What if economic development groups spent as much time and energy recruiting creative and committed individuals — people who love cities, people who make things happen — as they do trying to relocate corporations?
This may sound like heresy to business traditionalists, but it is the crux of a new book by St. Petersburg creative activist Peter Kageyama. Cities that can lure or nurture more super-committed people will prosper more than those just wooing new business, argues Kageyama, 46, in his self-published For the Love of Cities: The Love Affair Between People and Their Places.
"Incredible things … can happen when more of us fall in love with our cities," writes Kageyama, who, by the definitions in his own book, clearly loves St. Petersburg.
Now "love" and "economic development" are words not found often in the same sentence. That's a mistake, this author suggests. Emotional engagement can be a powerful tool for cities.
Love, Kageyama says, is a community resource. Cities that can build up "emotional capital" from citizens who love their communities can tap that reserve, almost like a bank account, to get people to step up and do creative things, especially in these leaner fiscal times.
"The problem," Kageyama said in an interview Monday, "is cities do not know how they got that emotional capital in the first place."
The good news is Kageyama has a track record that may give his ideas some traction among economic development players here. He's speaking Wednesday, for example, at a breakfast briefing of the Tampa Downtown Partnership.
Kageyama grew up in Akron, Ohio, attended law school at Case Western Reserve, landed in Florida in the early 1990s and practiced law before realizing he had other aspirations. He started and later sold an early Internet business.
His vision began to gel in 2003 after he attended what turned out to be a landmark event for Tampa Bay's development consciousness. The Rise of the Creative Class author and urban development guru Richard Florida spoke before 500 in Tampa about the need for cities to succeed by making themselves more attractive to talented people.
Kageyama saw the regional potential in the Creative Class author's message. He helped establish a group called Creative Tampa Bay as a tool to promote creative industries here and lure more talent. He now consults, organizes conferences and speaks to groups on behalf of an overscheduled Richard Florida. He'll soon hit the road for his own book tour.
Cities have a choice to make when looking for people who love cities and make things happen. Cities can recruit them, which means identifying the right people and giving them a good reason to relocate. How? By having people already here and in love with their city network with others.
Here's a recent example. Glass artist Duncan McClellan moved his main studio to St. Petersburg. As many artists from around the country gathered in St. Petersburg for this past weekend's Mainsail Arts Festival, he threw a party at his studio on his own dime to encourage more artists to resettle in this arts-friendly town. McClellan, Kageyama says, loves St. Petersburg.
Or cities can find current residents who are at least curious, preferably engaged and ideally committed and persuade them to take the next step to "love" their city.
Most cities have a very small activist core who actually "love" their cities. But they tend to be the people who make things happen, are most creative and are willing to go the extra mile.
The book suggests 1 percent of the population of any city may typically "love" it. Increasing that number by just one-tenth — 0.1 percent — is manageable and can make a difference, the author says. In St. Petersburg, for example, 1 percent of the population is about 2,480. Increasing that by a tenth means finding just 248 more people to "love" the city.
Kageyama points to Los Angeles transplant Bob Devin Jones, creative director of Studio@620 as one who loves St. Petersburg and "an incredible" resource. Writes Kageyama: "Beyond the Studio, Bob is literally everywhere: on different boards of directors, in meetings, occasionally performing and directing. He is a central node in the network that makes St. Petersburg."
In fact, St. Petersburg is lucky, Kageyama says, because there's plenty of positive things going on. Greater challenges confront the people who love such cities as Detroit or Cleveland or smaller places fighting the economic downturn.
And what would Kageyama say to the inevitable skeptics who argue that pitching "love" as a development tool is just too intangible?
The author anticipated such responses. Look at how the outlook on health has changed, he says. People now consider the emotional well-being of patients, the presence of sunlight and design, and the proximity of loved ones to the hospital bed.
"These things have nothing to do with modern medicine but can have a profound impact," he says. So can the love of cities.
So, by all means, bring on those new businesses. But find those individuals who can make a difference, too.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.