Love is a word usually reserved for the people in our lives who matter most: spouses, children, parents, extended family and closest friends. Many of us also love San Antonio, the city we call home. Many of us also love the Spurs, which is why we feel heartbroken — or at least feel a pit in our guts or a lump in our throats — when they suffer elimination in the playoffs. I’ve seen plenty of people shed tears after an elimination series has ended our run to another championship.
Where am I going with this?
Too often, in our public conversation about San Antonio and how the city is governed, marketed, developed, preserved, and covered in the media, we forget that we share something in common amid all our disagreement: many of us love living, working and playing in this city, even if we have strong feelings about what is wrong with it, why it is not living up to its potential, or the many ways it falls short when compared to other cities.
After all, we want the best for our children, and we want the best for our city. Like you, my wife Monika and I wouldn’t change our two children for any other two children on the planet, and while I allow my mind to wander on occasion and imagine life again in New York or abroad, I really have no desire to move. San Antonio is home. This is where my family and I are rooted. This is where we want to make a difference.
Not everyone feels that way. Some of you want to move. Some of you think San Antonio is lame. Many more of you, however, have told me in comments or in meetings around the city how much you love the way San Antonio is building and changing and how important it is to you to be part of that momentum.
There is someone coming to San Antonio who can explain the deep emotional ties we develop with our “hometown” far better than I can, and more importantly, how to harness that shared love and use it to build a better city. His name is Peter Kageyama, author of “For The Love of Cities: The Love Affair Between People and their Places” and its sequel, “Love Where You Live.”
Centro San Antonio is bringing Kageyama to San Antonio as the first speaker in its 2016 Urban Luncheon Series. Some of the most thoughtful and creative urban thinkers and doers have come to San Antonio as speakers in the series in recent years, and if there is any criticism I have of San Antonio — and I say this with love and affection — we often rhetorically embrace the wisdom offered by visiting evangelicals, yet struggle afterwards to practice what we preach.
Kageyama is a not a marriage therapist. He’s coming to help us explore ways to make San Antonio a more livable city, a place where young, talented individuals and families want to put down roots and learn to love.
Kageyama uses language and emotional associations differently than other city builders. In his book, he mentions the heart more often than he mentions the brain. He’s worked in other regional cities like New Orleans, which shares so much in common with San Antonio, as well as Cleveland and Detroit, both Midwest industrial capitals struggling to prove their best days are not behind them. Both cities are reversing decline and setting course for becoming different cities.
In his book, Kageyama cites the “Soul of the Community” survey conducted every few years by the Gallup Organization and the Knight Foundation that examines the degree of commitment and attachment urban residents have for their cities. Populations are divided among the “unattached,” the “neutral” and the “attached” when it comes to how we feel about our cities. Kageyama believes a very small percentage of the people propel cities forward. He isn’t necessarily describing elected officials, CEOs and others occupying positions of power.
“Many of these co-creators act without authority or centralized direction, and it is from their creative efforts that the rest of us benefit,” Kageyama writes. “They make the experiences that we delight in, and they have a disproportionate impact in the making of the city.”
That observation reminds me of what Graham Weston and Lorenzo Gomez said when the 80/20 Foundation was first formed as Weston’s philanthropic arm with Gomez as its gatekeeper. Weston named his foundation after the so-called “law of the vital few,” otherwise known as the Pareto Principle, named after an 19th century economist who observed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned and productively cultivated by 20% of the people, and that examples abounded in nature and human behavior to support the 80/20 Rule, or the notion that 80% of the productivity comes from 20% of the workers. By extension, some small percentage of San Antonio’s population drives the city forward, no matter how many of us say we love it.
Whether he has never been to San Antonio, or perhaps because he has been here, Kayegama does not rank San Antonio as one of the 20 Most Lovable Cities. Austin is the only Texas metro that makes the list, coming in at #14. I’d quarrel with Kageyama, but I’m not exactly objective on the topic.
Kageyama is a senior fellow with the Alliance for Innovation, a national network of city leaders “dedicated to improving the practice of local government,” based at Arizona State University, and he is the former president of Creative TampaBay, a city-building enterprise that brought that city’s creative class and business leadership together to work on ways to redefine economic development. I’m guessing from the book that Kageyama lives in St. Petersburg, a city he appears to love, while nearby Tampa and Kageyama appear to have broken up. I’ve spent considerable time in each city, and all I can say is it’s good to be home.
“We’re thrilled to have Peter Kageyama as the keynote speaker at Centro’s upcoming Urban Renaissance Luncheon,” said Pat DiGiovanni, Centro’s president and CEO. “His stories about the emotional connection between people and place are inspirational. And his message about the mutual love affair between people and the cities they live in fits beautifully with our desire for people in San Antonio to reconnect emotionally with their downtown. In keeping with our traditions, Centro is committed to bringing in more creative thinkers like Peter to share ideas on how San Antonians can collaborate to help our community become a “Great City.”
Those who regularly read the Rivard Report are aware that I believe San Antonio is in serious need of redefining economic development, including the way we attract people to our city, both to visit and to live and work. I recently wrote two articles on the subject of how we present ourselves to the world: Getting Real With San Antonio’s Visitor Economy, and then, San Antonio Needs a New Sales Pitch. Casandra Matej, the executive director of the San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau, responded with her own passionate defense of the CVB’s efforts and record: San Antonio’s Evolving Visitor & Convention Industry.
We obviously do not see eye to eye on the subject. Matej thinks the CVB, a department of city government that is reorganizing as an independent nonprofit, has charted a bold new course while still effectively promoting the traditional “family friendly” profile of the city. I believe we need to hit the restart button, take the $20 million the CVB spends every year, and spend it differently after we design an all-new campaign. I want people reading airline magazines, surfing through travel websites and guides, and talking to friends who have just visited San Antonio, to get a whole new take on San Antonio.
Yet I do not doubt that Matej loves her adopted city as much as I do. Perhaps we need to sort out our differences like so many of us have before in such circumstances. Perhaps we need a good therapist, a little counseling to find common ground. How about it Casandra? Want to join me for the Kageyama lunch on the 29th?
For others who love San Antonio and are interested in hearing and meeting Peter Kageyama at the Centro SA Urban Luncheon Series, the event is Tuesday, March 29th, 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. at the Westin Riverwalk. Click here for tickets or tables. There will be complimentary valet parking.
*Top Image: Festival attendees watch a performance at the La Villita Historic Arts Village during Maverick Music Festival 2015. Photo by Scott Ball.