Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Book Review: For the Love of Cities

By Matt Tarleton, Project Manager.

With lots of personal and work-related travel in the last few months, I took advantage of plenty of airborne downtime, set aside the crosswords and sudokus, and read a few books that I’d been carrying around for a while. The first on the list, For the Love of Cities, is written by Peter Kageyama, co-founder of the Creative Cities Summit and former President of Creative Tampa Bay. 
I delved into the book a few months ago after it was passed along to the Market Street team by one of our clients, the Greater Omaha Chamber. The opening chapter sets the stage for the larger discussion by challenging the reader to question, although not overtly, if we really “love” our community. Not like, but love. Or more explicitly, do we have an emotional connection with the place we’ve chosen to call home? Kageyama believes that those who truly love their community necessarily become engaged in their community. They become “co-creators” or the “one percent” according to Kageyama. They become entrepreneurs, activists, artists, and other citizens that create new assets and experiences (a community garden, a store for local artists, a neighborhood watch, etc.) that are consumed by the other 99 percent and increase the character of a community.
Kageyama best writing lies in the early chapters that follow this introduction, where he discusses what, in his opinion, has led to people falling in love (and out of love) with their cities. This naturally includes a discussion of how we can change the dialogue regarding community development, and in turn, our policies, to focus on creating places with which we have an emotional connection. And while there are some utopian assertions (e.g. let’s talk about “love” and “fun” in council meetings instead of “density bonuses”), Kageyama makes some very keen observations. The following passage supports what we at Market Street often emphasize to our client communities – that great things can be done at little cost, that residents and volunteers (Kageyama’s “co-creators”) can be change agents, and that creating an enjoyable community can help create a prosperous community.
“When the makers (co-creators) are doing cool stuff that we see, engage in, and consume, we appreciate it and we become more engaged with our place. We might even be motivated to try to do something ourselves because we have seen how cool it is when things are made to happen. That may be the ultimate gift that the co-creators provide their communities. We can be moved by seemingly small and insignificant things. Communities that recognize this can develop strategies and tactics that embrace the idea of how to make the community more interesting, engaging and loveable. These strategies can be layered into existing approaches to community and economic development with relatively little expense. Things that make communities interesting and loveable don’t necessarily cost a lot of money. What they do require is insight and sensitivity to the idea that we are building emotional connections with our citizens – not just paving roads, expanding our tax base and collecting garbage.”

(pp. 40-41)

Kageyama is most effective in the first four chapters when discussing his central idea – “the love affair between people and their places” – challenges the reader to think about their own relationship with their place. The next few chapters, which focus on identifying and quantifying the most “loved” communities and their defining attributes, will frustrate the most elementary statistician, and likely seem redundant to anyone that has read anything written by Richard Florida in the last decade. The same is true for the final chapters which focus on ways in which communities can become more loveable. There are some interesting stories interwoven in these chapters about various co-creators and the impact they had on their communities. There are also some unfortunate digressions such as a discussion of how communities can and should emulate Apple, Inc.

In the end, Kageyama’s message is clear: find your community’s co-creators, empower them, and help other residents move up the “continuum of engagement” to increase their numbers of co-creators. You’ll find of plenty of examples from other communities: this may be the most valuable piece of the book to many readers. The first few chapters are certainly a worthwhile read, and as previously mentioned, you’ll find some examples in later chapters that may help you uncover and empower the co-creators in your community. It’s worth purchasing and passing around the office. But it’s perhaps more valuable to the average co-creator described by Kageyama. The ideas will resonate with them, the characterization will at times exalt them, and the stories inside may inspire them.