Town mottos are like nicknames in that the best ones, such as “City of Big Shoulders” for Chicago, are bestowed by others and not self-proclaimed, such as “Urbus en Horto” (“City in a Garden”) for Chicago. At least there is a story behind Des Plaines’ destiny. Most suburbs adopt bland, easily forgotten mottos that tout development or vague hopes for the future, such as Schaumburg’s “Progress Through Thoughtful Planning,” Bloomingdale’s “Growth With Pride,” or Bolingbrook’s “A Place to Grow.”
Wauconda’s “Water. Spirit. Wonder.” is unique but might sound a little cold compared to neighboring Island Lake, which is “A Community of Friendly People” who settled there instead of in Huntley, “The Friendly Village with Country Charm.”
Hanover Park opts for “One Village — One Future.” It doesn’t say much, but no one can argue with the math. No one should quibble about Elgin’s “The City in the Suburbs.” But Naperville’s “Great Service — All the Time,” also a favorite motto of pizzerias, might fuel discussions. One Wikipedia entry falsely touts Libertyville’s motto as the impressive “Fortitudine Vincimus,” Latin for “By Endurance We Conquer,” which basically means “We Will Win By Hanging Around Until Everybody Else Quits.” But Libertyville never used that motto and currently sports only the phrase “Spirit of Independence” on its red-white-and-blue logo…
Lombard, “The Lilac Village,” still boasts a motto that brings to mind something pretty and fragrant. Roselle hosts a rose parade and includes roses in its village seal, but it uses the motto “Tradition Meets Tomorrow,” which is pretty similar to the “Where Tradition and Vision Meet” motto of Batavia. (Given Batavia’s link to the high-energy physics of Fermilab, it might consider the motto “Village of Density.”)
These mottos sound like classic talk from city boosters: they tend to contain grand visions about the future without getting into too many specifics or highlight a small part of the community’s character. I think they are primarily about trying to impress businesses, trying to attract them to relocate in a place that is thriving and will continue to thrive.
Unfortunately, when all the mottos sound similar, they all don’t mean a whole lot. How does a business really differentiate between communities based on their mottos? The biggest issue for a suburb might be having a motto that is significantly different. This might lead people to ask why that community is so out of line.
Critics of suburbs might see these mottos as more evidence of the homogeneity or blandness of suburbs. Many communities seem to be striving after the same things. Yet, we know that suburbs are actually quite different, whether that is due to different functions (like comparing a bedroom suburb and an edge city) or different histories (date of founding, specific historical circumstances) or a unique set of self-perception (like suburbs that view themselves as extra friendly or full of volunteers). So perhaps more suburbs should work to differentiate themselves in their mottos, move away from bland American notions of progress, and more explicitly highlight their more unique features.