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Maybe The World Breaks On Purpose, So We Can Have Work To Do

August 24, 2011 Events/Meetings, Reading 2 Comments

Earlier this month I attended a couple of events with Peter Kageyama, author of For the Love of Cities. In his presentations he talked about attachment with where we live, quoted here from his website:

“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.”

Attachment, he explained, might be as simple as voting, going to a PTA meeting, etc. Forty percent were not attached, thirty-six percent were neutral, and only twenty-four percent attached. See the Gallup Soul of the Community website for the detailed reports.

“Over the past three years, the Soul of the Community study has found a positive correlation between community attachment and local GDP growth. Across the 26 Knight communities, those whose residents were more attached saw more local GDP growth. This is a key metric in assessing community success because local GDP growth not only measures a community’s economic success, but also its ability to grow and meet residents’ needs.” (p5 2010 report)

I asked  Peter Kageyama to say a few words to St. Louis:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onzX9eYYXv8

Good advice! In the presentations he mentioned a January 2011 report in Newsweek listing the top 10 dying cities.  Those listed were:

  • 10. Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • 9. Flint, Michigan
  • 8. South Bend, Indiana
  • 7. Detroit, Michigan
  • 6. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • 5. Cleveland, Ohio
  • 4. Rochester, New York
  • 3. Hialeah, Florida
  • 2. Vallejo, California
  • 1. New Orleans, Louisiana

Newsweek wrote:

“Michigan dominates much of this list, with several cities experiencing significant declines in population as the state suffered high unemployment rates and above average foreclosures in recent years due mainly to the collapse of the auto industry.”

As you can imagine Grand Rapids wasn’t pleased.  But their response was not the typical stuffy political press release as if so often the case from municipalities. Check out this news report:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=enq7Rogtus8

In short the city leaders listened to a 20-something controversial local artist, Rob Bliss. The result was the 9+ minute Grand Rapids LipDub:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPjjZCO67WI

This video has now been viewed more than 4 million times! The $40,000 production cost was raised through private donations and was a bargain given the positive PR it has generated for Grand Rapids. Thousands of residents participated. Newsweek said they didn’t do the study and they think better of Grand Rapids.

Another town Kageyama mentioned was Braddock PA, a 19th century suburb of Pittsburgh. It has lost 90% of it’s population from a peak of 20,879 in 1920.  They know they have issues, no rose colored glasses. They partnered with jeans maker Levi’s on the following:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2YyvOGKu6ds

“People think their are no frontiers anymore, they can’t see how frontiers are all around us.”

“Maybe the world breaks on purpose, so we can have work to do.”

Powerful stuff! Thanks for the Regional Arts Commission (RAC) and STL-Style for bringing Peter Kageyama to St. Louis!

– Steve Patterson

  • Anonymous

    Two thoughts.  One, I have to agree with the “emotional engagement” observation.  My perception has been that there is more happening in Denver (where I came from) than there is in St. Louis (where I am now).  While it’s hard to pinpoint real differences, I’m thinking that our (St. Louis’) love of small governmental units (multiple wards, multiple suburban communities) may have a lot to do with it.  While smaller units may seem to be more accessible, my experience is that they’re more insular, with the same small group making decisions, mostly in private, and many times lacking a robust civil-service support staff to provide real professional expertise.  In contrast, with larger units, there’s both more structure and transparency.  There’s more outreach by legislators since they have more on their plates, and citizens seem more empowered to either speak up and/or to contribute their expertise and energies on specific issues, leading to more engagement, pride and sense of ownership.
     
    Two, while feel-good videos may help the local psyches, I doubt they do much to attract what’s really needed, specifically new jobs, new businesses and new entreprenuers.  Again, my experience is that many recent college graduates tend to either try to stay around where they went to school (Austin, Boulder, etc.) or they go to where the jobs are and/or where the lifestyle is more desirable (Portland, Charlotte, Chicago, Atlanta).  What really attracts businesses to consider relocating are things that either improve their bottom line or appeal to the lifestyles of senior management.  Lower taxes are one part of the equation, as are lower labor, shipping and material costs.  On the lifestyle side, it can be anything – golf, skiing, boating, fishing, pro sports, cultural institutions – but it can also be more pragmatic things like a major hub airport, no income taxes and/or more perceived safety.
     
    Like many other cities on the list, St. Louis has been hit hard by the contraction of the manufacturing sector and its many well-paying jobs.  The secondary impacts come from contraction at Lambert and the perceptions (and remember, for many people, perception IS reality) of high union costs and a crime-riddled, dangerous, racially-divided city.  Combine that with the undercurrent of “which high school did you go to?” and “what’s your parish?” and you get a city that could very easily have found a place on Newsweek’s list.  So, should we abandon what makes us unique?  No, not completely.  We need to build on our strengths (central location, plentiful water, low real estate costs) while addressing our negatves.  It won’t be easy, but it does need to happen.

  • JZ71

    Two thoughts.  One, I have to agree with the “emotional engagement” observation.  My perception has been that there is more happening in Denver (where I came from) than there is in St. Louis (where I am now).  While it’s hard to pinpoint real differences, I’m thinking that our (St. Louis’) love of small governmental units (multiple wards, multiple suburban communities) may have a lot to do with it.  While smaller units may seem to be more accessible, my experience is that they’re more insular, with the same small group making decisions, mostly in private, and many times lacking a robust civil-service support staff to provide real professional expertise.  In contrast, with larger units, there’s both more structure and transparency.  There’s more outreach by legislators since they have more on their plates, and citizens seem more empowered to either speak up and/or to contribute their expertise and energies on specific issues, leading to more engagement, pride and sense of ownership.
     
    Two, while feel-good videos may help the local psyches, I doubt they do much to attract what’s really needed, specifically new jobs, new businesses and new entreprenuers.  Again, my experience is that many recent college graduates tend to either try to stay around where they went to school (Austin, Boulder, etc.) or they go to where the jobs are and/or where the lifestyle is more desirable (Portland, Charlotte, Chicago, Atlanta).  What really attracts businesses to consider relocating are things that either improve their bottom line or appeal to the lifestyles of senior management.  Lower taxes are one part of the equation, as are lower labor, shipping and material costs.  On the lifestyle side, it can be anything – golf, skiing, boating, fishing, pro sports, cultural institutions – but it can also be more pragmatic things like a major hub airport, no income taxes and/or more perceived safety.
     
    Like many other cities on the list, St. Louis has been hit hard by the contraction of the manufacturing sector and its many well-paying jobs.  The secondary impacts come from contraction at Lambert and the perceptions (and remember, for many people, perception IS reality) of high union costs and a crime-riddled, dangerous, racially-divided city.  Combine that with the undercurrent of “which high school did you go to?” and “what’s your parish?” and you get a city that could very easily have found a place on Newsweek’s list.  So, should we abandon what makes us unique?  No, not completely.  We need to build on our strengths (central location, plentiful water, low real estate costs) while addressing our negatves.  It won’t be easy, but it does need to happen.

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