Peter Kageyama came to Independence this week with some ideas, some questions and a couple of projects, all with the aim of getting civic leaders to look a little differently at the possibilities of city life and at engaging more residents in community-building.
“This notion of citizens wanting to do things for their city is a precious, precious thing,” Kageyama, author of such books as “For the Love of Cities,” told about 50 people from Independence during a workshop Tuesday.
He put them to work too, drumming ideas from clever T-shirts to quick projects that would make small but noticeable differences around town. At least a few of those projects seem likely to go onto the community’s agenda.
Kageyama encouraged people – many in the room were city staff members – to be open to young people and others with unconventional ideas. He said cities are more than streets and buildings, that people want places that are creative and fun.
Recognize the emotional connection to place, he said. Recognize that sometimes the rules have to be bent or broken to open the door to something new. Start small. Embrace fun and even silliness.
He said cities are generally good at the big stuff, which tends to be top-down – a community that’s functional, safe and comfortable. But is it convivial or even interesting, he asked? Those things often move bottom-up.
“The real opportunity lies in the crazy little stuff …” he said.
He offered slide after video after slide of ideas from other cities: The “Mice on Main” – brass artwork placed here and there – in Greenville, South Carolina. The 6,000 pieces of “Monkey Shines” artwork in Tacoma. The fanciful river monster of Muscatine, Iowa. Pedestrian-oriented Times Square in New York.
And there’s the “Before I Die …” public art blackboard in New Orleans.
“It’s the kind of art that engages you in public conversation,” he said.
Many of those started small and started as one-time or temporary ideas, he said.
“Surprise and delight don’t have to cost a lot of money,” he said.
One idea, from Salt Lake City, seemed like a good fit for Independence, he said. That city has very wide streets, and the Granary Row has become popular where space is set up for beer and music down the middle of the street, still leaving room for traffic on the sides. Would something like that work on wide Winner Road in Englewood, he asked?
In considering these ideas, he said, looking strictly at dollars and cents isn’t the way to go either.
“Let’s talk about the cost of ugly. Let’s talk about the cost of boring. Because those things have a cost,” he said.
Dogs count for a lot, too, he said.
“Dog parks are social. People talk at the dog park,” he said. That builds social capital, he argues in “For the Love of Cities.” Streets with people walking dogs are safer and more inviting, and dog friendliness is important in attracting young people.
“Millennials have a lot more dogs than they have children,” he said.
He was in town Monday and Tuesday and took in much of the city. He said he particularly liked having a root beer float at Clinton’s Soda Fountain, a re-creation of the shop on the Square where Harry Truman worked as a boy.
“I think definitely that place is a love note,” he said.
He added, “These kinds of things – they absolutely do matter. So it was important to bring that back.”
The participants broke into small groups and came back with 10 suggestions in response to this question: What one thing would you do for the city if you had $500 to spend?
The winner was the idea of painting fire hydrants and utility boxes for a splash of art around the city. Others: A car cruise on the Square, a pop-up playground, a swap meet on the Square, a big outdoor slumber party, and window art to make the old Comprehensive Mental Health Services building in Englewood look better.
Kageyama suggested doing all 10, and Mayor Eileen Weir agreed. She stressed that this isn’t about City Hall.
“This isn’t about what our city can do,” she said. “It’s about what we can all do together.”