Surprising Life in America’s “Dying” Cities

Here is the piece I wrote for Infrastructurist.com which challenges the way we think about statistics.  In cities that Newsweek magazine declared to be “dying” we have seen amazing amounts of life and activity.  Recall the recent post that showed New Orleans was the “coolest city for startups”; on Newsweek’s list, New Orleans was the #1 dying city.

Check out the piece which includes the amazing Grand Rapids Lip Dub – if you have not seen the video yet, you must check out the incredible response that Grand Rapids came up with to being declared a dying city.

High Line Park – Part Two

One of my favorite “love notes” is High Line Park. I describe it in the book from when I visited there in late 2009. This week heralds the opening of the second phase of the park just in time for summer. The park has created an enormous buzz around it, acting like an amplifier for property values and development. They say that this type of boom is usually only seen when a new subway or train station is opened.

Check out the coverage from the NY Times.

Why Streetcars Are Better Than Buses – Infrastructurist.com

Check out 36 Reasons Streetcars Are Better Than Buses – nice piece from Infrastructurist.com. My favorite reason – “unlike a bus, a streetcar informs and helps citizens to formulate an image of their city, even if folks don’t ride it. It is a feature of their public realm. Because of this, these streets get greater public attention.”

New Orleans – Coolest City for Start Ups!

In my book, I note that New Orleans “may be the most exciting city in America” right now due to the influx of talented, mission driven people who are rebuilding the city. Apparently the data and Inc. Magazine agree as they have named New Orleans “the coolest city for start ups” in the latest issue. Congratulations to New Orleans and all those amazing social entrepreneurs who recognize that they can make difference AND make a dollar!

Group Hug St. Louis

The owners of STL Style, Jeff & Randy Vines, whom I profile in the book, have come up with an ingenious idea to spread the love in their hometown. The are sponsoring “Group Hug St. Louis” which invites people from all over the area to take a picture of themselves hugging something they love about the city. Could be a building, a piece of public art, a sign or even a person.

I love the simplicity and genuine heart that this idea shows.  Way to go guys!

TEDx Tampa Bay Presentation

It was my honor to be part of TEDx Tampa Bay for the second year in a row.  As part of the team that produces the event, I have been able to work with people who are passionate about the community and the spirit of ideas and engagement represented by TED.  This year I was also privileged to be one of the speakers at the event.

I have spoken around the world but I will say that TEDx was one the most pressure packed presentations I have ever given.  The tight format is part of it but mostly it is the pressure of knowing you are part of the global TED community.  The global audience for these talks is an amazing array of people who are also doing extraordinary things.  This is a group that you want to impress and I hope the ideas contained in it are worthy to be part of that global conversation!

Building Emotionally Connected Cities – Guest Post for Infrastructurist.com

Last month I had the pleasure to meet Melissa Lafsky, the editor of Infrastructurist.com. We were both invited to participate at the annual Forum on Land and the Built Environment at Harvard University. She asked me if I would be interested in writing something for them and I leapt at the chance.

Read the column here.

Infrastructurist.com is a must read for city champions everywhere. The breadth of what they cover is as broad as the definition of nfrastructure itself. Check it out!

St. Louis Group Hug!

My friends Jeff & Randy Vines, the owners of STL Style House in St. Louis whom I profile in the book, have come up with a brilliant idea to spread the love for their city.  They have created a project call the St. Louis Group Hug.  Over the next few weeks they are encouraging local citizens to“scour the city for your favorite people, places, and objects—ones that define our city and/or help to explain why you love St. Louis—and HUG these subjects for the camera. Get a friend to snap a photograph of you with your arms wrapped around your favorite St. Louis building, business, monument, person, etc.”

On June 2nd they are hosting a party at their store for a viewing party of the photo submissions.  They will gather other lovers of the city and who knows what other ideas, projects and actions may result.   I am sure beer will also be involved.

These guys are total lovers of their city – in what they do both personally and professionally.  Their enthusiasm for the city is infectious and I can’t wait to see the results of this event.  Small things like this that engage people, invite them to contribute and make them smile create an enormous amount of emotional capital for places.

Check them out here.

Akron – A Lovable City

I was interviewed by my hometown newspaper, the Akron Beacon Journal, about the book and of course whether I thought Akron was a lovable city.  Of course I am biased but I do believe that Akron (and other mid-sized Rust Belt cities like it) have a particular charm that makes them endearing.  At their heart, they are hard working, middle class cities that exemplify our concepts of working hard, building things and seeing the results of our efforts.

Cities like Akron feel fair in the sense that they give most (if not all) of us a chance to make something.  As much as we love superstar cities like New York or San Francisco, they often don’t feel very fair because of their high costs and perceived barriers to entry.

For the article, they photographed me in front of Luigi’s in downtown Akron. Luigi’s is a long-standing institution in Akron (since 1949 in the same family). I love their pizza! The restaurant is not the newest, most fashionable or trendiest, but there is something endearing about it that keeps people lined up out the door on weekends. Every city has a Luigi’s and every city can build on those elements that people respond to – history, tradition, community and fun.

Check out the full story here.

The Ripple Effect in Wayne, Michigan

After I spoke at the Rust Belt to Artist Belt conference in Detroit, a group from Wayne, Michigan decided to start a blog called “For the Love of Wayne.”  The blog “lets local people share their personal stories about why they love Wayne.”

They write:  This blog is a project of the Wayne Ripple Effect, a group of volunteer citizens dedicated to revitalization for the City of Wayne and was inspired by the book “For the Love of Cities” by Peter Kageyama.

I love it when ideas turn into action and they allowed me to do a guest post for the blog.  Congratulations Wayne, Michigan and keep up  the love!

Interview from Detroit – April 7, 2011

While in Detroit to speak at the Rust Belt to Artist Belt conference, the Detroit Regional News Hub interviewed me.  The News Hub is a not for profit, grass roots news agency that is helping to bring the unheard stories about Detroit to the forefront.  I sat down with Jeremiah Staes and we discussed Detroit, talent and how 719 people could change the city!

“The Next City”

I have been invited to participate in the Journalists Forum on Land and the Built Environment: The Next City taking place on April 15-16th, 2011 in Cambridge, MA.  The forum is sponsored by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy  and the Harvard University Graduate School of Design.  The forum brings together about 30 writers and journalists from around the country to hear from leading urban experts and discuss current issues around cities.

Speakers include Edward Glaeser, Harvard University professor of economics and author of Triumph of the City and New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff.  I am honored to be invited and am looking forward to connecting with these amazing urban thinkers.

Crime & the Lovable City

Last month I presented to the American Planning Association via their national webinar series. I got to speak about lovable cities to several hundred planners from all over the United States. It was a real honor.

During the Q&A session that followed I was asked about the impact of crime on the relationship that we have with our city. I noted that crime, despite our best efforts, an inevitable part of the makeup of cities. I also noted that some places, like Detroit, wear their crime badge with a sense of pride and toughness. My friend Eric Cedo of Detroit says that real Detroiters get robbed and it is part of the deal.

But I have been thinking about crime and our relationship with our cities ever since.

In the book I noted:

Cites exist in a state of constant flux influenced by the accumulation of positive acts and deficit acts. When a homeowner fixes a broken step, or a pedestrian places trash in a recycling bin—positive act. When someone breaks a window or throws a cigarette butt onto the sidewalk—deficit act. When the tide of deficit acts grows, we see the larger manifestation of those tiny acts in the decline of streets and neighborhoods; the edges begin to fray, and the slow slide towards shabbiness and decay begins. Unchecked, negative acts accumulate and add up to blighted areas that may never bounce back. When positive acts accumulate, the opposite occurs: areas thrive and blossom like well-tended gardens and nurtured children.

And there is clearly a difference in the degree and nature of some acts:

All joys and all negatives are not created equal. Clearly there are degrees of acts (being mugged, for instance, is a far more negative experience than seeing rubbish on the sidewalk), but generally the old adage of one joy dispelling a thousand worries has merit in experiences with cities.

Upon reflection I don’t want people to think that I am understating the impact of certain crimes on our relationship with our cities. Crime is a violation – of our person, of our property. And when it occurs our community gets some of the blame for it. Crime is a failure of our civilization and thus our cities. So when someone is mugged, the result may be more than a lost wallet – it becomes a loss of trust between citizen and city. In relationship terms it is that breach of trust that comes when someone we trust hurts us.

The solution is not just more police and surveillance cameras. The solution is in perpetually filling the “love bank” with deposits big and small. By filling that account we can weather the rainy day that is a crime and still have enough love for our city so that we don’t up and leave.

The Social Animal and Cities

New York Times columnist David Brooks notes in his new book, The Social Animal, that human beings can take in about 12 million pieces of information a minute yet we can only be conscious of about 40.  Thus he notes that so much of what we are reacting to is happening on a sub-conscious and emotional level.

Think about how we experience cities every day if  only .0000033% of the experience is happening on a conscious level.  Even if the conscious stuff is the more privileged in our experience, there is a dimension, a non-rational, emotional dimension, that is hugely important as well.  Perhaps it is the timing of Brooks’ book and mine, but I am seeing more evidence that there is an emerging consciousness about the importance of emotional connections in everything from cities to politics to health and wellness.  And that, I believe, is a very good thing.

Check out Brooks at TED: