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Market Squared: Fun is fun, but stupid contests are still stupid

This whole Strongest Town thing feels like enjoying all the activities of a birthday party, and getting to the cake part and finding out it's an eggplant
kissing eggplant
For the record, GuelphToday has absolutely nothing against eggplants

March brings madness, and I don’t just mean the National Collegiate Athletic Association one. The annual contest between competing American universities is so popular, a lot of people have borrowed from it for their purposes. One of my favourite movie sites is running a March madness competition of super-villains because what is life if we’re not always ranking things and other people.

If you’ve been on social media lately, then you know that Guelph is involved in a little March madness of its own — a contest called “Strongest Town” run by a website called “Strong Towns.” The site promotes citizen engagement, strong local and collaborative governing, and financial longevity.

So with such lofty ideals what else can they do but pit one town in North America against the other?

Of course, a little friendly competition is nice too, but what is the point of strength if you can’t show your strength to others and let them know that you are strong? I think I heard a super-villain say that once, but I think the point stands in less malevolent examples.

So here we are.

The Strong Towns staff, board and contributors have decided we were one of the Top 16 to begin the bracket — and now we’re in the final four. Great!

Now I know I’m about to take a silly Internet contest way too seriously, but why? Because so many people are, and the mayor himself is even whipping votes for the cause. It’s working because our first two competitors in the match lost badly (Bigly?).

We clobbered Brampton, 97 per cent to 3 in the final vote tally, and 90 per cent to 10 against Wausau, Wisconsin.

We did it! We beat Brampton, and... some place I’ve never heard of.

Let’s be honest, Brampton was going to be a lay-up. Brampton is where you go when Oakville and Burlington are too chic and cosmopolitan. What is there to do in Brampton but go to the mall? They've got a half-dozen of them.

I guess you can also catch a game at the Powerade Centre if there’s still a team playing there or go to one of their six libraries that service nearly 600,000 people.

That’s right, the number of malls they have is equal to the number of libraries.

But what about Wausau?

Great question. It’s a town in the middle of Wisconsin, and its home to nearly 40,000 people not one of whom is noteworthy. Seriously, I looked at the Wikipedia page for Wausau and under “Notable People” there were none. Say what you want about Brampton, but it gave the world Michael Cera, Russell Peters, and at least one member of Three Days Grace. Country star Johnny Reid also went to high school at Turner Fenton Secondary School.

Our competition in the final four at least has some game.

It’s Lafayette, Louisiana, a historic city with a Canadian connection being a place where many Acadians settled after they were expelled from the Maritimes after Britain won the Seven Years War. It’s the Hub City — “the Heart of Cajun Country”. Its homepage talks about how it's Louisiana’s "cleanest city" for the second year in a row, and how it’s the "Happiest City in America."

Now, we’re punching in our weight-class. This is a fight.

Really though, who’s going to remember the great battle of Guelph vs. Lafayette 2017?

I’ll tell you one thing, it seems like some towns are taking this more seriously than others. The closest race so far has been the showdown between Traverse City, MI and York, PA, which saw Traverse win by 6 percentage points. But the average spread between contests in the first round was 62.5 per cent, and for the second round it was 49, and one of those contests was cancelled when one of the parties seemed to win by default.

So there must be a lot at stake, right? Money, bragging rights, a big old golden trophy?

Nope, we get to host a podcast.

Now if you want to hear a made in Guelph podcast, we can do that for you right now. I keep a running list on my site (including my own). There are over two dozen of them. But there’s something about this Curbside Chat that doesn’t sit quite right with me. Maybe it’s the description: “The Curbside Chat is a core Strong Towns presentation that explains why our towns are going broke and how they can grow toward a stronger, more prosperous future.”

Wait, what?

Okay, if you look at some of the previous Curbside Chats they’re fairly wonkish in how they’re looking at the problems facing cities: the dynamics of new growth versus smart growth; and the question of why city’s are struggling to cover the cost of eroding infrastructure.

Good topics worth pursuing, but compared to the frivolity of the in-progress contest, this is like enjoying all the activities of a birthday party, and getting to the cake part and finding out it's an eggplant.

I wonder how many of my fellow Guelphites are enamoured with the idea of beating Americans and proving Royal City superiority on some kind of stage beyond the River Run.

Guelph is great, but I feel like there’s nothing here in this contest that makes us think about why we are great. Or how we can make it better. Context matters. This contest feels like one of those old episodes of Star Trek where powerful aliens turn the crew of the Enterprise against each other.

So the Final Four closes tonight and we will find out if Lafayette was able to put the kibosh on a Guelph sweep going into the championship round.

I’m sure it will be a great moment of jubilation and that podcast will be so close that we’ll be able to taste it. But as we scramble to prove via Internet polling just how superior we are to Traverse City or Valparaiso, IN, let’s keep in mind the real value of this activity.

A completely made up title is at stake, people!