Dominic Tartaglia, Executive Director
We are living in a sharing society. With the development of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all of the other new platforms that I don’t even know exist, people are putting massive amounts of information out on the internet for the world to see. Each of those memories hold some significance to the individual sharing them and they felt that they met some internal criteria that justifies hitting “Post”. There are obviously many times more memories, thoughts and perspectives that don’t make it to the public wall. Perhaps because they are boring or just too personal but regardless of the reasoning, they stay with the individual. Many times I find that I keep precious memories to myself and I find something beautiful in selfishness of caring so much about a particular moment that I bank it and may only share it in the most intimate of settings with people that will appreciate it. Suffice to say, in every day life there is a threshold for over-sharing.
What about downtowns across the country though, where is the threshold of what should be shared? Take a look at San Luis Obispo’s historical texts and you will find colorful accounts of hard times, shenanigans and the small personal moments of a developing community that inevitably shaped our existence along the coast. Sure, some of the stories are quite plain and don’t give a whole lot of insight into how we got here but others show us that it is quite amazing that we even have some of our favorite landmarks. Preserving the history of our buildings and cultural resources is absolutely within that threshold because without frame of reference their significance is lost and sadly puts them at risk of demolition. In many ways those stories are protecting valuable resources.
Buildings and landmarks alone don’t make up downtowns however. Culture and people contribute just as much to what a place looks and feels like. As I go through my days I often wonder if what I am experiencing in that moment or the events that our office is planning will affect the future of San Luis Obispo. Would anybody take interest in my simple note of how beautiful the creek looked on a particular day and if so, would they fight to preserve the integrity of what that the creek might have looked like to me? Individually, perhaps not but as a part of a greater aggregate of individual accounts it begins to contribute to a clear picture that the creek was significant to many people. While I may share a story of having lunch with my great aunt at the creek, somebody else may share a story of a marriage proposal or similar life changing experience and suddenly the creek takes on an identity as a place that people found relaxing and intimate. As a good steward of the community I know those places should be preserved and the elements described in those stories (sights, sounds, perceived safety, etc.) gave it character. To the point, personal stories should be held within the threshold of stories that should be shared.
So how should those stories be told? In today’s world there are so many stories told that we have quite possibly become the most documented civilization of all time. Cameras record constantly, Facebook posts every facet of every day life, blogs are not just corporate marketing pages but even children are doing it and written messages can be sent instantly. All of the mediums we use on a daily basis for recreational information sharing are so much more than social media, they are registries for what is happening. Downtown we have the #downtownslo hash tag that sheds a really interesting light onto what people think of Downtown. Just Googling our hash tag expresses that we are a hub for retail, restaurant, social and general living experiences (and yes, the creek is included in several posts). These stories should be told however people feel like sharing them, why would we limit the tools that we have available to us. It is inherently human nature to share information and for millennia we have been perfecting our methods of story telling. At the beginning of our existence a form of communication was developed that eventually grew to oral story telling, progressed to cave paintings and carvings and has miraculously turned into me typing on a computer so that you can read this article in a magazine.
People crave stories and they crave telling them even more. I am no different and to answer my original question, I don’t see a threshold for downtown story telling. Our Downtown is unique because of the stories throughout history, some told and some forgotten, but I guarantee that every one of those stories influenced decisions made in our little city.
To that note I would like to introduce a change of direction in our monthly article in this space. Over the course of this year I will be interviewing a variety of individuals that have either contributed to Downtown themselves or have previously recounted interesting stories of our history. My hope is to excite some fun dialog in a historical context and share in the memories that make our Downtown great.