St. Pete author challenges cities to create more opportunities for love to grow

Looking for tips on how to fall in love -- with your city? 

Author Peter Kageyama has plenty of suggestions in his newest book, “Love Where You Live: Creating Emotionally Engaging Places’’ (Creative Cities Productions). This new book is written for college students, community leaders, corporate CEOs and anyone else who acts as a “co-creator,” or, as Kageyama defines, somebody who wants to make their community more engaging and “lovable.”

Following up on his 2011 book, “For The Love of Cities: The Love Affair Between People and Their Places,’’ Kageyama explains that positive change in urban communities isn’t just measured in new mass transit lines, city parks or mixed-income resident communities. As he describes, small, yet impactful projects and initiatives that speak to the unique personalities of a town and its residents can do wonders in helping people feel more emotionally connected to neighborhoods and cities.
Kageyama draws on several colorful examples of how motivated citizens are enhancing communities – from the creation of an annual zombie walk in Montgomery, AL, to the installation of a giant water slide in downtown Grand Rapids, MI. These relatively small, often quirky grassroots gestures can usually be made for a monetary investment of as little as $500, Kageyama says. But their impacts on improving a community’s morale can be huge.
Local community organizer gives a hoot

Community co-creators are exemplified at the grassroots level in people like longtime Northdale resident Bill Castens, 70. He, along with his wife, Anne, established a popular, nonprofit organization called the Northdale OWLS – an acronym for Older, Wiser, Lively Seniors. 

“I like seniors, and I wanted to do something to address them,” Bill Castens says. He believes the OWLS give local seniors an outlet for engaging with their neighbors and in life. “I think you have two options – you can either get up and go, or curl up and die.”
The Castens held the first OWLS meeting in 2003 at their home. As the group quickly grew, they worked out an agreement with leaders of the Hillsborough Parks and Recreation Department to find a bigger venue for get-togethers. 

Northdale Park now serves as the physical home for regular meetings of OWLS’s 1,000-plus active members. Large groups of OWLS frequently flock to local events ranging from concerts to professional sports games. 

“There are now people throughout Central Florida who tell me they want to start OWLS groups in their communities,” Castens says.

Tampa Bay is on the right track

In general, Kageyama is impressed with the direction the region is going. 

“Tampa seems to have a lot of confidence right now, starting with Mayor [Bob] Buckhorn, who has become a tireless champion for the city and its biggest cheerleader.” Buckhorn’s enthusiasm “sets the tone for everyone else,” Kageyama adds.

In addition, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s vision for redeveloping the downtown waterfront in and around Port Tampa Bay and the Channel District offers unprecedented promise. Vinik's development team, Strategic Property Partners, invites people to help shape the waterfront by visiting the special crowd-sourcing website Tampa Waterfront 20/20.
While thrilled with the $1 billion plans Vinik has in store for Tampa, Kageyama is equally excited about a slew of smaller, more eclectic events and projects on the horizon. 

“I just heard about the Second Screen Cult Cinema,” he says, referring to a series of film showings that will kick off at the Vault on Franklin Street starting on February 18. “That’s one of the byproducts of the confidence I’ve talked about – the confidence to try new things and push boundaries.”

Trying new things is a long tradition at the historic Tampa Theatre in downtown Tampa, where Senior House Manager Anthony Gonzalez, 29, helps host and promote community events.

"I am thrilled with the continuing development of downtown," he says. "A 24/7 environment is what I hope downtown [Tampa] will eventually become." Gonzalez makes frequent use of Tampa's new bike sharing program and loves to ride along the Tampa Riverwalk, and he's enamored with the growing roster of restaurants that cater to downtown dwellers like himself. "It just feels connected here," he reflects.
As for the events at Tampa Theater, "we believe enjoying a movie remains a communal event best enjoyed with friends and neighbors," Gonzalez says. "Now that downtown Tampa has been getting some new residents, its gives us a new audience to draw to the theatre."

Tampa Theatre has unrolled the red carpet on a number of film series based on holiday classics, popular summer films and their current "Totally '80s" movie series. 

Such community events are among the many things that drew Jared Cordes, 29, from Bradenton to downtown St. Petersburg after he landed a job in Tampa. 

“Like most locals, I avoid First Fridays like the plague, but I enjoy the Saturday Market, Indie Market, Brocante Market. … Basically, all the markets. Then there are always neighborhood events going on, which are fun to go explore.” 

Kageyama’s heart is in the ‘Burg

Indeed, St. Petersburg figures prominently in “Love Where You Live.’’ Kageyama lives there and, while he is enthusiastic about developments on both sides of Tampa Bay, he’s unsettled about one controversial white elephant looming over the St. Petersburg waterfront – the beleaguered Pier.
“The fact that we have this huge, moribund space in the midst of an otherwise dynamic downtown is painful,” he says of the closed Pier structure. Kageyama is particularly discouraged by the arduous process in determining the fate of the aging landmark. 

“Design by committee doesn’t sound very inspiring!” he asserts. “If there is something like consensus [on the new pier design], it will most likely be something that doesn’t offend or push boundaries and not something that inspires or excites. We have essentially set the precedent for voting on art and taste.”
With Kageyama, aspirations for the next St. Petersburg Pier structure evoke visions of grand architecture on the order of international greatness. 

“Recall that some of the most iconic and (now) beloved city attractions, the Eiffel Tower and the Sydney Opera House, were hated at the time they were built.” 

Book launch event

There will be a book launch event on Friday, January 30, from 5 to 7 p.m. at The Dali Museum in downtown St. Petersburg. The event is sponsored by AARP Florida as part of its statewide initiative to build better communities. Doors open at 5, remarks at 5:30 followed by book signing.  

What do you love about your city? What would make you fall more deeply in love with your city? Comment below to post on Facebook or email 83 Degrees Media.

Read more articles by Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez.

 Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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