As an accomplished author whose books encompass civic pride and explore how a resident’s emotional investment in their city can promote progress, Peter Kageyama is uniquely suited to moderate a fireside chat between two former mayors.
Kageyama is a St. Petersburg-based author whose books include For the Love of Cities: The Love Affair Between People and Their Places, Love Where You Live and The Emotional Infrastructure of Places. As part of the upcoming St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs (SPCWA), Kageyama will moderate a fireside chat between former mayor of St. Petersburg, Rick Kriseman, and former mayor of Calgary, Alberta, Canada Naheed Nenshi.
The fireside chat, to be held on Thursday, Feb. 17, will center around city governance and local-level climate leadership. Climate change is one of four broad themes that propel the conference’s programming. The others are corruption, equality and migration. Kageyama said he looks forward to hearing the two civic leaders’ perspectives on the role that cities play in a global issue.
“I think that a lot of times we think that something as big as climate change is something that has to be addressed by nation-states or giant corporations …,” Kageyama said. “I oftentimes think that people don’t believe that a city, a big city, is just not big enough to actually effectuate change, and I believe that cities do have a role.”
Kriseman also believes that cities have a role, as evidenced by his many initiatives to curb the effects of climate change throughout his eight years as mayor. In November, Kriseman had the distinction of representing the region and the U.S. Conference of Mayors at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland.
Kageyama said he is especially looking forward to discussing one of Kriseman’s initiatives as mayor at SPCWA – the ban on plastic straws. In 2018, St. Pete City Council voted to ban plastic straws, with the resolution taking effect in 2020. While many derided the ban as silly or insignificant amid problems that seemed more pertinent, Kageyama believes it is a shining example of a perceivably small step that can make a big difference.
“It’s not about just one straw,” he said. “It’s literally millions of straws in a veritable mountain of plastic that we consume every day in America.
“That is actually a very good example of the role that cities can play in terms of changing behavior and changing policy.”
Kageyama said changing the behavior of 240,000 is not de minimis, and other cities can then follow that lead. He explained that when other cities realize a small initiative seems like an intelligent, easily achievable thing to do, 240,000 becomes 2.4 million, which then becomes 240 million people realizing they do not need plastic straws.
“All of a sudden, we’ve actually made a dent in this very big, very complex problem that most people and most countries can’t figure out where to even start,” said Kageyama. “Well, maybe we start with something as simple as banning a plastic straw. That’s actionable.”
Kageyama said when people love something, they go above and beyond for it. He added they forgive its shortcomings, and they fight for its protection. He explained this is how love for a city correlates to climate change. He said many people claim to love St. Pete, but he questioned what they do to fight for and protect the city.
Taking a page from the John F. Kennedy playbook, Kageyama said it is not just about what the city can do for its residents, but what the residents can also do for the city they love. He said if people create a city not worth caring about, then go ahead and let it flood or burn. However, if the number of people professing their love of St. Pete are sincere, then he believes they should modify their behaviors to ensure its prosperity.
“Maybe it’s a little uncomfortable at first, or maybe, God forbid, it costs a little bit of money,” said Kageyama, “But if we love it and we’re emotionally connected to it, then it’s much more feasible for us to do something that requires change or expense.”
While small changes, such as adopting curbside recycling or instating a ban on plastic straws, can lead to a larger positive impact, Kageyama believes the inverse is also true. A few inches of sea-level rise can have devasting effects in certain areas, especially if a storm hits at an already high tide. He said that many people do not realize how interconnected people are with the environment, and with each other.
“The trick is to have more of a positive impact than a negative impact,” said Kageyama. “That’s actually a good metaphor for people, too.”
Kageyama said that many people care about the latest real estate development or restaurant opening, the quality of the roads and other typical concerns that dominate conversations about a city. He said people should probably redirect some of that focus towards the surrounding environment that encompasses the entire area.
“If you care about the city enough to complain about the potholes,” he said. “You should care enough about the city to think about the long-term effects of climate change on the city you love.”
For more information and to register for the event, visit the SPCWA website here.