In the 2000s, urban guru Richard Florida wowed civic audiences across the globe with his Ivy League pedigree, stunning good looks and novel new research into the “Creative Class.” In Boise to speak at the Downtown Boise Association’s State of the Downtown event on April 30, Florida acolyte Peter Kageyama made big strides into the urban priesthood, elevating the economic development pep-talk into an event bordering between performance art and a full-fledged happening. But are Boiseans—citizens and political leaders alike—ready to board the love train?
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Kageyama earned an undergraduate degree in political science and a law degree, and like other crusaders before him (one thinks of Michael Shuman of Going Local) found the law tedious, perhaps because, well, it follows the letter of the law. Born again as a community developer in south Florida, he fell under Florida’s wing, and hasn’t looked back. After producing some large events for Florida’s Creative Class Group, Kageyama found his own voice with his first book For the Love of Cities.
The book boasts a simple premise: get people to love their cities and good things follow. As Kageyama explains, city leaders have a basic obligation to ensure that their cities are safe and functional. Using the filling of potholes as an example, he shows that those basic services don’t add up to a citizenry that’s more invested in place. Kageyama’s presentation clip art shows that cities that feel comfortable, generate conviviality (a term reserved for European urbanists meaning “hospitality”), and FUN are the ingredients that matter most.What would Tiebout say?
So how does that translate? In New York, the remaking of Times Square into a pedestrian-oriented corridor allowed people to stop and enjoy the sites (and the free wi-fi!) without fear of being run down by busy New Yorkers and coffee-fueled cab drivers. Lynne Sagalyn’s award-winning book Times Square Roulette: Remaking the City Icon, detailed the complicated partnership between powerful and well-placed city leaders, some of the world’s largest financial institutions that funded redevelopment, and the passion of the historic preservationists and arts community members who inhabited the theaters so long a part of Broadway’s “Great White Way.”
Chicago city leaders generated some love with the construction of Millennium Park. Timothy Gilfoyle in Millennium Park: Creating a Chicago Landmark wrote how Chicago’s one-stop-shop city government paved the way for redevelopment, while wealthy and influential corporate CEO’s called in favors (and funding) from friends and allies.
Not all places have those things in spades—Boise, ID being one of them. Here, the flight of local capital—Morrison-Knudsen, Albertsons, Trus-Joist, Ore-Ida and Boise Cascade among the notables—left behind only a shell of the human and financial capital necessary for the Herculean efforts seen in the big cities.
No matter. As Kageyama noted in his talk “sometimes it’s the garden hose solution that allows you to start solving a problem.” While visiting a town in rural Connecticut, he noticed children playing in the stream of a garden hose mounted on a stake. That’s in stark contrast to the multi-million dollar fountains in Millennium Park whose computer generated faces spew water from their mouths to revitalize Chicagoans run down by the Midwest summer heat. But the result is still the same: “surprise and delight,” smiling faces on children and adults alike. A happy child makes a happy parent. Kageyama urges city leaders—and even meeting organizers—to stop and ask the simple question, “where’s the fun.” Simple tool, powerful revelations.
Sometimes governments aren’t the entities to direct these garden hose strategies. Instead, they well up from a group Kageyama calls “high-touch entrepreneurs.” This sets off a couple of predictable challenges. In Raleigh, North Carolina one of these HTE’s (I just coined that acronym, by the way, look for it as a research variable in a journal near you) took it upon himself to remedy the city’s non-existent wayfinding program. In urban planning, wayfinding generally describes the process of informing people of key locations and how to navigate to them. Naturally it involves signage. So naturally, our high-touch entrepreneur in Raleigh hung wayfinding signs pointing to parks and other attractions. The city promptly removed the signs. Citizens promptly complained. Now the city has commissioned a way finding plan. Sigh.
Boise had its in-and-out-of-love moment with High Touch eEntrepreneur Mark Rivers. Rivers, the BoDo mastermind, threw his considerable creative energy into Curb Cup, a circus-like event of street performers vying for audience distributed tokens. Winning the most tokens won the event. Curb Cup was a smash success. But somewhere along the way city leaders couldn’t find a way forward with Rivers and alas, Curb Cup is no more. But the city has had other successes. High Touch Entrepreneur Wyatt Werner breathed life into the Egyptian Theater with his showing of classic films there under the mantra of Boise Classic Movies. Under Werner’s method, Boiseans suggest movies they’d like to see on the big screen. They vote on the list of suggested films. The top vote getter gets shown—as long as enough people pledge to buy tickets and “tip” the movie. It’s turned into a great business for Werner and a love affair for the city. Werner even showed An Affair to Remember just a few months back.
The founders of Ignite Boise once received a proclamation from the Mayor declaring it “Ignite Boise Day” (disclosure: I am an Ignite Co-Founder). Even Kageyama himself took advantage of city-based social capital honing his presentation at TEDx talks across the country. What did Kageyama find to like in Boise? Freak Alley, utility box wraps downtown and Farmers Markets —the three, respectively the products of gritty spontaneity, the City’s graffiti reduction policy, and personality conflicts.
Logan, John, and Harvey Molotch. Urban Fortunes: The Political Economy of Place. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1987.
Markusen, A. R, Y. S Lee, and S. DiGiovanna. Second Tier Cities: Rapid Growth Beyond the Metropolis. Minneapolis, MN: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1999.
Bradshaw, T. K., and E. J. Blakely. “What Are ‘third-wave’ State Economic Development Efforts? From Incentives to Industrial Policy.” Economic Development Quarterly 13, no. 3 (1999): 229–244.
Clarke, Susan, and Gary Gaile. The Work of Cities. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1998.
Malizia, Emil, and Edward Feser. Understanding Local Economic Development. New Brunswick, NJ: Center for Urban Policy Research, 1999.
Economic development theories come and go. Some endure. All are a product of the historic context from which they emerge. The policy options Kageyama advocates fall into what Blakely and Bradshaw refer to as “third wave” economic development policies, or what Clark and Gaile refer to as “fourth wave” policies. These policies differ from strategies of the past, which many scholars decry as “smokestack chasing”—luring firms with the promise of tax abatements, subsidized loans, and bond funding. More recent economic development policies favor tactics that enhance soft infrastructure, and networks that leverage human capital. And they are not without challenges.
First, they don’t allow for easy “credit claiming.” For Kageyama, the end goal of all this love is getting people more invested in their city. But that might not be enough for the political class, who often direct the flow of economic development dollars. Politicians, slaves to the electorate, need votes to survive. In the words of a group of researchers from Skidmore, they need to able to claim credit. Thus, the softer side of economic development often gives way to naked industrial recruitment policies:Turner, Robert, Ben Kaufman, and Petria Fleming. “The Political Economy of Trophy Industrial Recruitment Projects.” Philadelphia, PA, 2005.
What is significant about this explanation (credit-claiming) of industrial recruitment policies is that it provides an explanation for why governors ignore their analysts and academics and engage in industrial recruitment. Governors can plausibly claim credit about their commitment to growing the economy as well as improved economic conditions by recruiting a firm to a county. By contrast, a governor would be unable to claim that a growing software company is the product of his or her decision to open a technology center at the state university where the founder of the software company was later a graduate student.
There’s also the matter of how you define “growth” and “development.” Emil Malizia and Edward Feser find at least nine different ways of defining the two:
- No definition: growth and development are reduced to concepts such as urbanization and industrialization.
- Growth and development are the same.
- Growth occurs in rich countries, development in poor countries.
- Internal sources cause development, external forces cause growth.
- Growth and development are complements; one makes the other possible.
- Growth and development are alternating processes that occur in sequential time periods.
- Growth is an increase in output; development is structural change—technical, behavioral, attitudinal or legal.
- Growth expands the economy; development must lead to more equal distributions of income and wealth.
- Growth or development leads to a wider range of economic choices.
With the nation still emerging from a prolonged economic downturn, the watchword of the day is JOBS. So it can be tough to translate exactly how loving your city translates to jobs.
Finally, some economic development theorists tend to see cities as having some sort of a fixed end—that they are essentially path dependent. The pioneering work of John Logan and Harvey Molotch argued that municipalities have only so many potential outcomes, regardless of the actions of political and economic elites. A few “primate,” or supersized, cities in the world will emerge as headquarters cities—New York, Atlanta, London. Other cities will emerge as innovation centers —American examples include Boston’s Route 128, Silicon Valley in California’s Bay Area, and the Research Triangle in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. Some locales will become module production and processing centers, or what Ann Markusen called “satellite industrial complexes.” For some, like Salt Lake, this will be a boon. For others it means an influx of foreign capital that locals cannot control and jobs they cannot access. Some cities will grow as third-world entrepots—gateway cities for immigrants looking for better economic opportunities. In the U.S., southern border cities like El Paso spring immediately to mind. Finally, other areas with nice weather, good health care systems and a low cost of living will find themselves willingly or not, transforming into retirement towns.
But Kageyama was not in Boise to bore the downtown elites with economic development theory. He was here to inspire, and that he did. Summoning the unexpected, toward the end of his presentation, Kageyama quickly exited the stage without saying goodbye, but not before queuing Bizet’s Carmen, the sounds of which streamed from the Centre’s PA. Up popped Opera Idaho’s Michele Detwiler, and husband Jason to regale pleasantly stunned onlookers with song. The music closed and Kageyama offered his thanks. Grasshopper had snatched the pebble from Florida’s hand. We looked about at our neighbors wondering who could repeat such a performance in the city we love.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of Boise State University, the Center for Idaho History and Politics, or the School of Public Service.