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Altoona officials call for new word to describe River Prairie

Monday, August 28, 2017
Elizabeth Dohms | Leader-Telegram

ALTOONA - The roar of cars echoed underneath the U.S. 53 bypass as Altoona resident Dan Leibham retied the lure onto his son's fishing pole before he recast it. 

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Leibham and his two sons spent part of the afternoon fishing just off the regional trail that runs between the river and a few of the new River Prairie developments, which include an amphitheater and restaurant with outdoor seating. 

"It's classy, safe - peaceful with the river," Leibham said, describing Altoona's development on the city's northwest side that's tucked into the bends of the Eau Claire River.

Altoona city officials are trying to find the perfect word to describe the feeling achieved by the coziness of the space, its relationship to nature and the way it fosters social connections.

That word, they're convinced, isn't yet in the English language. So city staff members are challenging any individual or group to create a catchy word that can be used to promote the purpose of the space. 

City documents explain that the new word would be displayed in venues, in print and public signs. City planner Josh Clements said one consideration is to stamp concrete in the park with the word and possibly its definition.

"We paid specific attention throughout the design process to how does it make you feel to be there," Clements said. "We want it to be a four-season place, that you're feeling content and social, feeling comfortable - that's the warm and fuzzy feeling we're hoping people get."

"Let's give it a shot to see if we can come up with our own word," Clements said. "It's the process that's the really fun part."

Cultural cues

In the meantime, city staff members have relied on the word "hygge" -  something city Administrator Mike Golat came across while reading, to convey the feeling derived from visiting a particular location. 

Hygge, pronounced "hYOO-guh" or "hoo-guh" in Danish, is the term Altoona city officials have been using internally to describe the feeling they want visitors to embrace when exploring the city's newest development.

"We feel like using (an) existing word doesn't represent increased diversity and desire to be inclusive," Clements said.

According to a city request for proposals, hygge means a "feeling or quality of coziness, comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being; heightened sense of togetherness."

Designs for River Prairie were intentional creations of hygge, Golat and Clements said.

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Hygge was incorporated in the form of a fireplace inside and outside of the River Prairie event center, a gently-flowing creek throughout the park and mature trees sprinkled in its center to convey a return to simplicity and connection to nature.  

The Dutch and German have their own words to describe such feelings, much like the Chinese use "feng shui" to explain harmony between people and space. But the point is to find an English word to represent this area's culture and values. 

"We're trying to not make it seem like we're using some sort of foreign concept to design the park," Clements said. 

The challenge is an opportunity to start a dialogue about public spaces and how they're intended to make people feel, Golat and Clements agreed. 

Challenge accepted

Anyone interested in submitting a word option to the challenge can visit tinyurl.com/​yb2hj8ac. Individuals or groups can submit multiple options. 

The deadline for the challenge, which opened last week, is Sept. 25. Finalists decided by a committee will be announced at the Party in the Prairie in Altoona on Sept. 30. 

Then, through Oct. 16, members of the public will have an opportunity to vote for their favorites. The winner will be announced Oct. 25.

Golat mentioned it's the city's goal to popularize the word for use as a direct translation of hygge.

The submitted word cannot already exist in the English language, and it needs to be catchy, guidelines state. The word will be in the public domain.

"We don't desire to own this word," Clements said. "We desire to be part of a larger community that's interested in creating awesome public spaces and will share this opportunity for anyone to take what the results are and utilize as well." 

Contact: 715-833-9206, elizabeth.dohms@ecpc.com, @EDohms_LT on Twitter

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