A few years ago I was fortunate enough to see Peter Kageyama speak. He is the author of For the Love of Cities: The Love Affair Between People and Their Places and the follow up, Love Where You Live: Creating Emotionally Engaging Places. . His basic premise is that people complain about potholes and broken streetlights, but fixing them won’t make people love their city. Instead, for someone to love their city, they need to feel connected to the place. That feeling of connection requires place-making that creates an emotional connection between people and their place.
How would you respond to your community providing the basics very well? Roads maintained, sidewalks on all streets, cleared snow, drainage that works when it rains, clean water to drink, sewers that never back up, streetlights that are operational, a responsive police and fire department…maybe even add quality public schools, a robust public transportation system, and services for the most vulnerable in the community? Would you love it? Or would you simply have little to complain about?
Alternately, what if your community had some wonderful world-class facilities that got you in national and international publications and attracted conventions and visitors from around the world? And maybe even attracted new businesses and people who wanted to live in your community? But your community took on debt to have these facilities, and maybe doesn’t maintain roads very well, has a disconnected sidewalk network that isn’t well maintained, has limited streetlights in the neighborhoods, and really struggles with public education, transportation, social services, and maybe even violence. Would you love it? Would you (maybe secretly) wish that different choices were made?
I grew up in one of these communities and live in the other. While the one that provided basic services very well was a great place to grow up, it has never had appeal to return and live there as an adult. There’s nothing wrong with the city, but there’s nothing to love, celebrate, and share with others. Where I live there are days that it is really difficult to accept the quality of our basic services. And I actually live in a well-served neighborhood…but I see so much of the city daily. But I truly love my city. I know many people, people who also love the city. I love some of our world class amenities from the airport to the Cultural Trail to the cultural districts to our amazing parks and trails. I love how excited people are about our professional sport franchises. I love the local restaurant scene. I am happy to have visitors and take them to the wonderful places we have.
Governing is about making choices. Every day local elected officials around the country, in places big and small, make decisions that affect how we experience the place we call home. These are made within the constraints of federal and state law and budgets, taxing authority, and rules regarding the use of funds. Taxpayers, who are also the electorate, have an opinion about everything thing you do. You can’t make everyone happy. There are people who think the other guy should have won. People who think they pay too much in taxes. People who feel disenfranchised by the government on a personal level. People who think the government should do everything and people who think the government should do nothing. So when it comes to making those decisions you have to choose a balance of providing basic needs and making your place a place that local residents love, but so do businesses and visitors so you can bring more revenue and growth to your community.
So, as much as I hate to admit it, Peter may be on to something.
And really I love my region. I am fortunate to work where creating opportunity throughout the city and the whole region is my job. The historic communities, the cities responding to rapid growth, the new and old places expressing their identities in new ways, and the connectivity between the places in our region is exciting to me.
But honestly…I’d love to both have places I am excited about and have basic needs met.
Do you love your community? Tell us why.