This is my first book and it is about “lovable cities” and the emotional connections that we have with some places versus others and the benefits that accrue to communities that are able to tap into that emotional wellspring.
A 2009 Gallup study that looked at the levels of emotional engagement people have with their communities, found that just 24% of people were “engaged” with their community. Gallup also found a significant relationship between how passionate and loyal people are to their communities and local economic growth. The most “attached” communities had the highest local GDP growth. Despite this, it feels as though our places and our leadership have forgotten how to connect with us emotionally and our cities have suffered because of it.
This mutual love affair between people and their place is one of the most powerful influences in our lives, yet we rarely think of it in terms of a relationship. If cities begin thinking of themselves as engaged in a relationship with their citizens, and if we as citizens begin to consider our emotional connections with our places, we open up new possibilities in community, social and economic development by including the most powerful of motivators—the human heart—in our toolkit of city-making.
I focus primarily on American cities though the ideas are relevant to any place. I pay particular attention to some of our most challenged places such as Detroit, Cleveland and New Orleans as they have become hot beds of social innovation as government and the “official” city-makers have struggled to reconcile shrinking budgets and diminished capabilities. Into this vacuum has flowed a new breed of city-maker – usually young, independent, unofficial, creative, rule breaking and entrepreneurial. These are the new “frontiersmen” and “frontierswomen” who are rebuilding these cities from the ground up. I feature many of them and showcase some extraordinary examples of their efforts. I also posit that this small number of unofficial “co-creators” may be the key to community development in the future and discuss how they can be identified, recruited and engaged by cities.
I have written this for both the lay person who is thinking about their city as well as for a professional audience as it gives them another way of thinking about their work.
Included are lots of lists and examples of what makes places lovable and emotionally engaging. These aspects include things such as bicycle friendliness, dog friendliness, social media volume, community philanthropy, public art, green buildings, local foods, city themed t-shirts and even tattoos! I have lots of photographs that can be used to illustrate these points and those galleries can also be seen here.