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For the love of St. Petersburg

I spent a few hours at the Manhattan Casino Saturday morning with a few creative minds and community leaders, and if you ask me, they are one in the same. Here we had an opportunity to come together and explore what loving St. Petersburg is all about with For the Love of Cities author Peter Kageyama.

Mayor Bill Foster said of the event that he has big hopes for this concept. He wants people to become more engaged in the City of St. Petersburg, and he wants “love missionaries.” Foster said, “It’s about the little things—the things that make St. Petersburg not just a destination and home. Not just a place where people work and live but a place where people work to feed their habit—the habit of St. Petersburg.”

But what does it take for a community to fall in love with its city? Kageyama talked about “love notes.” Love notes are little things that make your community unique, light you up, make you smile and have you coming back for more. He mentioned Studio 620 and Free Fall Theatre as notable “acts of love” in St. Petersburg.

Other aspects that create a lovable city are bicycle-friendly and dog-friendly cities, and St. Petersburg is both of these, mostly. Kageyama also asked Saturday’s participants to write down and come up to the mic and share what they love about the city.

Mostly, there was a common theme of parks and the waterfront. The arts, museums, the people, small businesses and the history of St. Petersburg also made the list. From here, the interactivity of the participants picked-up, including working in teams to come up with themed t-shirt designs.

From cradle to retiring—what matters in St. Pete?

What do certain demographics think of St. Petersburg—a 15-year-old, a retired person, a married couple with children, a young professional, a college student and a business owner? The teams that worked on t-shirt designs were asked to work together again to explore what was valuable to specific demographics.

There were some common themes such as crime and safety being top concerns spanning all demographics. This does not imply that people consider St. Petersburg to be very dangerous, but crime and safety remain top concerns for all demographics.

Top things that certain demographics within the city like are the beaches and entertainment and ease of access to community, business and government leadership. Also, things that many demographics agree are needs for the city include higher-paying career opportunities in fields such as technology and green energy.

Specific demographics did identify specific needs for their station in life such as more daytime activities for retired persons and more arts education available for youth, especially as programs are being cut within Pinellas County Schools.

 It’s $500 of love

If you had $500 to create a “love” project for St. Petersburg—what would it be? Participants worked in teams to develop projects that would have a $500 budget. Some great ideas were developed such a Family Friendly First Friday in North Straub Park—an idea that can be incorporated into an existing city event and expanded upon for $500.

Once these ideas were developed and presented to all, everyone voted on which idea they liked the most. Family Friendly First Friday not only won the vote but also received an anonymous donor who has agreed to provide the $500 to make it happen. Here are some of the other ideas:

“I am a native of St. Petersburg, and ‘for the love of St. Petersburg means a lot to me,” said Clarence Scott in closing remarks of this summit. He encouraged all of us to not only spread the word about the great work done today and all the great ideas developed but also to spread the word about the great city St. Petersburg is saying, “ Word of mouth is the best form of advertising.”

Peter Kageyama ended the day with a book signing opportunity, having books, t-shirts and lively discussion all available for those interested in For the Love of Cities.

Peter Kageyama

Also posted HERE on SaintPetersBlog, published 2/20/2012

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St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster provides Access, but transparency is still under development

Link to full article here: http://saintpetersblog.com/2012/01/bill-fosters-mayors-night-out-offer-access-but-not-much-transparency/

The most recent Mayor’s Night Out, hosted January 12, 2012 at the J.W. Cate Center provided unparalleled access to many departments represented by City Hall. Mayor Bill Fosterpromotes these events as an effort to improve access and transparency regarding city government. Indeed, bringing leadership representing many city departments out to the community provides extraordinary access, but I’m not so sure transparency is increased much. Not yet.

There are certain political buzz words that provide a sense of comfort among citizens. One of these is “transparency.” It’s a great word. It gives a sense of accountability—of a government laying all of its cards on the table for all to see everything exactly as they are. There would be no airbrushing and nothing hidden in a corner. Everything would be wide open for all to see. And with the Mayor’s Night Out events, that isn’t something I experienced there.

What these events do provide is fabulous access to Mayor Foster, to City Council, and many city departments were represented including Billing and Collections; Engineering, Water Resources and Capital Improvements; Housing and Community Development; School Programs; Police; Fire Rescue; Sanitation, Storm Water, Pavement and Traffic Operations; Zoning and Permitting; Transportation and Parking; Codes Compliance; Neighborhood Partnership, Libraries, Parks and Recreation; and Codes Compliance.

My View: If the citizens of St. Petersburg truly want transparency, they must participate in it. The access is most certainly there in a fashion that cannot be criticized. What is needed for true transparency to be realized is for citizens to go to these events and demand answers to tough questions. Require follow-up and reporting on issues that are of the greatest concern to citizens from the city. The citizens of St. Petersburg must take an active leadership role as both a partner and critic of their local government for transparency to be a reality. Mayor Foster, the City Council and city departments have certainly put themselves out there—It’s up to us to make transparency happen.

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