While a handful of negative labels have been affixed to Carbondale's public image in recent years, an upstart group of citizens is hoping to tag the city with something else entirely.
It's a hashtag they have in mind, actually, and the half-dozen or so people that form the nucleus of the new #CarbondaleProud movement are asking residents to take an active role in spreading a more positive message about Carbondale.
The group held an initial organizational meeting last week at Hangar 9, and the plan moving forward is simple: flood Facebook with as much positive information about Carbondale as possible in an effort to counteract other, more negative messages about the city that tend to seep out online.
"Students looking at SIU and their families are going to be researching Carbondale," said Steve Quinn, owner of Northbridge Professional Technologies and one of the citizens working to get the effort off the ground. "I'm a parent. If I wasn't from here, I'm going to do some online searches about Carbondale. If all I see is crime, I'm going to hesitate about sending my kid there."
Their optimism comes at a moment when Carbondale seemingly stands at a crossroads, with the university having experienced recent administrative turmoil and also anticipating a staggeringly low freshman class. At the same time, a pervasive image of a city infested with crime has emerged in recent years -- even as past analyses of FBI crime statistics have shown that crime actually has been falling over the past decade in Carbondale.
"When you really dig into a lot of those things, they don't bear out, so people are just way more interested in being negative than positive," said Quinn, who added that the Carbondale Proud group has no leaders or official spokespeople, intended instead as an authentic grass-roots movement.
"I think it's human nature honestly. The negative is more interesting sometimes than the positive. We watch racing events, and there's a part of us that's waiting for the crash."
Flickers of hope have emerged over the last year, including the improvements on South Illinois Avenue and the generally positive reactions to last year's activities surrounding the solar eclipse. Mayor Mike Henry, who attended last week's meeting, said city leaders are engaged in a concerted effort to create a more welcoming community, which has included bringing more events downtown and allowing for more flexible policies governing alcohol consumption.
Henry said he has had recent discussions with community stakeholders, and he has seen attitudes about Carbondale's situation on the rise just in the past few weeks. Some of that, he said, is people hoping that hiring a new interim president at SIU will bring needed stability.
"It was just like lifting a blanket off of the community," Henry said.
Businesses are getting involved as well. Quinn said the Bank of Carbondale has emerged as a strong supporter of #CarbondaleProud, and at 710 Bookstore's new location on South Wall Street, co-owner Randy Johnson is printing T-shirts with the #CarbondaleProud logo, designed by the Arthur Agency. He invites other local businesses to have their own T-shirts, featuring both the Carbondale Proud logo and their own business logo.
Johnson said he plans to hold more public events in 710's parking lot as a way of building community unity.
"We always try to support these kinds of things, but this one in particular, it's really important to get it out there," Johnson said. "Regardless of what people hear and see in the media, there are a lot of good things going on here. I'm more optimistic than I was three months ago."
More is planned for the coming months. Quinn said the group's organizers hope to hold a larger public gathering, perhaps at a park, in the weeks ahead. Henry said mayors in cities along the Route 13 corridor are beginning to organize better among themselves to look at the long-term issues facing SIU.
In the meantime, all involved hope the public will hop on board through one simple action: finding positive things in the community to talk about, and posting them to social media using the #CarbondaleProud hashtag.
"We know that there are a lot of people out there who want to be positive, and that there's a lot of things to be positive about," Quinn said. "But at the same time, I think it's an uphill battle. Bad news travels faster than good news.
"It has the potential to really change the outlook. It doesn't mean we have more money, it doesn't bring in jobs. But it's amazing what happens when you remind people, you know what, we live in a pretty good place."
• To learn more or get involved, search for "Carbondale Proud" on Facebook.