For the love of the city: Transforming a community by connecting people
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
DALLAS — Architects and city planners tend to think of cities and towns in terms of form, functionality and safety. Does this space provide what it’s intended to provide? Does foot traffic adequately flow and allow convenience and ease of use?
However, ordinary citizens — the ones who actually use the space these builders are creating and analyzing — tend to think of a city more in terms of beauty, art, design and fun. Or at least that's what developers should hope people think of when reflecting on their city.
We hear or read statements all the time about making our cities better, more sustainable, less dingy and rundown, but what is the best way to do that from a development perspective? At the Urban Land Institute Fall Meeting on Tuesday at the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center in Dallas, city planners, real estate developers and other professionals listened as industry thought leaders shared ideas on creating communities and revitalizing cities by connecting people on another level.
Peter Kageyama, senior fellow with the Alliance for Innovation, and author of "Love Where You Live: Creating Emotionally Engaging Places," spoke to the benefits of thinking beyond cost and size when working to revitalize or reconnect communities.
Though cost-value analysis is something no city planner or developer can avoid, Kageyama posed this question in regard to only focusing on cost rather than looking at the deeper value: "What about the cost of ugly ... the cost of boring ... the cost of stagnant?" He reminded the audience they should be aspiring to make cities and spaces more about comfort, conviviality, interest and, most importantly, fun.
What are some easy, low-cost, high-value ways developers can bring the fun back to their communities? With spaces, activities and installations Kageyama referred to as "love notes" — small additions that leave a lasting impact.
He talked about building a community around something simple. Whether it be the installation of dog parks and interactive public art, or impromptu water features in high-traffic summer areas and scavenger hunts that open people up to parts of a city they've never seen before, the costs associated with these actions bring value to a community. Why? Because it gets the part of the community involved that really makes the space great: the people.
"When ordinary citizens decide they want to become place makers and participate in the revitalization process, really amazing things can happen," Kageyama said. "We, as official folks, need to find a way to invite them into the process.
"Too many of our creative, well-minded citizens believe city making is beyond them. They think it's about roads and bridges and schools, and they go, 'I can't do any of that, man.' But you know what? City making can also be little things — a community garden, a dog park, a weirdo, backyard festival that involves you, me and our crazy neighbor that we do for no other reason than that it amuses us. That is city making and that has value."
Jason Hall, co-founder of Slow Roll Detroit reiterated this point during his segment. Slow Roll Detroit is a group that organizes weekly bike rides around Detroit and many other cities, showing groups of people what their community is really made of.
Stops at historical landmarks, halls of great past achievements and even some dilapidated areas connect these riders to parts of the community they may not have known about, or may simply have forgotten. By focusing on the beauty of a community that may only receive negative press or create only negative perceptions in the minds of outsiders, Slow Roll is slowly able to show the greater value of cities like Detroit, Cleveland and Chicago.
The rides also encourage socializing and camaraderie within the groups, thus making the connection to the city that much deeper.
Hall said he believed in attaching people to a city they've forgotten. He suggested that by creating a project that brings people together for no other reason than to cherish, improve or reflect upon the greatness that is or once was, you create ownership to a project and you build love for a community. In showing the past of a city or neighborhood and relishing in the reality of the current situation, it's possible to create an interest in the investment of the future of a city.
"The more you attach to the community, not just the people but also the charities and other ways of giving back, that's when you have success," said Hall. "If we can just open up to each other, have a dialogue, we can really change the world."
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