Volunteerism and Co-Creators, a Place to Love

By Abby Wilkerson

In his 2011 book For the Love of Cities, author and community development guru Peter Kageyama outlines an idea – similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – which suggests that once a community’s basic needs of function and safety are met, people aspire to live in places that provide social interaction, are interesting and unique, and offer meaningfulness. In other words, people want much more than a place to live; they want a place to love.

The mutual love affair between people and place is a powerful influence, with the ability to determine factors such as lifestyle, education, and career, to name a few. Cities that are engaged in relationships with their citizens, and citizens who are emotionally engaged with their cities, create new possibilities within a community. When we love a city, we are committed to it, we care for it, we give our best to it.

What makes people fall in love with their cities? Is it the people? Parks? Festivals? Perhaps, it is the simple ability to be active players in shaping the future of their home. Kageyama goes on to describe co-creators: individuals who breathe life into their communities by challenging the status quo, redefining the rules of engagement, and creating non-traditional partnerships.

“The outputs of these engaged citizens will make their places authentic and distinct from every other place,’’ Kageyama writes. ‘’And the prolific co-creators will be seen as prized community assets the way that major employers and major institutions are currently viewed. They are and will be an increasingly key part of the mix of successful communities.’’

It is common knowledge that people – and places – flourish when they are loved, and Suwanee, Georgia is definitely feeling the love these days. From two dance teachers turning their love of children and community into our annual Broadway in the Park, to a business owner with an idea to turn a local eyesore into a thing of beauty; a local artist with bulldog persistence, intent on creating a home for the arts to two guys who just loved to play cornhole transforming Town Center Park into the place to be on Tuesday evenings – the love is strong in Suwanee.

In March of 2015, Kageyama spent three days with approximately 300 of Suwanee’s community leaders, city officials, and citizens, exploring what makes cities lovable, and what motivates ordinary citizens to do extraordinary things for their places. During the “For the Love of Suwanee” Tour, Kageyama reminded the audience that people who live in cities are in a relationship with them. It is a symbiotic process: creative, innovative, and engaged citizens are essential to producing a vibrant, lovable community. By strengthening the emotional bonds to the community, the city will be rewarded with happier and more productive citizens.

People want to love their cities, and just want their cities to love them in return.