Can You Fall For Your City? Yes You Can

Peter Kageyama will be in Delray April 30.

Peter Kageyama will be in Delray April 30.


Have you ever been to a restaurant that was once a hot spot and now seems tired and old?

The kind of place where you look around think, “Wow, what happened? This used to be amazing. Now it’s dead.”

If restaurants don’t keep up with the times their customer base either ages or moves on, a sad fact of life.

I wonder if cities work the same way. I suspect that they do.

I read a lot about cities in a variety of publications, books and blogs and a common theme seems to be emerging: the notion of what some call a “switched on” city.

Peter Kageyama, who will be speaking 6 p.m. April 30 at the Crest Theatre, talks about this concept in his books and speeches. He focuses on the little things that cities can do that make people fall in love with them.

The concept of loving your community may sound sappy to some, but it’s critically important.

If you love something, you commit to it. And if you commit, you tend to care, invest and protect whatever it is you are passionate about.

Viewed through that lens, it would appear that getting people to fall in love should be the ultimate goal of a city.

Love is another word for engagement and can be measured by voting percentages, volunteer hours, and willingness to show up at community events, whether people speak out on issues and how they talk about their city.

I remember being a young reporter in Delray in the mid to 80s, a volatile time in the city’s history.

There was division on the City Commission, instability at City Hall, concern about crime and the Police Department and huge concerns about vacancy and the lack of traffic downtown.

But despite these significant headwinds there was optimism everywhere you looked. Why? Because people loved their town, cared for it and were willing to do whatever it took to solve problems and make things better.

The political divisions were largely personality driven. There wasn’t a whole lot of arguing over policy or direction in those days.

Wisely, the city’s leaders embarked on a process called “Visions 2000” which provided future city commissioners and mayors with a blueprint for what kind of city stakeholders wanted to see take shape. The Decade of Excellence Bond, CRA, DDA and city investments helped pay for the vision and good leadership and staff ensured progress.

Visions tend to unify. Without a vision, cities, businesses, organizations tend to drift. Drift always creates a vacuum and in that vacuum there is trouble in the form of personal agendas, score settling and other happy stuff. If a community is absorbed in implementing a vision, there’s little room for trivial matters and not a lot of tolerance for pettiness. Majoring in the minor, doesn’t work.

Visions create excitement. And excitement creates momentum. Momentum leads to traction and results.

It also builds confidence among citizens that ideas can come to life and that their precious time is not being wasted in some “check the box” process designed to placate residents and provide politicians good “optics.”

And when change occurs, love and commitment builds. Now you’ve really got something. You’ll have good people run for office, your elections will be about ideas and keeping things going not mindless generic campaigns (I am against crime! John Q. Candidate is a fill-in-the-blank bad guy) you get the picture. Your schools and police department will have volunteers and your non-profits will be supported.

But here’s the rub…you are never done. Even if you reach this nirvana and I think in many ways Delray and Boca Raton have tasted this level of success, you can’t let up. Complacency is a killer.

Like a restaurant, you better add some gluten free items, a delicious vegetarian menu and some local craft beers. You may have to change the decorations too and add some music as well.

For Boca and Delray, I believe a key will be how to create a community that appeals to millennials.

By the end of 2015, millennials are expected to officially outnumber the baby boomers. Marketers estimate that millennials control more than $1.3 trillion in discretionary spending in our consumer market, and this number is sure to grow. It’s their turn and it’s their time.

Do your museums and cultural venues appeal to millennials? Do your neighborhoods and parks provide what they like? Retailers and restaurants will make the shift, or not, at their own peril.

But cities need to be thinking about this generational shift as well.

Not that the boomers are done. Speaking as a boomer (1964 was the last year so I qualify) we will not go quietly into the night. But the world is changing. You can see it on Atlantic Avenue, Mizner Park, Palmetto Park Road and at The Fresh Market on Linton. Look around; there are a lot of young people.

So what do millennials like? According to researchers there are four key millennial pillars: Authenticity, Uniqueness, Meaningfulness and Innovation.

Not a bad list. Boomers and other generations might look those pillars too. Perhaps, cities can embrace that list as well.

Who wouldn’t fall in love with a city that is authentic, unique, meaningful and innovative?



  1. Great article – Well said – Bravo

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