Fix a pothole on a city street and you'll make the people who drive it happy.
But not broad-smile-across-the-face happy.
To get that reaction, cities need to surprise and delight residents and those who visit, an author, TED Talks alum and internationally known community-development consultant told a Modesto audience this week.
Peter Kageyama is a senior fellow with the Alliance for Innovation, a national network of city leaders that is dedicated to improving the practice of local government. He was the keynote speaker at the Downtown Modesto Partnership's second annual State of Downtown on Thursday morning at the Gallo Center for the Arts.
Cities should aspire to being more than "technically functional," he told an audience that included several city and county elected officials, as well as downtown property and business owners. Kageyama spoke of ways cities around the country have put the "fun" in functional, and he commended Modesto for touches around downtown that he called "love notes" between residents and the city:
- The musical crosswalks in front of the Gallo Center
- The hand-painted art on utility boxes
- The murals on business walls that salute cars and cruising, Valley agriculture and more.
Beauty, art, great design — people value these things in their cities, but most don't know how to ask for them, Kageyama said. When leaders encounter those residents who do, or at least are trying to figure it out, they should listen.
" 'No' is a lazy answer, so let's try to get beyond that," he said. "Next time some of you in some decision-making capacity, if somebody is there and they're pitching an idea and they don't have all the language, they don't have all the polish, but they're excited about something … say, 'Let's go chat in my office. I'm not quite sure what you're on about, but you're clearly excited about this and maybe we can find a way to make this happen.' Because when citizens want to stand up and do something, that is a good, good day."
"Love notes" don't have to be grand, expensive things, he said.
On the wall of a building in Ludington, Mich., two artists created the outline for a paint-by-number mural. Residents and visitors were invited to come out one evening in 2014 and paint in all the colors. "Because people will have a fundamentally different relationship with something they’ve had a hand in making," Kageyama said.
In Seattle, a young man started Rainworks, using stencils and a clear spray of super-hydrophobic coating to create positive messages and clever images visible on pavement only when it rains. Among the creations are hopscotch squares and silly notes like "Today's weather: Rain."
Greenville, S.C., impressed Kageyama with its Mice on Main project, started by a young resident with only a $1,200 budget. Nine small bronze sculptures of mice are fixed in permanent places along the city's Main Street, a "fanciful downtown scavenger hunt for children of all ages," as the project's website puts it. The art project has visitors looking in places they otherwise likely would not have, Kageyama said.
There are times a city should go bigger, or really big, Kageyama said. Dog parks, community gardens and water features can have greater price tags but also have a lot of value, he said.
One very big public-private partnership happening in Modesto is The Awesome Spot playground planned for Beyer Community Park in north Modesto. The "inclusive playground," a place where children with disabilities can play side by side with able-bodied peers, or disabled parents can join their kids on equipment, has been given a cost estimate of $2.5 million.
A city always uses cost to justify not doing something, but Kageyama said he guarantees that people obsessed with cost don't think about "the cost of boring."
Though the projects he spotlighted happening in communities across the nation sometimes went beyond their downtowns, Kageyama reminded his audience, "Downtowns matter, they are the heart of a city. They need to be everybody’s playground. As goes downtown, so goes the community."