15 to Watch in 2015

I got a great shout out from the Tampa Bay Times as someone making things happen in the Tampa Bay region for 2015.  For the full list click Read more

Do You Love Your City?

What makes cities lovable? Why do we connect emotionally with some places and not others? And why does that matter? Author and consultant Peter Kageyama loves cities.  Big cities, small cities, villages and small towns.  He thinks he has Read more

Remembering Manchester Co-Creator Tony Wilson

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Today is the five year anniversary of the passing of Tony Wilson, the English TV & radio personality who was key figure in creating the Manchester music scene in the late 70’s through the 80’s and beyond.  (Check out the 2002 movie “24 Hour Party People” for a semi-autobiographical portrayal of Wilson and the Manchester scene.)

Wilson was a “co-creator” as I describe in my book; a creator of the content that makes cities interesting, fun and lovable.  Wilson was not an official city maker, like a mayor or councilman, but his impact on the city was no less profound.  He was an unabashed lover of Manchester and it showed in his work as he championed local music and artists and founded the famous Hacienda nightclub that launched the “Madchester” scene to the world.

I only met Tony once, in 2006.  While I was visiting Manchester, a mutual friend arranged a lunch meeting and I was just giddy with the prospect of talking to him.  I even brought a first edition 12” single of New Order’s Blue Monday.  His label, Factory, had produced it and famously, the cover artwork was so complex and expensive, they lost money of every record sold.  He smiled and told the story behind it and even signed it for me.

New Order's Blue Monday 12" Single

That day we talked about the unique role that music plays in creating identity for cities.  He talked about how a scene cannot be forced, but how cities can help facilitate the success of their local musicians and artists. Things like support for local venues that play original music or little things like rehearsal spaces where bands can make as much noise as they want.  He also talked about his annual music conference, called In the City that he and his wife had been producing.  It had become a SXSW type event where bands showcased to industry in the hopes of being discovered.

Tony clearly loved Manchester, and the city had come to love him as well.  His passion projects, Factory Records and The Hacienda had become central to the identity and the mythology of the city.  Tony was a central node in what made Manchester a great city though he was not an official city maker.  When he passed away in 2007, Manchester lost a great champion and “lover” of the city.

Every city has people like Tony that truly love their community and go way above and beyond ordinary citizenship and make their city better, more interesting and more lovable.  The problem is that we think Tony Wilsons just happen.  They magically appear like rare gifts for our cities.  And because we think of them like gifts, we actually don’t plan on how to use them or on how to create them.  We need to be intentional in our efforts to make more Tony Wilsons for our places.  We do that first by recognizing the co-creators in our midst and treasuring them the way we value an anchor business or institution.   Then we can ask how our communities might support and amplify what these co-creators are already naturally doing.

Tony Wilson was a rare champion for Manchester and he can never be replaced.   But he can be renewed if we encourage others to manifest their emotional engagement in their places by doing something for those places.  Step up, make some music and make a difference.

Marrying Your City

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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 a Saving Cities event in the Collinwood neighborhood of Cleveland.

with Katie O'Keefe in 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.

People to Know – Tom Stewart of Lansing, Michigan

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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 – Katie O’Keefe of Cleveland, Ohio

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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.