Love your city

Two children were having an argument. It ended when one said, “You can’t! You just can’t, because I’m six and you’re only dumb old four!”

My mother overheard this conversation some years ago. She tells me there was nothing but silence after that short exchange. The poor kid. It’s hard to argue with your elders, especially when they’re six and you’re only dumb old four.

This week I went to a breakfast presentation by Peter Kageyama, author of For the Love of Cities. Kageyama thinks we should have a love affair with Tauranga. Woven throughout his message was an appeal for the city’s big six year olds to let the four year olds do more stuff.

Our hallway is decorated with artwork that our boys have done. They were proactive about blu-tacking pictures to the wall without asking us. We’ve left it all there because it helps make our home more fun than just a functional space.

The same goes for our city. This is our home. It is filled with creative, energetic people who, given the right nudge or opportunity, can add more flavour to our public spaces.

Kageyama is big on what he calls love notes: simple things in the city that surprise and delight. This means interesting artwork, surprising design, opportunities for fun in ordinary places.

There’s that word fun again. Kageyama said it a lot in his presentation. He said it’s important to create opportunities for spontaneous play in your city. This applies to adults as much as it does to children. We were shown photos of grown ups interacting with public artwork and laughing on playgrounds.

Art and play. Trivial stuff, it would seem, but “you want someone to make that face in your city,” he said of each smile-filled mug shot.

We all nodded seriously at this point, dressed as we were in monochrome office attire. But we laughed when he described the naysayers as CAVE people: Citizens Against Virtually Everything.

The beauty of his ‘love note’ examples was that they don’t all require loads of cash, just some creativity and a bit of local passion.

It doesn’t even need to be driven from the top. He showed us the work of Candy Chang who did guerrilla chalk art all around flood ravaged New Orleans. Her chalk message was simply, “It’s good to be here”.

That’s a level of ownership and love for the city that is driven from below.

The presentation got me thinking about my own relationship with Tauranga.

I am a parent, a poet, a coffee drinker, a guy who rides a bicycle to work. I enjoy many things about living here but I would not yet say that I have a full on love affair with my city. It’s not quite Absolutely Positively Tauranga for me, more like Hopefully Maybe and a little bit of Sometimes.

Kageyama insists that art and culture is crucial for a lovable city, which gets the poet in me cheering. I want to live in a city that embraces the unpredictable messiness of the arts. I want to see things that startle me into a smile, things that trick me into sharing a laugh with strangers.

Kageyama quoted Pier Giorgio Di Cicco: “The purpose of the arts in a city is to make a city fall in love with itself.” I really liked this so I looked it up. Di Cicco was the City of Toronto’s Poet Laureate between 2004 – 2009. Imagine that! A city with its own Poet Laureate! The poet in me is doing back flips now.

I’m pretty sure everyone walked out of Peter Kageyama’s presentation pumped with inspiration to change the world. His ideas were attractive and obvious. I clapped my hands together and thought, that was genius, now all we need is someone else to do all the cool stuff.

Tauranga is a nice place to live. We can make it greater, a city to fall in love with. Turns out it might be everyone’s job. Unleash the four year olds!

First published in Bay of Plenty Times, 21 June 2013. Reproduced with permission.