded earlier this year, investment in the social infrastructure and community development to help neighbours integrate has too often been lacking. Several regeneration schemes that soldiered on through the downturn did so by building more private homes and fewer social rented homes than existed before, or by taking advantage of more generous legal definitions of what counts as ‘affordable housing’ – or both.

A rough guide to how house prices have changed since 2007: each hexagon is a constituency. You can explore the full version at ODI Leeds.

In most of England’s cities, the story does not appear to be heading for the dramatic crescendo high court showdowns that now haunt both developers and communities in the capital. In fact, for most social housing estates in most places outside London, national government should recognise that the whole story looks very different. As austerity measures have tightened budgets for providers of social housing, budgets to refurbish ageing homes are under pressure to do more with less. With an uncertain outlook for property prices, as well as ample brownfield and greenfield housing sites, estates in many northern towns are not a priority for private investors in property development.

In many towns and cities – across the North and the Midlands – the challenges of a poor quality built environment, a poor choice of homes in the local are, and entrenched deprivation remain serious. The recent reclassification of housing associations into the private sector doesn’t make investing in repairs and renewal more profitable. The bespoke ‘housing deals’ announced show that the government is willing to invest directly – but there is anxiety that devolution to combined authorities simply creates another organisation that needs to prioritise building new homes over the renewal of existing neighbourhoods.


In Rochdale, the RSA is working with local mutual housing society RBH to plan for physical, social and economic regeneration at the same time. Importantly, we are making the case – with input from the community of residents themselves – that significant investment in improving employment for residents might itself save the public purse enough money to pay for itself in the long-run.

Lots of services are already effective at helping people find work and start a job. But for those for whom job searching feels out of reach, we are learning from Rochdale Borough Council’s pioneering work that the journey to work can only come from trusting, personal relationships. We hear time and again about the demoralising effect of benefits sanctions and penalties. We are considering an alternative provision of welfare payments, as are other authorities in the UK. Importantly, residents are identifying clearly the particular new challenges created by new forms of modern employment and the type of work available locally: this is a town where JD Sports is hiring 1000 additional workers to fulfil Black Friday orders at its warehouse.

In neighbourhoods like Rochdale’s town centre, both national government and the new devolved city-region administration are considering an approach to neighbourhood change that works for both people and place together. Redevelopment of the built environment is recognised as just one aspect of improving people’s quality of life. Residents themselves will tell you quality jobs and community facilities are their priority. But without a wider range of housing choices and neighbourhood investment locally, success in supporting residents to achieve rising incomes will mean many residents are likely to leave places like Rochdale town centre altogether.

Meaningful change happen won’t happen without patience and trust: between agencies in the public sector, between tenants and landlords, and between citizens and the leaders of cities. This applies as much to our planning system as it does to our complex skills and employment system.

Trust builds slowly and erodes quickly. As with our other projects at the RSA, we are convinced that listening and engaging citizens will improve policy-making. Most of those involved in regeneration know this better than anyone. But at the national level we need to recognise that, just as the labour market and the housing market vary dramatically from place to place, there isn’t a single national story which represents how communities feel about local regeneration.

Jonathan Schifferes is interim Director, Public Services and Communities, at the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA).