Wilmington has been through some tough years. Shootings have raged in the poorest neighborhoods, leading to national media coverage about its dangerous streets.
A 2014 Newsweek piece dubbed Delaware’s largest city “Murder Town USA.” A network show of the same was to be based in the city, though it never got off the ground.
Proficiency at many city schools is in the single digits. Unemployment remains high. Vacant, crumbling buildings dot the toughest blocks.
Yet in the last 18 months, violence has decreased substantially. Signs of a downtown renaissance are visible in new restaurants, homes and businesses.
Mayor Mike Purzycki wants to capitalize on the positive energy he says so many are experiencing.
To that end, on Friday night the city unveiled a new social and digital media campaign — dubbed “It’s Time.” A few hundred officials, residents and merchants kicked it off during a block party kickoff at Rodney Square featuring music, food and other entertainment.
The initiative has an online hub, Wilmington.love. And it’s funded by more than $1 million in donations — most from private businesses, but $250,000 from the state and $70,000 from the city.
Purzycki called the campaign a megaphone to help tell the powerful stories of Wilmington’s people, and urged all residents to participate by, for example, sharing stories or videos.
“We are going to change the Wilmington narrative so that everyone has a greater appreciation — locally and nationally — for Wilmington and its people,” he said.
“From this point forward, more people will know about a different kind of Wilmington, which is the one we know — a city that is proud and welcoming, and hard-working city that is intent on preserving its neighborhoods, culture, and diversity in order to create more opportunities for renewal.”
Among the components:
• A public relations team will look to get stories of Wilmington in newspapers and other media outlets across the country, said Chase Kroll, spokesman for the effort. Kroll told WHYY that reporters in other cities will be interested in writing about entrepreneurs setting up shop in Wilmington.
• The city’s web-based news channel – WilmToday.com.
• Other web-based resources such as the YouTube promotion channels “Wilmington Love” and The Wilmington Show.”
• Two bi-weekly, web-based news show, one called Wilmington Today, the other tentatively titled Delaware Today.
• A social media push on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other platforms to spotlight “all the good things happening at the community level,’’ Kroll said. The campaign’s hashtag is #ItsTimeWilmDE.
• Polling of residents aimed at getting feedback from all neighborhoods.
Kroll, a public relations executive from Washington, D.C., stressed that the initiative is aimed at all residents, employees and visitors.
“It’s going to highlight the economic successes, which is going to raise the quality of living for all neighborhoods. We are strongly stressing that this isn’t a campaign about [the central business district] or the Riverfront. This is a campaign about all the neighborhoods of Wilmington.”
Gov. John Carney, a Wilmingtonian for the last three decades, said, “You can feel the momentum and progress in communities throughout our city. It’s true that as goes Wilmington, so goes our state. Wilmington is Delaware’s economic capital, and we all have a stake in its success.’’
Out in one of those neighborhoods, though, people like Michelle Miller are struggling to get by. She’s the unemployed mother of a preschooler who said she’s trying to get a warehouse job but has been unsuccessful.
She lives in West Center City, a neighborhood a few blocks from downtown where street drug dealing and shootings are commonplace.
On Friday, while waiting for her daughter’s school bus to drop her off, Miller said she understood the need to promote the city but wondered whether enough was being done to stabilize and renovate her neighborhood.
“I would say [we need] more help instead of promotion. Promoting sometimes [is] false advertisement. I’d rather for it to be more hands on.”
What does West Center City need?
“More activities for the children, basically,’’ she said.
Purzycki said the city has invested millions in West Center City and other neighborhoods, with more on the way. “It’s not mutually exclusive,” he said, stressing that business and community rebirth can occur together.
Leon Matthews, an audio engineer who recently moved to Wilmington from Philadelphia, said the PR blitz is a positive idea. He was relaxing this week at Rodney Square one of the eight colorful “W” sculptures that are being planted around the city.
“I always heard bad things about Wilmington but after coming to Wilmington I noticed there’s actually a lot of love. People actually do work together,’’ he said. “There are still groups of people who don’t care but you always have that in a city.”
“Encouragement always helps. If you are going to encourage a community to be better, then any step you take will be helpful, especially using art. Art is actually a nice way to help encourage people to build themselves up, to improve and to get out of bad habits they have and make something happen.”