Marrying Your City

In the book I write about how city themed tattoos are the equivalent of “marrying” your city.  A tattoo, like a marriage, is a near permanent commitment and whenever I see people with their city etched into their body, I know that person has a special relationship with their place.  And perhaps none more so than Katie O’Keefe of Cleveland.

I wrote about her return to her hometown of Cleveland from New Jersey.  “I wanted to come back and make a difference in my city… in the end, Cleveland is my true love” she said.  In writing the book, I had several people tell me I had to meet Katie and try as we might, we could only connect via email and Facebook.  That changed this week as I finally got to meet her in person at aSaving Cities event in the Collinwood neighborhood of Cleveland.

Katie’s love and enthusiasm for her city shines through even more powerfully in person.  We talked about how she will often sing to the city as she rides her bike to work and how she likes to blow kisses to Cleveland.  Being around such passion and commitment is inspiring and she has a catalytic effect on whoever she encounters.

And the story has an even happier twist.  She introduced me to her boyfriend Sam, whom she met after he approached her and showed his sleeve tattoo of Cleveland that is almost the twin of her ink!  If it happened in a romantic comedy, you would say “c’mon!” that is too hokey.  But they met because of their mutual love affair with their city.

For me the lesson is that more of us should be willing to publically declare our love for our cities.  Perhaps we are not ready to get the tattoo, but we can all find some way to express that love and commitment through our words and actions.   When we do, we are likely to find many sympathetic and similar voices.  And then we know that we are not alone and might find not only comfort and support, but potential allies in future actions to improve our communities.

South Bend Declares Its Love

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.

More Photos

Poynter Institute – The Future of Journalism

I am honored to have been asked to speak at the renowned Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, FL, on the future of journalism on Friday, October 28, 2011.  Poynter is hosting TEDx Poynter Institute to specifically discuss this critical issue from multiple perspectives.  My talk will emphasize the role of social media and emergence of “unofficial” actors in the arena which mirrors the rise of these same citizen actors in community development areas.  

For the Love of Akron

n August 23, 2011 we conducted the “For the Love of Akron” workshop at the University of Akron. The event was sponsored by the Akron office of the John S. & James L. Knight Foundation and drew over 200 participants. The event also featured Knight Soul of the Community lead consultant Katherine Loflin, the team from The Civic Commons who provided the video booth and graphic recording by Michelle Royal of HDYI .

Lots of great ideas were generated & shared.  Lots of blimp references as well as mentions of Swenson’s hamburgers and Luigi’s pizza.  Check out the photo set here.

We even had an earthquake!

For the Love of Akron

On August 23, 2011 we conducted the “For the Love of Akron” workshop at the University of Akron. The event was sponsored by the Akron office of the John S. & James L. Knight Foundation and drew over 200 participants. The event also featured Knight Soul of the Community lead consultant Katherine Loflin, the team from The Civic Commons who provided the video booth and graphic recording by Michelle Royal of HDYI .

Lots of great ideas were generated & shared.  Lots of blimp references as well as mentions of Swenson’s hamburgers and Luigi’s pizza.  Check out the photo set here.

We even had an earthquake!

For the Love of St Louis

Join me on Thursday, August 11th for a full day of activities in St. Louis.  Beginning at noon at the MOTO Museum, we have a lunchtime presentation followed by an interactive workshop on making St. Louis a more lovable and engaging city.  And that evening at the offices of the Regional Arts Council we will be doing an interactive Q&A from 6pm to 7:30pm.

http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=256790117671177

People To Know – Katie O’Keefe of Cleveland, Ohio

In For the Love of Cities I wrote about Katie O’Keefe of Cleveland, Ohio as an example someone in love with their city.  Katie’s story of coming back to Cleveland is powerful, but what caught my attention was her commitment to Cleveland exemplified by her magnificent sleeve tattoo of the Cleveland skyline.  I noted in the book that city themed tattoos are akin to “marrying your city” as they are semi-permanent – easy enough to get into but rather hard and expensive to get out of.

Last week Katie made the cover of Issue Media Group’s Northeast, Ohio publication Freshwater Cleveland.  Take a look here to see the tattoos and learn more about her and other “boomerangs” who have returned to Cleveland and are playing key roles in shaping its future.

People to Know – Tom Stewart of Lansing, Michigan

I met Tom Stewart in June when I spoke at his art gallery, Art Alley, in Lansing, Michigan.  Tom is one of those young co-creators that are critical to the success of cities.  Art Alley, which opened in 2010,  is a burgeoning creative space in the REO district of the city.  Tom is also part of a group of angel investors that is investing private money back into creative entrepreneurs.  And what impressed me as well was the fact that Tom was also getting involved politically by running for Lansing city council.

I am very pleased to note that Tom was successful in his primary election bid and has become one of the youngest ever candidates for city councilman in Lansing.  He is on the ballot for the November at large election.  Many of the the co-creators I write about eschew the traditional power channels because they don’t have the patience to work within the confines of those structures.  But it will take adventurous co-creators like Tom to take on those traditional institutions and change them from within.  Way to go Tom!

People to Know – Claire Nelson of Detroit, Michigan

Excerpt from For the Love of Cities – page 163-164

Co-creators are starters.  Starters are the first ones in the pool, the first ones on the dance floor and the catalysts that literally  make  things  happen.    Claire  Nelson  is  the  co-­founder of Open City, a forum  for  aspiring  and  existing small business owners  in  Detroit, and a drafter of the Detroit  Declaration.    She launched one of the first new retail businesses in her Midtown neighborhood when she opened the Bureau of Urban Living, a small design store similar to Crate Barrel, in the Canfield Lofts Building.      Not only did she start   her   own   business–   she   actively   recruited   friends   and   colleagues   to   start   other   businesses   in   the   area   as   well.   When   a   space   became   vacant   next   to   her   shop,   she   explains,   “I   begged   everyone   I   knew   to   open  something  there.”  Her  efforts  paid  off.  A  design  company   called  City Bird opened  next  door,  and  Claire  has  called  it  “my greatest  achievement  so  far”  because  she  gained  a  neighbor  and   someone  who  shares  the  same  love  of  place.

Workshop with City of St. Petersburg Leadership

On Wednesday, June 15th, it was my honor to present to the leaders of the City of St. Petersburg at their monthly learning session. The meeting brings together over 100 of the city’s department and divisional leaders for opportunities to learn and connect with each other. I was there at the invitation of St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster, who has become a fan of the book and big supporter of the ideas.

The group was very eager to hear about ways they can engage with their citizens without having to spend resources they no longer have. We workshopped several ideas including the very popular “what is your city t-shirt” exercise that got everyone very engaged. Thanks again to Mayor Foster and City Administrator Tish Elston for the invitation.

With St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster

With St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster