What makes a city “healthy?” It is a blend of things like economic development, public safety, fun, functionality, and more. Oftentimes it is intangible. Peter Kageyama, the author of For The Love Of Cities on which this series is based, took an idea made famous by American psychologist Abraham Maslow, and tweaked it to illustrate “the healthy city.” Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” is a pyramid designed to illustrate human behavior. Basically it shows survival needs at the bottom taking up the most space and what are known as “meta” needs such as spiritual, relationship and personal growth needs at the top. The concept is perhaps best illustrated by how you would behave if you are out in the desert without water. All you’d be thinking about is finding some before you die of thirst, and in that moment you don’t have the time or inclination to ponder the meaning of existence, let alone execute your life’s purpose. You are just trying to survive. So it is with cities.
Kageyama puts a city’s functionality and safety at the bottom and works up to the top where he puts the category of fun/interesting. “You have to take care of the potholes, and people have to be kept safe,” said Mayor Ronnie, “but that can’t be your only focus.” He talked about what a success the Chocolate Walk had been, as well as other projects. “Those are what bring and build the energy, and makes a city “lovable,” he said. And, it goes without saying that all of it demands being in balance, a never ending challenge.
Mayor Ronnie showed me his dog-eared copy of Kageyama’s book, and quoted the following: “Just as money alone does not make for great [human] relationships, we need to consider some other, non-financial elements. Elements that often don’t find their way into discourse about city building such as fun, playfulness, sentimentality, improvisation, curiosity and discovery.” He also added his own category, and that was “art.”
“High Cotton Arts and Little Red Schoolhouse are so important for our city,” Mayor Ronnie said. “So is restoring the Houston Library. We need to bring Houston back as a residence, a museum, and a library,” he added. “And, we have to continue to take down deserted buildings. That’s important, too.” Mayor Ronnie lent me his copy of the book, and I found something interesting, and not at all surprising. According to a study conducted by Gallup from 2002-2006, the cities that have the most “attachment,” in other words, people who have a passion toward and involvement in their city’s total success, also have the highest GDP, or gross domestic product. The stats show that our city is thriving, and sadly we have neighbors to the west and south that are struggling. It seems that this is the mark of a healthy city, one where people value it and fight for its well being, and that’s a fight that never ends.
Mayor Ronnie read to me some more and was firm in his resolve to have Athens avoid the mistake of ever settling for something that is often described as “good enough for government work.” “It is one of those cynical expressions that we can all relate to because we tend to think of government work as banal, uninspired and workman-like at best. We have equated government work with the least common denominator and the lowest acceptable standard of performance.”
“We’ve got to remove that from our thinking,” Mayor Ronnie said and added, “It’s just not acceptable.” I nodded, and then he showed me something that made my day. Somehow Peter Kageyama has been tracking our articles and took the time to write a thank you note. He is interested in visiting Athens, and I hope that will happen soon. We prayed and thanked God for all the ways He is blessing Athens and asked for the wisdom to make it shine even more brightly as a “healthy, lovable city.” Then it was time for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali ElizabethTurner