April 16, 2012

Workshop encourages involvement in city

It doesn’t take money or power to have a voice in downtown Wichita’s future, just an idea to make it better.

It doesn’t take money or power to have a voice in downtown Wichita’s future, just an idea to make it better.

That’s the message an economic development and revitalization consultant will bring to a workshop today at the Wichita Boathouse.

Peter Kageyama, author of “For the Love of Cities” and a specialist in community redevelopment, is in Wichita this week consulting with the Wichita Downtown Development Corp. The centerpiece of his work is a sold-out workshop on grassroots community engagement featuring 200 Wichitans.

“It’s a chance for people in our community to increase ownership in their downtown,” said Jeff Fluhr, WDDC president. “This is an opportunity for our local community to see how they can become part of the authors of downtown, how they can put their direct fingerprint on it.”

The workshop will feature an eclectic collection of Wichitans, from “creatives” and young professionals to business leaders. Workshop participants will work in small groups and then end with the “$500 Exercise,” a competition among small groups to answer this question: “If you had $500 to make Wichita a better or more interesting place, what would you do?” The best projects will receive $500 to be implemented in Wichita.

“The reason that works is because $500 seems to pitch at exactly the right level for most citizens to go, ‘OK, I can do that,’ ” Kageyama said. “If you’re talking $5,000 or more, that’s a lot of money to people.”

Small things make a big difference in a city, Kageyama said.

“I’ve run into people doing amazing things in their cities, and I’ve noticed that the common denominator is the deep, passionate love they have for their places,” Kageyama said. “Gallup has found that the places that have the highest levels of emotional engagement, passion and loyalty have the highest local GDP. We all know that love matters, that non-medical things, for example, impact medical outcomes. It’s not a big stretch then to think that if we cared more, it would be better ...”

What communities want to avoid, Kageyama said, is seeing that level of engagement waver, due to the passage of time, project opposition or human nature.

“Most people don’t think they have the skill set, the resources or the permission to make a difference. What we’re going to do tomorrow is make these ordinary citizens realize, as Jeff put it very well, that they are an author of downtown,” he said. “What’s really detrimental to a community is when you see the developers and others, the people with drive, lose their spirit for innovation. That’s when communities go the wrong way.”

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