Do we love our cities and communities? Charles Landry, author of The Creative City, says we unfortunately tend to talk about our cities in a sterile, clinical way. We discuss improving them in technical terms. Solutions for building better cities can often feel like fixing a car. However, a city is not a machine, it is a far more complex living organism. The author believes it is time to align our aspirations and vision with rhetoric which also promotes emotional attachment.
When we experience an emotional connection to our place, we are less likely to leave it. We are more likely to champion and defend it in the face of criticism. Author Richard Florida notes “In an economy where talent comes in all shapes, sizes, and ethnicities, where the best places…have to compete for the best talent in the world, the only way to retain talent is to offer the kind of place that provides emotional attachment”.
The Gallup Organization, in conjunction with the James L. Knight Foundation, investigated levels of community attachment. Their survey uncovered a significant relationship amongst community residents between local economic growth and feelings of passion and loyalty. In fact, from 2002 to 2006, the survey found the most “attached” communities had the highest growth in GDP.
Peter Kageyama, author of For the Love of Cities, states the challenge is that on the spectrum of engagement (Hostile, Angry, Detached, Bored, Neutral, Curious, Engaged, Committed, Love), very few people are “in love” with their city. It is rare to find that special love which makes people willing to do something exceptional for their city.
I will tell you the wonderful effort made by several individuals and teams during the 2023 Corridor of the Year Contest. Their effort illustrates love for their community. I found one couple voluntarily blowing off a corridor the night before the judging while another was erecting home-made design pieces livening up fences. Another couple displaying 400 mini-flags along the corridor. Others with their own funds touched up marquis belonging to other homeowners, relandscaped beds, and walked miles picking up trash. It was heartwarming to see.
In the “Soul of the Community” survey mentioned earlier, only 24% of those interviewed said they were even “attached” to the community and 40% said they were “unattached”. Thus, it means seven in ten people essentially don’t care much about their community. Now, I will tell you my telemarketer, Roy, speaks with these majority unengaged folks when he calls for events. Conversely, Roy also helps me find a few wonderful human beings like the ones I mentioned earlier.
Kageyama states as people move towards having a more connected, emotional reaction to where they live, they become more loving towards the location. A lovable citizen results in becoming a driver of economic and social improvement. We want all our communities improving and developing true “lovers”.
I believe my Neighborhood Leader Program has done just this, to find homeowners who truly love their neighborhood. As I recently have recently read the book, For The Love of Cities, I realize I’m finding these true lovers. It is an arduous process, but well worth the effort.
I have believed for years that engaged neighborhoods along with a high performing elementary school make the difference in creating a high-quality community. I fell into the neighborhood clean-up effort from this core belief.
The author also believes each of us contributes in some way to the essence of a community. I could tell you that from campaigning. After speaking to residents, each neighborhood gave off a different vibe. Kageyama says each of us makes or breaks a city every day in small ways. When someone throws garbage in the street, they diminish the community. When they speed or fail to look out for pedestrians crossing the road, they create a derogatory feeling about the safety of the community. Conversely, when someone serves on an HOA Board, picks up trash, paints their neighborhood wall, pressure washes their sidewalks, serves in a community service organization, or is helpful to a neighbor, they build up the community.
Unfortunately, Kageyama says too many residents are simply consumers of the community. He says, they take from a community’s resources: parks, security, airports, roads, and bike paths. He believes many just consume the city without giving anything back other than obeying laws, paying taxes, and spending money. To be truly excellent we need more “lovers”.
I believe there definitely could be simple ways to contribute. I have mentioned I take my granddaughters to parades, footballs games, Easter Egg Hunts, Halloween events, and yes, even picking up trash. We need to teach children and grandchildren to participate, be good stewards of their surroundings, and contribute towards making it better. Again, we all participate, whether we know it or not, to the quality of a town.
The third column in this series will delve more into how an individual can build, contribute, and essentially “make” a city. Author Kageyama calls them co-creators. Let’s develop more co-creators.