Peter is the co-founder and producer of The Creative Cities Summit—an ongoing exploration into the complex problems and remarkable opportunities that our cities provide—and author of For the Love of Cities. He delves into the love affair between people and their places, and illustrates for city leaders what little things matter in the relationship with place-making.
This June, Peter will be the opening keynote speaker at LMC’s Annual Conference, where he will discuss how you can create more engaged citizens without major resources, which are the “most lovable” cities and what we can learn from them, and how a small number of people who are “in love” with their city can have major impacts.
Peter recently took some time to answer our questions about people and their places:
What kinds of things create strong emotional connections between residents and their places? On the flip side, what kinds of things turn people off?
I have seen over and over again that small, often silly things, create enduring emotional connections between people and their places. I call them “love notes” in my book. Things like dog parks and farmers’ markets are great examples. Public art is another. And these types of things are often the first things cut as budgets shrink because they are seen as nice to have and not must have. As for the flip side, it is less about turn off than it is about tune out. Much of what cities want to offer us—like parking decks, paved roads, big box retail, and chain restaurants—just blends together and does nothing to excite or emotionally engage us.
When budgets are tight, how can cities make these kinds of lovable projects a priority?
We have to get beyond the purely financial method of accounting because in purely financial terms, you will never justify anything like public art or landscaping. Think about how many potholes you could fix for the cost of that piece of public art. We need to consider the value of things as well as just their cost—and in that type of accounting, things like beauty, art, and fun have tremendous value. The value of the dog park and the farmers’ market is in the social connections we make, in the smiles generated, and the positive attitude we have because of the experiences. And remember that—compared to things like roads and stadiums—these love notes are incredibly cost effective in their emotional return on investment.
How do we motivate citizens to step up and do sometimes extraordinary things for their communities?
Bottom-up community development begins when people realize that city building is not just something that mayors, councilmembers, and city managers do. City building can be a very small, hyper-local effort that can be fun as well as meaningful. Once people start thinking about the lighter, faster, cheaper things they can do—and not wait for the city to lead on—they open the door to bottom-up participation. These efforts become expressions of people’s emotional connection to their place. They start small, get some experience and some confidence, and then tackle something bigger and bigger. Iterate this a few times, and you may have game-changing, citizen-led projects for your community.
Like what you’ve read? Don’t miss your chance to hear Peter in person when he opens up the 2014 LMC Annual Conference! He’ll speak on Thursday, June 19 from 9-10:30 a.m. Hope to see you this summer!