A lot of you know that I’m not from Nebraska. I was born near Milwaukee, WI and lived there until I went to college in Minnesota. Over the years I’ve visited a lot of places too. Everywhere I go, I talk to people and get a feel for the place. I was in Tokyo, Japan most recently, so I’ll use that as an example. As I walked the streets of this foreign land, I had to remember that most people in the city were just home. Bear in mind that I don’t speak Japanese very well, but you can still tell who’s happy where they are, and who is crawling out of their skin waiting for a chance to leave.
That’s what For the Love of Cities: revisited by Peter Kageyama is all about. What does it take to make people fall in love with their city? Why do people choose some cities over others? Whenever I visit a new place, I can instinctively tell whether or not I could live there. I never really considered any actual criteria for the decision until I read this book. I just knew. Now I see greenery, coffee shops, places to relax and connect with people, clean streets, and plenty of shops and art embedded into the fiber of the community. I learned how to really look at a city.
My academic days still make me refer to authors by their last name. But this book makes people feel like family. So I’ll call him Peter. I don’t think he’ll mind, and I’ll also never meet him to find out. Peter digs into how cities come to be, and the many variables that force change over time. I also watched the author talk Peter did with Heritage Village. It’s free on YouTube if you want to check it out. That video adds visuals to his stories about how history shaped cities like Chicago, Detroit and many others. Sometimes dark parts of history like racial segregation and hate shape city lines that must be repaired over time for the city to adapt and thrive in the future.
When I visit other cities I usually dress to blend in. Just another Midwesterner in a t-shirt and leggings. In Japan I didn’t even try. Pretty sure I was the only curly-headed Native American in the whole country, so I wore bright colors or coffee t-shirts and capris everyday. My body type was never going to fit into such a petite country anyway. Even though their waffles are surprisingly good. I digress. Japan was awesome.
If you didn’t factor in the language barrier and distance from everything and everyone I know, I would actually live there. I walked the streets in my deeply American sandals and pondered how cities draw people in to live and work in a new land. What drew me to Lincoln, NE? What made me stay? The people? The place? The job? A little bit of all the above? I have new answers now.
Read this book if you want to look at your city differently. It’s a book full of stories and observations about little things that blend into the background of the place you’ve lived for years. When you’re done, take a walk around your city. Town. Wherever you call home. Try it with any town. Ask yourself why people choose this place? Why do people stay? If people are leaving, what could change to turn the tides? Peter will help you explore old places with fresh eyes. Just give it a try.