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Ten years on, Kageyama revisits ‘For the Love of Cities’

Bill DeYoung

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Peter Kageyama's books include "For the Love of Cities," "Love Where You Live" and "The Emotional Infrastructure of Places." Photo provided.

Ten years have gone by since Peter Kageyama published his first book, For the Love of Cities: The Love Affair Between People and Their Places, an examination of a high-octane form of civic pride and how it fuels change and progress.

For the Love of Cities explores what makes cities “lovable” and what pushes certain residents to nurture them. Its chapters chronicle New Orleans, Detroit, Cleveland and other cities where citizens sometimes go above and beyond what local administrators ask and require.

Kageyama, who’s lived in St. Petersburg for nearly three decades, wrote two followups, Love Where You Live and The Emotional Infrastructure of Places, but it’s his firstborn – For the Love of Cities – that demanded his attention in 2020, as it was approaching the anniversary of its first decade.

And so this cheerleader for St. Pete – and for the magic of the country’s urban centers – has come up with a new, revised edition, through St. Petersburg Press. It’s currently available at Tombolo Books and via Amazon.

St. Pete Catalyst: Why did you revisit the book on its 10th anniversary?

Peter Kageyama: Part of it was circumstance, part of it was opportunity. The circumstance obviously being the pandemic; my travel went to zero for the better part of 15 months. And the opportunity – 10 years is one of those significant anniversaries, if you’re in a relationship or something like that, to go back. But without the pandemic, I would not have had the time. And I had just published my third book at the end of 2019, and it’s hard to wrap your head around finishing one book and jumping back into another  – I’m not Stephen King!

 

So what had changed?

For me, it was the unique opportunity to test your own ideas. Stuff that I wrote about, that I firmly believed at the time – do I sill think that? Or, is this right? And I guess what surprised me was – and I don’t want this to sound braggadocious – how right stuff I wrote about 10 years ago still seems today. That this emotional connection really does matter. And it’s still largely untapped and undiscussed. I’d like to think, 10 years on, wow – I was on to something, and this has evolved into my signature thing and my life’s calling. I’m very proud of that.

 

Has St. Petersburg pretty much proved to be the litmus test for all of this?

Yes. And I think part of that is geography. I live here. So I see the day-to-day changes. I see the big picture. I’ve been here going on 28 years, so I’ve seen a lot of change over time. Writers are observers, and of course we’re going to have more opportunity to observe our hometown than any other place. What’s kind of unique is for me, because I do travel so much, is I’m able to compare my hometown with so many other places. And so many other places that are maybe doing something really, really well. And I can benchmark St. Pete against that. And I say this all the time, but I believe St. Pete is the best city in Florida. I would rank it up there with the best cities in the country as well.

We have done a fantastic job, for the most part. We still have a lot of issues, and we still have a ways to go, and we’re always hopefully “becoming,” but I would give St. Petersburg highest marks.

 

There’s quite a bit of grumbling going on now that St. Pete is getting over-developed. That maybe the charm is going to fly away like the sandhill cranes in February. How do you feel about that?

Well, change is always uncomfortable. People worry that change doesn’t always mean change for the better. That’s a very real emotion. What I would try to point out to folks is hey, you know what, people were saying this 30 years ago when you first came here. So it is always changing. The question becomes, do we fight it, do we try to shape that change? Do we have a Zen-like attitude and say ‘This is OK; I’m still going to find my place in this city, even if it becomes a little younger, a little hipper, a little more expensive’? And ‘There will still be places for me. There will still be neighborhoods for me.’

With the infrastructure that we have, St. Petersburg could currently triple the number of residents downtown and still be totally fine in terms of infrastructure. ‘Density’ is a bad word to most people, but the problem is, they haven’t seen good density. And I think St. Petersburg, especially downtown, has done density pretty well.

I do think we need more affordable housing, I think we need some housing alternatives in the suburbs, and there’s a lot of other things to talk about.

If someone says ‘I found this cool new restaurant,’ or ‘I met some new people who just moved here, they’re awesome,’ that’s part of change. That’s the part of change that people are less conscious of, because we’re more conscious of the fear than we are of the upside.

 

For those who know this book and say ‘Why should I go look at the revisited version?’ what do you say?

I tell stories. And to me, facts and figures are hard to remember, but you tell me a good story I will remember it. So if people read the first book and it resonated with them – ‘I want to take these ideas back with me’ or ‘This reminds me so much of my own place’ – I would hope that by coming back and revisiting that really good story they’ll find out ‘Where are they now?’ ‘What happened since then?’

I think there’s this natural inclination that when we hear a good story, we’ll want to hear a sequel. That’s what Hollywood is all about now.

What’s changed for me is my own perspective on a couple of things. I have this mea culpa moment in the book, where I look back and I’m writing about Detroit and New Orleans. I say ‘You know what? I didn’t acknowledge this probably as much as I should, but those two cities are predominantly African American cities. They are Black cities.’ I thought I was at the time, but I don’t think I was being as respectful and as sensitive to that issue as I would be now. We all have our blinders, and we miss things. And it’s a rare opportunity for us, as writers, to go back and acknowledge where we could have done better – and tried to do so in the re-telling of that story.

 

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