Sarah Goodyear is a Brooklyn-based contributing writer to CityLab. She's written about cities for a variety of publications, including Grist and Streetsblog.
In the municipal mascot department, it seems that North America can't compete with Asia.
What every Superfund site needs is a good mascot. Right?
OK, so maybe there’s never been a Superfund site mascot before. (At least not that I can find, but please, let us know in the comments if you have any examples to the contrary). But that isn’t stopping the good people of Brooklyn from proposing a mascot for the borough’s newest Superfund location, the Gowanus Canal, a notorious waterway filled with coal tar, heavy metals, PCBs, raw sewage, even gonorrhea:
“Mascots are a good way to relate to complicated stuff,” said Eymund Diegel, a member of the Gowanus Community Advisory Group monitoring the EPA-led project.
“The cleanup will be long, boring and probably disgusting, so we want to make sure people are aware of what’s going on in an easy and fun way.”
One suggested Gowanus mascot is Sludgie the Whale – a reference to a 12-foot minke whale that swam into the bay at the mouth of the polluted canal in 2007… and died. Sludgie certainly would illustrate some of the complications of the site, whose fetid waters run between some of New York’s trendiest neighborhoods (a massive Whole Foods is coming soon to the banks of the canal).
The question of what mascot would be appropriate for the Gowanus got me wondering about what other municipal mascots might be out there.
As Gothamist pointed out, New York City already has a couple of other mascots: The Parks Department’s Pearl the Squirrel and Warmy, the Department of Transportation’s pothole-filling chunk of asphalt. I also came upon Treena and 02, a couple of slightly scary-looking trees from San Jose, California, and the Glendale, Ohio, “Official Office Greeter,” which is a taxidermied black squirrel who “no doubt…died of the love and affection showered upon him by the many residents who have fed him over the years.” You’ll find an assortment of other municipal mascots, including the Wave of Nanaimo, British Columbia, at the site of this mascot costume company (if your town or city is in a warm climate, be forewarned that “all mascots are hot to wear”).
But in the mascot department, it seems that North America can't compete with Asia. Here’s a listing of nearly 200 in Korea, including Haechi, the fire-eating dog that represents Seoul. Japan is also a hotbed for mascots; according to a site called Tofugu, the city of Kobe alone claims some 42 different mascots, which are known as yuru kyara.
But wait. It’s not all fuzzy suits and warm feelings. Mascots can cause problems, too. Take the case of Manbe-kun, the fun-loving, pollution-sensing, sorta-crablike creature that represents the coastal town of Oshamanbe in Hokkaido. Apparently Manbe-kun developed a hugely popular Twitter account (88,000 followers) thanks to a PR rep who used an edgy style at odds with the mascot’s squishy, silent, lovable public persona. Things got really complicated last summer around the anniversary of the end of World War II, when Manbe-kun’s account started posting tweets critical of Japan’s involvement in the conflict, including one that said, “No matter how you look at it, Japan’s war of aggression started everything.” The Twitter account was suspended, although you can still find plenty of Manbe-kun videos here. (Warning: I found them strangely hypnotic. Do not attempt watching if you have something productive to do.)
So, if Sludgie is coming to the Gowanus, his handlers might want to make sure his social media presence is tightly monitored. They probably don’t want him tweeting about canal-borne STDs.