It starts with a smile . . . 

Love for a place begins with the simple, everyday ways a community can make its people feel good 

How do we find love? It's something we all crave, and something that motivates behavior, whether we're seeking a life partner or hoping to surround ourselves with a caring group of friends.

Peter Kageyama, an internationally renowned community development consultant and grassroots engagement strategist who spoke at the May 3 City Social, believes that our places are worthy of love, too. In his book For the Love of Cities: The Love Affair Between People and Their Places, Kageyama asks, "What makes cities lovable? Why do we connect emotionally with some places and not with others? And why does this matter?"

Kageyama says emotional engagement with our places is important because people want meaning. They want what they do to matter. He cites Gallup's "Soul of the Community" survey, in which 40 percent of respondents said they were unattached to their community, 36 percent said they were neutral and just 24 percent said they were attached. It is this 24 percent who have the power to be co-creators: the anchor personas who make a city go.

"People who emotionally engage with their place have impact," Kageyama says. "People who are 'in love' with their cities make them lovable."

At a recent TEDx talk, Kageyama cited several examples of people who showed their love for their places in unique and meaningful ways:

  • In Durham, N.C., 1,600 brides and grooms assembled one day in 2011 to marry the city of Durham. In a public ceremony, together they pledged their love to their city, promising to keep the streets clean and safe, to buy local, to support local arts and culture, to protect the environment and to vote responsibly.
  • In Detroit, a grassroots effort among residents to "Build a Statue of RoboCop" raised over $60,000 through a Kickstarter campaign. The statue will be built. 
  • In the small town of Muscatine, Iowa, local artist Andrew Anderson created the Muscatine River Monster inflatable sculpture to show how creative his small town can be. The sculpture became incredibly popular, and is now moved from place to place throughout the city, where many people come to have their picture taken with it. 

Examples of people in love with their places are featured throughout Kageyama's book. In other cities, people tattoo their city's name on their body; others create T-shirts showing their pride in their town; others think up annual traditions that endure for decades and become defining aspects of a community (e.g., WaterFire in Providence, R.I., the annual Zombie Fest in Pittsburgh, Pa.). 

To get to "love," though, Kageyama says communities don't need to create something new and different on a grand scale. It's okay to start small.

"It’s not, ‘How do I make you love me?’ but ‘How do I make you like me?’ ‘How do I make you notice me?’ ‘How do I make you smile?’" he says. "You’ve got to get through these other end states before you get to love."

A place like Rosslyn, with its busy downtown, thousands of workers and residents, and bustling, active streets, has lots of opportunities to make people smile, Kageyama says.

The path to lovability is about "making people's experience a little bit better than expected."

"Most people will subconsciously feel it. They'll say, 'This is better. This is different. . . .'"

As an example, Kageyama talked about the way the Rosslyn Metro, which he considers to be one of the neighborhood's psychic centers, might help make people's days a bit better.

"We can ask ourselves, 'How can we make it a little bit better or distinguish it from every other Metro station in the region? Is it a mural? Is it lighting? Is it some pop-up retail? Is it greeters? It doesn't have to be expensive or big, but it just has to be something that's going to make people say, 'Have you seen what they did at the Rosslyn Metro? That was really cool!'" 

Kageyama says often the best ideas for changing and reshaping communities come from people who aren't paid to love a city or think about a city. Every place has people who love it; these are the co-creators. They can be the best source of ideas and partnership in incrementally improving a place.

So how do you know when your community has achieved lovability?

"My short, semi-joking answer is when people start yarn-bombing something," Kageyama says. "People don't yarn bomb something they don't care about. But, it's these little things. It's these tiny expressions of something. When you start seeing handmade, hand-painted T-shirts for Rosslyn, you know you're doing something right. When people are feeling pride and a sense of community, that's when we start noticing -- yeah -- people do love this place."

Learn more: For the Love of Cities: The Love Affair Between People and Their Places

Read Peter Kageyama's bio.

Watch some past TEDx talks here and here.

Photo at top: Peter Kageyama says small, temporary improvements can make people notice that something's changing in a place. The Rosslyn BID's more than 100 annual pop-up events are a great example of this. Pictured here is last year's Lunch at the Beach, which drew hundreds of office workers to the temporary Plaza on 19th for free ice cream.
 Featured Rosslyn Events

FRESHFARM Rosslyn Farmers Market
Wednesday, May 22 - Wednesday, October 30
at Central Place Plaza

Rosslyn Putt-Putt + Candy BAR
Friday, June 21 - Saturday, August 31
at Rosslyn Putt-Putt + Candy BAR

Summer Bootcamp
Monday, August 5 - Friday, August 30
at Gateway Park