As Valentine’s Day approaches, maybe it’s time to send your city a love note.
Love notes are something Peter Kageyama, an urban strategist and author of For the Love of Cities, refers to as gestures between cities and its citizens. They are simple things created in a city that surprise and delight like interesting artwork or surprising design.
And they are fun. “Plant an idea of fun,” Kageyama advises. “Something as simple as a lighting scheme can change the way we feel about our places.” Kageyama shows a picture of a woman with a huge grin on her face having fun in a park as an example of the type of reaction love note projects can evoke. He says it’s important to create opportunities for spontaneous play in your city. This applies to adults as much as it does to children. “You want someone to make that face in your city,” he said.
And residents agree. After hearing Kageyama speak Marcel Currin, author of Go Random Strangers You Are Awesome , said “I want to see things that startle me into a smile, things that trick me into sharing a laugh with strangers.”
Love notes can be the canopies of trees, wide sidewalks, bubbling fountains, hip cafes, waterfront parks, pastry shops, spring flowers, fun spots, tea shops, independent book stores, funky galleries, bicycle paths and shuffleboard courts – anything that appeals to a certain mindset forming a creative community’s collective sense of place.
Love note projects inspire and motivate ordinary citizens to achieve extraordinary things out of love for their place, allowing cities and towns to flourish even as other resources diminish during tough economic times.
Kageyama asks people to fall in love with their cities but says not enough people do. “Love will prove to be the difference between good enough and great, between functional and engaging, between leaving and “I think I’ll stay,” says Kageyama. “When more people say the love their cities, more people will feel it and believe it” says Kageyama. Kageyama said, things like beauty, art, and great design –love notes — can charm even the most pessimistic teenager into loving a city. What you can see and touch up close and personal better reflects reality and makes you fall in love.
New Buffalo wanted to spread the love in their city. To get things started, the New Buffalo Downtown Development Authority sponsored “For the Love of New Buffalo”, a three-hour session led by Kageyama who challenged the 100 attendees to create some “love notes” that could help the city spread the word that New Buffalo reaches beyond the routine to be an interesting and lovable city.
A $500 challenge grant from New Buffalo Savings Bank prompted ideas for smaller, low-cost projects. Suggestions included a skipping-stone headquarters on the river bank, a wigwam for souvenir picture-taking at Lions Park, a “country quilt billboard” for the side of the drugstore and a roving bison handing out bison chips redeemable at local stores. The winning idea was inspired by New Buffalo’s founding and proposed Captain Whittaker’s shipwreck recreated in lights on the vacant corner at Whittaker and Buffalo streets. The shipwreck could become the designated gathering spot for community tailgate parties throughout the year.
The workshop also produced catchy slogans, T-shirt designs, community traditions and “fun” projects to promote economic and social and development.
Kageyama believes that the ultimate way to create loves notes and make cities fun is for residents to become co-creators of the urban fabric. People become co-creators when they love their cities and partner in solving problems. So how do we do this? Here are some of his suggestions:
Embrace temporary. Try pilot projects; they allay people’s fears.
Minimize the daggers. Billboards and power lines are visual pollutants.
Promote emotional truth. If we say things about our communities that don’t ring true, we will lose trust.
Be better story tellers. Tell the good stories.
Embrace civic experiments. Try new things. Don’t be afraid to fail.
So what do love notes looks like? Let’s take a peak.
The Lawn on D in Boston is a three acre open space next to the convention center that began as an experimental event landscape that brings together different communities, audiences and area residents for innovative programming and events. Folks can try out adult-size swings and partake in interactive programs like giant Jenga, Zumba and wine tastings.
I See What You Mean, is a big, blue bear sculpture outside the Colorado Convention Center in Denver. It was designed by Lawrence Argent and has not only become one of the iconic symbols of the Colorado Convention Center, but also an iconic symbol of the city itself.
Whatever the size, public art is one of the main ways to create experiences “so simple you could almost weep,” Kageyama says. And those can be more “valuable” and “cost effective” than any million-dollar marketing campaign. At Chicago’s Millennium Park, people interact with the public art. They take selfies in front of Cloud Gate, a massive, stainless steel structure that’s become Chicago’s signature landmark and splash around splashing around in the Crown Fountain, a shallow reflecting pool bookended by 50-foot towers. And what do children do when they see water? They play and are happy and Kageyama says “when kids are happy, parents are happy.”
The beauty of love notes is that they don’t all require loads of cash, just some creativity and a bit of local passion.
A student had the idea to create a scavenger hunt for brass mice scattered around downtown Greenville, S.C. It cost only about $1,200 to pull it off. Visitors delight in finding the “Mice on Main” in unexpected places. Clues are available in stores and people scour the area for the mice.
In downtown Ludington, Michigan, local artists Andy Thomas and Scott Bentz primed a wall and spray painted the outline. Visitors and residents were asked to help paint and complete the mural. It features the word Ludington, lighthouse and waves. The other side of the blue building features a “Love Ludington” mural, done by Colleen Barber. And another community mural is located on the side of the building across the community garden area.
“Rainworks” started when 20-year-old creator of novelty Peregrine Church learned about super-hydrophobic coatings from an online video and he began to brainstorm creative uses for the material. The result was a cheap, invisible spray that deflects water to create “secret” messages that can only be seen when the surface, typically a sidewalk, is wet. Since he unleashed his formula onto the world, new rainworks have been popping up like crazy.
Some parting advice by Kageyama to create love notes in your city: “Be creative, financially responsible and responsive to the community.” The end result says Kageyama will be to “build cities that are lovable, that grab us by the heart. That’s the kind of city I want to live in.”
Want to hear more about where’s the fun and how can it be used to build a phenomenal city? Hear Peter Kageyama reveal the remarkable impact cities make when giving citizens small love notes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2EMfLbdgAg.
Holly Moskerintz is the Community Programs Outreach Manager for the National Association of REALTORS®. She works on NAR’s Housing Opportunity and Smart Growth Programs where she plans and manages community outreach programs, conducts outreach and marketing, and provides technical assistance to state and local Realtor® associations. Holly developed and manages NAR’s Placemaking Initiative.