Instead of just focusing on fixing potholes and solving parking problems, cities must also find ways to emotionally engage residents to get them to participate in improving their communities, author Peter Kageyama told an audience of about 400 attending a business meeting Tuesday.
Places where a greater percentage of residents feel an attachment to where they live tend to enjoy a greater economic well-being, Kageyama said Tuesday at the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce’s 104th annual meeting at the Clarion Hotel & Conference Center.
People who love their cars tend to take better care of them, for example, and people would invest more time and money to improve their cities if they had more of an emotional connection with them, said Kageyama, author of “For the Love of Cities.”
Kageyama, who specializes in community development and grass-roots engagement, said people are remarkably consistent about what they hate in cities: parking problems, traffic and bad planning. However, cities spend lots of money on addressing those challenges, and typically just to address the symptoms, he said.
Kageyama said people must acknowledge that they aspire for their cities to provide more than a place to work, to drive and to live in safety.
He advocated that residents and city leaders should strive for their cities to also be comfortable, interesting and fun.
“Where is the fun?” is a completely legitimate question to ask, Kageyama said.
“When you ask that question, you’re changing the dynamic about how you’re thinking about the problem,” he said.
You smile, look to the horizon and go beyond the technical challenges, Kageyama said.
And, Kageyama said, sometimes people tend to overthink the solutions to their problems.
Some of the steps cities can take and have taken to make their cities more lovable do not cost a lot of money, he said. They do, however, require creativity.
He listed examples across the nation where cities have taken this lesson to heart:
n New York City turned Times Square into a pedestrian-friendly area where tourists — and New Yorkers — congregate to watch people.
n The new Tampa Museum of Art, a monolithic block, added a playground and dog park to its exterior.
n In Millennium Park in Chicago, the mirrored Cloud Gate sculpture (known as “The Bean”) and nearby video towers frequently draw hundreds of children. And when children are happy, Kageyama said, parents are happy.
Columbus already has incorporated some of the same principles, he said, as he showed a slide of the Luckey Climber in the Commons Mall. Some have called it a park, others have called it public art, Kageyama said, which is great.
Kageyama also showed slides of the Columbus City Hall and The Republic building, saying that modern architecture in the city already had made Columbus more forward-thinking and more likely to take risks.
Cities also can connect to their residents through rituals and traditions:
n Nashville, Tenn., once a year hosts a dinner for hundreds of people on a downtown bridge. Having dinner on that bridge, Kageyama said, will change the way people look at their city — literally and figuratively.
n Providence, R.I., has a WaterFire season, which features fires in braziers that are floating on rivers. That very basic idea, combining water and fire, has a phenomenal effect, Kageyama said, because people get together for lighting ceremonies and spend time together.
Spending time together is critical and conveys a sense of community, Kageyama said.
Making cities bike- and pedestrian-friendly also makes cities more lovable, Kageyama said, because it tells residents that the city cares about them — not just their cars.
A walkable city also allows for improvisation and discovery. When people walk, they can change direction at any time they want to discover something new. They can literally follow their nose to find a new local dish. “That’s a good moment,” Kageyama said.
Dog-friendly cities also increase the interaction residents have with their environment and their neighbors, he said. “Dogs end up humanizing our cities,” he said.
And, Kageyama said, cities must identify and support creative people who love their cities and want to help make them better.
City councils and mayors sometimes hesitate to allow people to use their passion to turn livable cities into lovable cities, Kageyama said, especially if they have piercings, tattoos or accents.
You need those people in your community, Kageyama said, and most places already have them, though sitting on the sidelines.
“We need to get those people into the game,” he said.
Those people can bridge the gap between the city you can afford and the city you desire, Kageyama said.