A most lovable city

Do you love Sacramento? Is Sacramento even lovable?

The skyline is modest, the sports teams are not for everyone. (Though Bites has yet to hear anyone complain about spending a summer day at Raley Field.)

Still, those are part of its lovability, along with its history, its tree-shaded neighborhoods and hundred-plus degree days, its homegrown art and music scenes and its lively political life. (Bites especially loves Sacramento’s skepticism, its ability to call bullshit when need be.)

Back in March, 1,600 citizens of Durham, North Carolina, decided they loved their town so much, they married it. As part of the Marry Durham ceremony, they promised to shop local, help keep the streets clean and the environment healthy, and support the local arts scene.

Marry Durham was an example of people investing in the “infrastructure of love,” says author and urban advocate Peter Kageyama. In his book, For the Love of Cities: The Love Affair Between People and Their Places, Kageyama argues that it’s the little things, often things that don’t require a ton of money, that cause people to be emotionally attached to their communities. The dog parks, the bike trails, the local food culture, the public art and the philanthropy, these are all the things that make a city livable, and lovable.

“What makes a city worth living in is not just police and fire and filling potholes,” Kageyama told Bites last weekend from his home in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Bites explained that here in Sacramento, we’re wrestling with just that: whether we can afford anything beyond police and fire and filling the potholes (see “Sacramento’s public-safety dance,” SN&R Frontlines). Furthermore, Bites noted, all this city-love stuff sounds a little hippiefied.

“Politicians are leery of anything that looks at all soft,” Kageyama agreed. “They’re terrified some hard-liner is going to come out and say, ‘What are we spending money on this for?’”

But he also cited other research, like Gallup’s “Soul of the Community” survey, which last year found that things like rich social offerings, aesthetic beauty, tolerance and openness were actually more important in creating resident attachment than jobs or basic services. But it also turned out the cities where residents felt most passionate about their communities were also those with the highest economic growth.

“The more people are emotionally engaged with a place, the more likely they are to get up and do something.”

Around the time this column hits the streets, Sacramento superdeveloper David Taylor will be unwrapping the sales pitch for a new Kings arena. Sacramento hates the idea of being taken advantage of by the NBA and by team owners. But the team is beloved, and arguably a big part of the Sacramento’s emotional infrastructure.

Kageyama says the arena question is a tough one. “If you’re trying to increase the level of excitement and emotion and attachment,” then investing in a facility can help. The danger, Kageyama says, is when city leaders get caring about the team and caring about the city mixed up.

And it’s not always about the big draw. “A lot of cities are playing that amenities game. But 90 percent of cities are going to lose that game. They’re not Boston or Austin or Chicago.”

That’s why Kageyama suggests cities find what it is that makes them lovable, and nurture that. “If you can’t be the prettiest, be the nicest. Be the funniest. Be real.”