In June I wrote a piece called “The Surprising Life in America’s Dying Cities” for Infrastructurist.com. The piece highlighted the amazing things that were happening in the cities designated by Newsweek Magazine in January as the 10 most “dying” places. Needless to say, the cities on that list were not happy with the tag placed on them. Since I published that article, one more of those “dying” cities has stepped up to declare the rumors of their demise being greatly exaggerated.
South Bend, Indiana was number eight on the Newsweek list. And local radio personality Tori James did not like it. But not having budgets to counter the publicity, she decided that South Bend needed to remind itself of the good things it had in the community. She came up with the idea that the citizens should write “love notes” to the city. She took the idea to Downtown South Bend Inc. and they decided to run with it. Leveraging the radio station and the local paper they were able to get word of the project out to South Bend. They put actual mailboxes in several downtown shops and invited people to drop off their notes in person. Online submissions came from all over the country as hundreds of love notes came in.
Last week the city declared “I Love South Bend” day and the love notes were posted in the windows of shops throughout downtown. Local artists were brought in to paint the windows and seam together the notes into displays of the love and affection people have for their city.
While things like the Grand Rapids Lip Dub might get more external attention, one cannot underestimate the impact of these simple, heartfelt efforts such as South Bend has done. This project was BY them and FOR them. A declaration of love and connection that becomes part of a longer term effort to improve the relationship between city and citizen. Every community would do well to reflect on that relationship and hopefully do so without a scare or an outside threat.