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Love matters: GR Forward speaker says love important factor in city-building

Peter Kageyama, author of "For the Love of Cities," will be visiting Grand Rapids on Thursday, February 12He says civic engagement can take many forms, as a way to act upon our love for places.
A packed house at the last speaker series event

A packed house at the last speaker series event /Courtesy of Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.

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Attend Peter Kageyama's presentation

GR Forward Thinking Speaker Series

February 12

6:00 p.m.

Kendall College of Art and Design

17 Pearl Street NW (Old Federal Building)

RSVP on Facebook

Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc. is bringing Peter Kageyama, noted speaker and author on civic engagement and the creative class, to Grand Rapids next Thursday, February 12, for the next in their "Forward Thinking Speaker Series" lineup. Kageyama, whose presentation is titled "Welcoming civic love through open engagement," will share his research on fostering civic love. After his presentation, attendees will be asked to add to the critical dialog surrounding application to the GR Forward Downtown and River Action Plans.

"I talk about civic engagement, but what I'm really talking about emotional engagement with our places," says Kageyama. "Why it's a good thing that more of us fall in love with our cities, and how we as leaders in our places, both official and unofficial, might be intentional about cultivating more of that love."

Kageyama says that "love matters," but says that moving people from saying they love their cities to doing something about it can be harder to do.

"I call folks co-creators, because we are co-creating our cities with official folks- people who are typically paid essentially to make cities, to make the content of our cities," he says. "Then there are these unofficial folks, the ones who don't necessarily do it because they're being paid to, but they do it out of this sense of love and community and creativity."

Kageyama advises that the co-creators do best when they start small, with hyperlocal, fun and interesting projects that aren't too complicated or too big. He cites Rob Bliss' earlier interventions like the pillow fight and chalk flood as methods of building love and community in our cities.

"He's got sort of a strange track record with you guys, but some of the stuff he did was incredible creative and fun and didn't cost a whole lot of money," says Kageyama.

He says getting people experience to experience the fun and joy of doing something for themselves and their neighbors and fellow citizens is most successful when it starts with small interventions. Though he values efforts designed to benefit the community with actions like trash clean-ups, often people forget that creating fun in our communities is also building a better city to live in.

"Most people wait for the City or someone else to make the city better for them, because they don't think they have the power. They don't think community building is within the scope of what they can do," he says.

Kageyama says it's time we change that perception, by encouraging small acts that bring success that can then be built on to start tackling larger problems. 

That's not to say that he thinks everything has to be successful to be helpful in building civic love in our cities. 

"There's always failure- and failure is okay," he says. What's important about those failures, says Kageyama, is what you do with those failures. He points to Lexington, Kentucky's creative response to a remaining construction pit in the middle of downtown when work halted in the downturn of the economy. The city created a "horse park," a patch of grass with a fence around it, to create a fun public space while they waited for a developer to reactivate construction. "I'm less concerned about failures than I am about unwillingness to try... If you can't solve it, maybe the ultimate level, what can we do to mitagate some of that stuff with a little creativity and some love?"

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