“Emotions are contagious; when more people say they love their cities, more people will feel it and believe it”- Peter Kageyama
Most people in their careers operate within the measurable world. We measure participation at events, the amount of money something costs, how many jobs something creates, and a wide variety of other things to determine the success of projects, programs, or initiatives. These things are all great—the more participation we can get at public events, the more bang we can get for our buck or an increase in employment—are all valid and extremely important benchmarks to strive for. But we all know this is not enough.
The statistics about a place are not what makes the city, what truly makes the city, and we probably all know this from first-hand experience. We have all heard negative things said about our city and thought “that doesn’t really represent where I am from”. What is not said enough are the positive things about our cities, the things that the residents know firsthand from living there and what makes it home to them. The difficult part for people in design and community engagement professions is getting residents to share the immeasurable things about their community: how it makes them feel, what makes it their home instead of just another city, and learning how to interpret and market these intangibles to both the residents and other communities, if they can even be marketed. Moving feelings and ideas into tangible expressions of affection for a city is something that can take a considerable amount of thought, effort, community participation, and determination.
Peter Kageyama, an expert in community development and grassroots engagement and the author of several books including For the Love of Cities: The Love Affair Between People and Their Places and Love Where You Live: Creating Emotionally Engaging Places, offered his thoughts on the subject at a ULI lecture series in October of 2016.
His main idea is how to get people to fall in love with their cities, and how this then translates into reinvestment and urban revitalization. The concept is very simple: everyone loves on different levels and, at some level, probably loves the place they live in for one reason or another. Expressing this to the rest of the community in a tangible way and in a way that the city as a whole can get on board with is another story altogether. Kageyama discusses it in terms of potholes: every city has potholes: most residents can identify those potholes and want them fixed. It is much more difficult for residents to ask the city for intangibles such as beauty, art, and great design in a city, but we know that is a desire most residents want fulfilled, probably more desperately than they want the potholes filled. How do we, as designers, neighborhood advocates, and citizens, help people to love their city more and to make it a more fun place for people to be in?
We want to create “cities that grab us by the heart and refuse to let us go”- Peter Kageyama
Kageyama, in his short twenty minute presentation, cites example after example of things which cities have done, big and small, to give their residents “love notes”. These love notes are often, though not always, small, but they always have a larger-than-anticipated impact on the people who get to experience them. From Cloud Gate and Crown Fountain in Chicago, to the Big Blue Bear in Denver, to Rainworks in Seattle, to bronze mice hidden around downtown Greenville, South Carolina, many cities are catching onto ways to love their city and pass on love notes to their residents and visitors.
Kageyama encourages those in both top-down positions like the local government and bottom-up positions like grassroots organizations to look for out-of-the-box solutions which can give their city a little love. People working from the bottom-up are especially important because they are the ones of the ground floor of the community. They often see issues and have simple yet creative ways of solving them that city officials and heads of large organizations do not. But these same people are the ones who usually think “city-making is beyond them”; since they are not in a profession which deals with city development their opinions are not valid. Kageyama is quick to include and encourage these people to get involved—often the most spectacular placemaking efforts come from people who are not in the profession.
He also encourages the people who want to make these kinds of changes in their community to look for “garden hose solutions” or solutions which do the job without being over the top or costing an excessive amount of money. While there may be objections to spending money on things which have a cost but do not have a measurable value when there are still potholes to be fixed, Kageyama says:
“Technically, you could always fix more potholes, but the placemaking effects have values beyond the purely financial”- Peter Kageyama
If we wait until everything in our cities is 100% functional and safe before moving on to the fun and creative investments in cities, the fun things will never get done. There will always be potholes, but there will also always be people who want to fall more in love with their city. Fixing potholes has a known and finite benefit; focusing on the things which get people to fall more in love with their community are the ones which will have exponential and generational benefits. A balance of the two will be essential to the emotional health of the people in the city and, subsequently, the health of the city.
The whole idea of Placemaking Indiana is to “love where you live” and to continually fall in love with the place you live. To do this, it must be a collaborative and ongoing process which engages the whole community and is continually looking for and pursuing new ways to express our love for our city and state. Check out the efforts we have been making in this direction, including My Community, My Vision, Stellar Communities, and CreatINg Places here. Wherever you live, don’t forget to love your city today!
Check out this link for Kageyama’s talk with ULI!
Main Image Source: The Making Table
Big Blue Bear: Denver Post
Mice on Main: Greenville Daily Photo