Last week I was part of 83 Degrees Media
's "Not Your Average Speakers'' event discussing Tampa's "Curious Quest To Be Cool.'' We talked about how uncool it is to actually chase cool. What makes cool is an authenticity and comfort in who and what we are. I was searching for a good Tampa example to share with audience and I found a great one -- Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.
I asked the audience for a show of hands: Think back three years ago, did you think Bob Buckhorn was cool? Not a hand. I asked how many thought Bob Buckhorn is cool now, and over half the audience raised their hand. From zero to over 50 percent "cool'' approval in less than three years is an example that others, both people and communities, would do well to emulate. But how did he do it?
Buckhorn has come a long way since his days of dueling with Joe Redner and being an underdog mayoral candidate to becoming a really effective and dynamic city mayor. Just ask the Tampa Bay Times. On Sunday, the Times published an editorial
that reviewed the mayor's first two years in office and the report was almost across the board positive.
Buckhorn is not a different man than he was a few years ago, but he has clearly found his niche, his perfect job and his comfort zone.
If you have heard him speak recently, you have heard how passionately he speaks about the city and his desire to create a great city for his kids to return to after graduation. He is cool now because he has found his voice and is speaking from the heart. And it shows.
If cool was just a different suit, a haircut or a clever talking point, cool would be easy. But it is not and chasing cool is a losing proposition. A city becomes cool when it is authentic and honest about its strengths and weaknesses. And when it stops comparing itself to others.
Our relentless "benchmarking'' with other cities serves a technical purpose, but it should not be the measure of our contentment with our own community. Bob Buckhorn found his authentic cool and his mojo by finding his spot. And by not trying to be cool, he has become cool.
Peter Kageyama, the author of "For the Love of Cities,'' is a creative cities adviser to St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster and lives in downtown St. Petersburg. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.