I was speaking with a group from the Alliance for Innovation today on a webinar and was challenging them to think about ways of adding fun to the mix of our various projects. I mentioned the idea of a neighborhood clean up which is a good, solid community project but not necessarily thought of as ‘fun’ in the traditional sense. So based on the current season, I opined that maybe we could mash up a Trick or Treat event with a neighborhood clean up and make the later a more fun and engaging event. Seems like a natural fit. If any communities out there have done something like this, I’d love to hear about it!
Last week my regional alternative press held their annual “Best of the Bay” awards. Creative Loafing highlights everything from Best Dining Adventure (Locale Market in St. Pete) to Best City Council Person (my friend Darden Rice) to Best sign of intelligent life in South Tampa (Cass Contemporary Gallery). The awards are an awesome, highly creative and a fantastic snapshot of the things we (mostly) love about our community. So I was very honored that CL awarded me the designation of being “Best Friend of Cities”.
In our work, in our lives, we want to be known for something. And I think it is especially nice to be known as a friend. Think of that designation. One of the finest things we can say about a person is that he or she is a friend. So I take the title with a great deal of appreciation. My friend and in many ways mentor, Charles Landry, set that standard for me years ago by his example.
Landry is the English author of many books, the most well know being the seminal “The Creative City”. He is a global citizen who has worked in hundreds of cities all over the world. I first met him in 2004 and recall thinking that his work and career were something that I wanted to emulate. Charles calls himself a “critical friend” to cities; someone who cares deeply about places and can see them with a clarity and truthfulness that is sometimes hard for locals to muster. Think about it – a real friend will tell you when your shoes and belt don’t match. A real friend will tell you when you haircut is bad. A real friend will tell you when you are wrong. Landry is that critical friend to the places he works with and that is something I have tried to emulate.
As the “city love guy” part of my job is to be relentlessly positive about places. I find the bright spots, the love notes and the things that make an emotional impact on people. I do try to look at the bad as well and not ignore the most challenging aspects of the cities I visit. But as a friend, I love you despite the flaws. In fact, I think I love your places because of the flaws. It is in the flaws that we strive to become better and to rise to the challenge building something. As a best friend, I’d like to think that in good times or bad, I am someone you want to see, connect with and maybe just commiserate with. A best friend sometimes just listens. So thank you Creative Loafing for reminding me of what my job actually is and how lucky I am to have it.
Last week saw a massive amount of coverage marking the 10 year … ‘anniversary’ is the wrong word – memorial of Hurricane Katrina. The stories of triumph and tragedy reminded us how rebuilding the Gulf Coast, New Orleans in particular, became a national cause. And the view ten years on is mostly positive. Schools and homes have been rebuilt, systems and infrastructure has been updated and people, though not all, have returned to New Orleans. Over and over again you heard stories that emphasized people’s love for the city. I wrote in For the Love of Cities, how New Orleans at that writing (2011) was the most exciting city in America because of the influx of people, ideas, money and passion that was rebuilding a great American city. Today New Orleans remains a work in progress but clearly on a different and higher path than the one it was on before the storm. New Orleans has become the benchmark of how love of place can sustain a place even in the worst of times.
New Orleans is not singular in this love affair with place. Every place has people that love it and it is those people that can be the difference between failure and rebirth. New Orleans captured so much of our national attention in part because of its size but also because of the size of its reputation. So many of us had visited New Orleans and partaken of its food, music and culture. We had watched Super Bowls and Su
gar Bowls from the Super Dome. We all felt New Orleans, at least a little bit. Other cities did not have that benefit when they were challenged by disasters.
I think of two cities yet there are so many more. I have been fortunate to work in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and Joplin, Missouri over the past few years. Each city was rocked by a disaster, flooding in Cedar Rapids in 2008 and an EF5 tornado in Joplin in 2011. Each city received an initial outpour of sympathy and support. Federal funds flowed into each and rebuilding began. But neither city resides in our broad national consciousness the way that New Orleans does. Rebuilding those cities fell upon the shoulders of their citizens – the ones who loved their place. People like my friends Amanda West and Andy Stoll in Cedar Rapids and Jane Cage in Joplin. Their everyday heroism is the
story of the vast majority of our cities everywhere. People who make the conscious choice to show up, to raise a hand to help where they can and perhaps most importantly of all – not leaving.
Every city has people that love it. If you are reading this, chances are you are one of those people. You may not realize it but your are rarer and more valuable than you think. Cities everywhere need more people who love them because when we love something, we go above and beyond for it, we forgive shortcomings and we will fight for it. Cities everywhere need more people who do more than pay their taxes, spend their money and obey the law. That should be the minimums in our relationship with our places. And sometimes it takes a disaster or threat to shake us out of our everyday malaise and remind of us of the important our places, but I hope we can find a bit of introspection and perspective in the clear light of a sunny day.
I am very excited to meet Dr. Ray Oldenburg this coming week. Oldenburg is the author of The Great Good Place, which began the conversation about the importance of “third spaces” like coffee shops, cafes, parks and public gathering spaces. My friends at St. Petersburg Preservation are bringing him into town for a lecture and were gracious enough to arrange for us to meet.
Place makers today take for granted the idea of the importance of the third space – that which is not home or work. Yet when Dr. Oldenburg first published his book in 1989, this was a revolutionary as Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone or Richard Florida’s Rise of the Creative Class. Third spaces today are seen as key drivers in successful places because of the social interaction they engender, the equality of status they convey upon citizens and the general good feelings (love if you will!) they create. Yet less than a generation ago, these things were thought frivolous and ‘nice to have’ but not necessary. How far we have come and we have pioneers like Dr. Oldenburg to thank for the great places we now enjoy.
I got a great shout out from the Tampa Bay Times as someone making things happen in the Tampa Bay region for 2015. For the full list click here.
What makes cities lovable? Why do we connect emotionally with some places and not others? And why does that matter? Author and consultant Peter Kageyama loves cities. Big cities, small cities, villages and small towns. He thinks he has found the “secret sauce” of what makes cities successful and it is those same people who love their cities. Those ordinary citizens who somehow go above and beyond typical levels of citizenship and do extraordinary things for their places. Not because they paid to, but because of their desire to make things happen in their hometown.
This is significant. Colorado approved statewide legislation to allow ride share programs such as Uber. These types of amenities are becoming “must haves” especially for the mobile, young professional crowd. These services are typically fought by traditional cab and limo companies but consumers obviously love them. The first state domino has tipped and you can expect many more to follow. Interesting how Colorado seems to be leading on lots of issues!
Full story here: http://www.denverpost.com/business/ci_25907057/colorado-first-authorize-lyft-and-ubers-ridesharing-services
Much like the change of heart seen over pedestrian only Times Square, New Yorkers apparently love the one year old bike share program. Decried by some as ugly, dangerous and even totalitarian, the success of the program should embolden other communities to look at their own implementations.
Story here: http://mediamatters.org/blog/2014/05/27/one-year-later-new-yorkers-love-totalitarian-bi/199467
A giant water slide in the heart of Bristol, England is the brain child of artist Luke Jerram, previously known for his street pianos project. Some may recall that Grand Rapids, Michigan did a similar project in 2010 spearheaded by Rob Bliss, who went on to produce the famous Grand Rapids Lip Dub in 2011.
Bristol Story: http://www.citylab.com/design/2014/05/plan-turn-steep-street-giant-water-slide-was-huge-success/9039/
Here’s an example of taking matters into your own hands. DIY city making continues to expand as people become emboldened to make necessary changes in their own communities. Hopefully the official city makers take note that change can and will happen even without their support and permission. Cheers to those that break/bend the rules in order to get our communities to the place we actually want to be.
Story here: http://www.citylab.com/commute/2014/03/heres-diy-approach-slowing-citys-cars/8661/