For the Love of Cities by Peter Kageyama

for-the-love-of-citiesHere are my notes on the book “For the Love of Cities” by Peter Kageyama

Chapter One: Why Lovable Cities Matter

“Arts and culture are what make a city fall in love with itself,”

I believe that if you examined who really builds, contributes to and essentially “makes” a city, you would find that those citizens who have an emotional connection with their city make the difference.

The city, as a whole, is made by a relatively small number of “co-creators” who – in their roles as entrepreneurs, activists, artists, performers, students, organizers and otherwise “concerned citizens” – create the experiences that most of us consume.

Many of these co-creators act without authority or centralized direction, and it is from their creative efforts that the rest of us benefit.

Communities need to ask themselves who these champions in their midst are, how to increase their numbers and most important, how do we keep them engaged in our city.

Chapter Four: The Continuum of Engagement

The Soul of the Community is a three-year study, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and conducted by the Gallup organization, which explores the community qualities that influence residents’ loyalty and passion for where they live and how those feelings relate to indicators of community wellbeing such as local economic growth.

During the course of the study, over 28,000 people in 26 cities were interviewed, and three key aspects of community consistently turned up as the “magic ingredients” to community satisfaction.

The three keys:

#3 Aesthetics

As part of their process, “Gallup researchers asked residents two questions about its attractiveness – how they rated the area’s parks, playgrounds and trails and how they rated its overall beauty and physical setting. It turns out a pretty city is a lovable city.”

High Line Park is a small element and one that most New Yorkers will not use on a daily or weekly basis. But knowing it is there is still immensely satisfying to the community and clearly a reason to love the city.

Lack of aesthetics is not disqualifying; it merely means you have to work harder in other areas.

#2 Social Offerings

For their second major finding, Gallup researchers asked residents about “how fun and social their communities are”

  • Is there vibrant nightlife?
  • Is it a good place to meet people and make friends?
  • How much do residents seem to care about each other?

Fun is not something most cities plan.

Yet, clearly, it is incredibly important in our measurement of lovable communities.

Cities need to encourage social offerings and activities and lessen procedural impediments so that citizens use the city as a venue more than they themselves need to create the offerings.

Certainly some things should be produced and executed by the city (Fourth of July Fireworks for example), but mostly these experiences should be done by non-city agents.

#1 Openess

The number one trait and the one “identified as decisive in determining residents’ attachment to a community was openness.

To get at this trait, researchers asked whether the community was a “good place for” different groups of people – senior citizens, racial and ethnic minorities, families with kids, gays and lesbians, college graduates, and immigrants from other countries.”

At the most basic level, openness reflects the notion that if people are cool with those other folks looking or acting differently, they will be OK with me and my differences.

For that group of co-creators we talked about, openness is synonymous with opportunity; the opportunity to make a difference, make changes, to create something different, unusual or untried and push it into the consciousness of the community.

That is far more challenging than being tolerant and diverse.

It is easy to say we are open to new people until they start changing things!

Can You Run For Mayor?

When trying to measure the openness of a community, I often like to ask whether or not this is the type of community that I could move to, get engaged and in five or ten years run for mayor. This seems to be a pretty good barometer.

Cities that are too small and too insular, where you have to be born there and even after 20 years you are still a newcomer, are not going to let an “outsider” become mayor.

Likewise cities that are too big don’t allow you to climb the corridors of power that quickly. Try to go to NYC or Chicago and run for mayor. Unless you are a billionaire, you will most likely find that option closed to you.

For many, big cities are wonderful because they are tolerant and allow (and encourage) infinite varieties of consumption.

Come and be part of the party they say; enjoy yourself and have a drink.

But for those wishing to throw their own party, these places may prove to be more problematic—not because of any overt hostility or intolerance but simply due to costs, tradition and scale.

The Continuum of Engagement

The Soul of the Community survey found that 40% of us are “not engaged” with our communities, with 36% of us “neutral” and only 24% of us “engaged” with our places.

continuum

40% of those surveyed said they were not attached to their community. I submit that the majority of that group falls closer to the center and are not actually hostile or angry towards the community, but rather just bored.

At the far end of the positive side of the continuum you will find those co-creators of the place. They are passionate and committed to their city—some would even say they are in love with their place. They are the “secret sauce” or the “magic dust” that makes a significant difference in their communities. This very small group is responsible for an outsized portion of the content that the rest of us consume. They make things, and they make things happen.

When a community gains one of these co-creators, they gain far more than one person. They gain a maker, an influencer, a catalyst and an anchor persona for the community. When a community loses a co-creator, they lose all that and perhaps even more; they lose all the future things that person will make for another community.

Continuum of Influence

Not every “hater” can be turned, but the fact that they have strong feelings about a place is significant and, potentially, an asset.

Wanting to see what is down this street or what is behind this door, is a key ingredient to engaging with your city. A curious mind is open to ideas and possibilities. From there, other things become possible.

Chasing Meaning

Soccer rose to prominence where it meant more, especially in rapidly industrializing cities such as Manchester, Turin, Milan, Istanbul and Barcelona. In capital cities such as London or Rome, soccer competed with many other forms of sport and entertainment, but in the industrial north of England or Italy, soccer was the sport, the pastime. Passionate communities attracted passionate players, coaches and owners, and they created cultures and traditions that have carried on even today.

Richard Florida noted “The way people build purpose and meaning is through their work. The work we do is not just about making things in a factory, or making things in a software company or in an art gallery, it is about making the neighborhoods and communities we live in better, more holistic and more purposeful. That is what people are looking for and they are going to find places that allow them to do that and if they can’t do it there, they will move.”

It is a truism that talent flows to where it is valued most.

Chapter Five: What Makes Cities Lovable? aka “What do we love? What do we hate?”

 

Young Love

Every community says it wants to be a great place for families and kids. Ask a teenage what they want to do and the most common answer is simply to hang out, yet large groups of teens hanging out it cities are treated like a form of bug infestation. There is even a device called “The Mosquito” that emits a high frequency sound that only young ears can hear, making an unpleasant sound that prevents the young from congregating in certain places.

Couple this with anti-skate boarding ordinances, teen curfews and draconian noise ordinances that kill live music venues, and one gets a different picture of a community through younger eyes.

So what are the indicators of a lovable city for young people? Certainly, a local music scene is a strong indicator of an active youth culture. No 40-year-old is out there saying they are quitting their job to start a band (damn!). Music is made by and largely consumed by young people.

If our city constantly tells our kids no, it is small wonder that we struggle to get them to stay once they have reached adulthood.

On A Bicycle Built For Two

Bike friendly cities are by definition more lovable because they are more people oriented than other car oriented cities.

“What we find is that those cities dedicated to making bicycling accessible to all populations are cities that have general people-oriented approach many other areas as well,”

Cities that are on the “worst places for cyclists” lists have exactly the opposite perception. They are saying that cars matter more than people; that the health and safety of citizens (and kids!) are secondary concerns, and they are even saying they are not a fun city!

Walkable Cities

As with bicycles, a city that is walkable is more people-centric than car-centric. When we walk our city, we experience it at a level and pace that is impossible to do in a car.

Walking also allows for improvisation, a key ingredient in discovery and curiosity. Shawn Micallef notes “When walking you have the least amount of rules governing you. You are at maximum liberty to go whatever direction you want.” This type of improvisation is much harder in a car. You may see a new shop as you drive by, but the logistics of pulling off the road, crossing the street, parking, etc., make such random encounters much more difficult. Improv leads to discovery.

Ritual & Tradition

Cities have rituals and traditions, and they are often among the most beloved and authentic aspects of that place.

Some Examples

  1. Waterfire in Providence, RI.
    • A free public art installation, a performance work, an urban festival, a civic ritual and a spiritual communal ceremony.
    • Floating braziers filled with cords of wood line the rivers of downtown Providence.
    • Over 100 braziers light the city, and the atmosphere is magical with a combination of wood smoke, music, shadows and thousands of people who stroll along the rivers int he firelight.
  2. Key West Bed Races
    • For 26 years and counting, Key West has hosted the annual “bed races” on Duval Street. The bed race is part race, part parade and dubbed the most fun you can have in bed with your clothes on
  3. Dunedin, Florida: The Wearable Art Show
    • Part fashion show, part performance are, part costume ball, part rock-and-roll show
  4. Monroeville Mall outside of Pittsburgh.
    • Participants gather there in costume for a “zombie walk” called Walk of the Dead.
    • The 2006 walk set a then world record for participants in a zombie walk at 894.

Does your city have a beloved ritual or tradition? Remember: it is never too late to start one!

Playful Love

Chicago’s fantastic Millennium Park. Two public art pieces are the centerpieces of the park and are probably responsible for more smiles per capita than anything else the city has done: The massive Cloud Gate (also known as “The Bean”) and The Crown Fountain.

Looking for an example that does not cost quite so much money but still inspires fun and play? The Street Piano Project did not start out as public art.

Done well, public art projects have significant economic benefits for communities. For example, the New York City project, The Gates by Christo & Jeanne-Claude in 2005 generated over $254 million in local revenue.

Here is my simple test for public art in communities;

  1. Is it fun?
  2. Does it invite you touch it, climb on it, engage with it?
  3. Maybe even skateboard on it?
  4. Does it bring people together?
  5. Does it make people smile?

Pet Love: Are You a Dog Friendly City?

Communities benefit from dog owners. People walking their dogs contribute to traffic on our sidewalks, which raises the perception of activity in a neighborhood. Dog walkers are the “eyes on the street” that Jane Jacobs said provided for public safety.

Dog parks are often among the most used public amenities

Forbes Magazine list, which looks at over 20 factors including park space per capita, dog specific parks and cost of veterinary care.

The paradox here is that dogs in cities make for a more human place. We walk more, we meet each other, we see vital street level activity and we feel safer because of it. The pet friendly city (however measured) is a lovable city as it makes for better living for everyone.

Chapter Six: Increasing The Love

How can cities emulate Apple?

Here are a few principles:

  1. Design matters.
  2. Make it easy to use.
  3. Just be cool.
    • Apple manages to get its fans to tell others how cool it is.
    • They wear it with an insouciance that makes them seem beyond cool. Cities need to work on acting like that cool, hip city, and let someone else tell me how cool you are.
  4. Provide great customer service. If you’ve ever gone to the Genius Bar you’ll know what great customer service is.
  5. Little things matter,
    • The Apple experience begins with the packaging that the product arrives in. Layered into beautifully designed boxes, opening an Apple product is akin to a “Chinese box” with precise pieces that unfold like origami.
    • Cities would do well to remember that the experience of the city begins long before most people arrive at your city center or iconic buildings. Ask how does your city present itself for the first time for someone arriving by plane or car.
  6. Be a platform.
    • Apple’s App Store currently stocks more than 200,000 apps, almost all of them designed by programmers and companies other than Apple.
    • Apple has turned the iPhone and iPad into a lightning rod for innovation.
    • Cities are platforms and, ideally, they should be lightning rods that attract entrepreneurs to build upon them.
    • Some apps reap significant financial rewards, but the vast majority of apps make little or no money. They are often created by users/members of the community for their own creative enjoyment and pride of authorship; produced by people who want to create something for other users and perhaps be recognized for contributing something to that community.
    • Cities need to inspire that same spirit of creativity and generosity in order to become that kind of platform that draws in creative, entrepreneurial and innovative people of all kinds.

Watching Each Other

As social creatures we are endlessly fascinated by watching each other. Increase the people watching potential of the city, and you increase fun and overall satisfaction.

If we can figure out how to increase potential interactions in our community, great things can happen. When we get people out of their cars, out of their homes and interacting with each other, we increase the possibility of them slamming headlong into an interesting person or idea.

New Approaches: City As Open Source Platform

Cities will become more like “open source” projects that are built by self-directed participants even as they are governed by core principles such as laws, structures such as customs, and procedures and opportunities based on needs and circumstances.

Roope Mokka, founder of Demos Helsinki, offers the idea of “wikicities” and notes that such “self-built” cities could make us happier. “There is tons of research into why some people feel happier than others.

In all the answers, one thing keeps on coming up: the ability to guide your own life,” says Mokka.

Chapter Eight: For the Love of Cities

“If I move to New York, I have no say in what happens in that city. And that’s a ship you can’t steer. If I’m here and I give a damn, and I actually go out and I’m part of the community, I can actually do something and make a difference in Detroit.”

For a growing number of people, the opportunity to make meaningful contributions, to create something, to see their efforts manifest in tangible results is a potent aphrodisiac.

if you could fill your city with those people that see opportunity in the midst of disaster, that’s very, very powerful.”

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