Forget silly slogans. Get to know the real Sacramento

If the big, black letters stuck to the side of a water tower along Interstate 5 are to be believed, Sacramento is no longer the “City of Trees.” It doesn’t matter that our city’s tree canopy is second only to Canada’s Vancouver, we are now “America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital.”

Swallow that one. Or don’t.

Indeed, a little more than a week after the water tower’s surprise makeover, a surprisingly passionate debate over which kitschy slogan best suits Sacramento has not only erupted, but seems likely to last for a long time.

“I think the old words should stay,” Ray Tretheway, executive director of the Sacramento Tree Foundation, told The Bee’s Bill Lindelof last week. “It symbolizes why people think so highly of Sacramento – because of its glorious tree canopy.”

After all, there’s the City of Trees Brass Band and the City of Trees Music Festival. C.K. McClatchy, the late owner and editor of The Sacramento Bee, would be proud, having pushed for the urban forest that so many of us now cherish.

Vice Mayor Rick Jennings and the marketing team at Visit Sacramento decided it was time to put something more original than the foliage-friendly slogan on the water tower.

“America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital is truly representative of Sacramento,” the tourism agency’s Mike Testa said, defending the somewhat bland culinary phrase that now greets drivers speeding toward California’s capital city. “It’s not just a slogan, it’s who we are and who we’ve always been.”

Oh, Sacramento. Slogans matter, but they shouldn’t matter this much. After all, other cities aren’t really defined by such marketing constraints.

Just ask Houston, which is “The City With No Limits,” even though it’s only a few hundred miles from the Gulf of Mexico. Or Jackson, Miss., which is the “Best of the New South.” (Where exactly is Jackson, Miss., again?) And Portland, which insists it’s keeping things weird, but in reality, is keeping itself predictably gentrified and hipster.

What should matter far more to Sacramentans than any turn of phrase is what actually happens in our city. That’s why hosting huge events, like doing a solid job of hosting the NCAA men’s basketball tournament at Golden 1 Center, is such a big deal. The same with grander plans to re-energize downtown the city’s historic waterfront district.

This month, Mayor Darrell Steinberg launched a series of initiatives to gather input on everything from how to encourage busking to ways to get residents back in touch with the river. City project manager Richard Rich wants to turn part of Old Sacramento’s flood wall into a terrace that would lead to the river, where residents and tourists could sit with their toes in the water year-round.

There are also ideas floating around to put platforms on the river to do art shows and concerts. Or perhaps bring back dinner cruises and water taxis. Imagine that as an eventful book-end to a summer stroll through midtown under the shade of all of those trees.

These are the things Sacramento to be known for, not a slogan developed by committee and slapped on water tower along a highway.

Slogans come and go. A city’s self-confidence should be forever.