Last spring I met a very nice boy who was a high school exchange student from the Crimean Black Sea area in Russia. He was friends with the kids of some of our friends, and we invited them all to my husband's birthday party. His birthday present to my husband was a couple of beautiful hardbound picture books about the Crimean and his city, Krasnodar. I was amused by the direct English translations with Russian syntax posted on the right side of all the pages, but also fascinated as I perused the books, not only with the old history it explained, but the new, as well. Krasnodar is preparing to host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. Their priority number one is to beautify the city of course. But not so much to give old buildings a face lift, as much as that might be important, or building sufficient roads and stadiums, etc. No, their priority number 1 is to plant flowers! I quote this from the book titled, Krasnodar Flower Time. "Spring and winter campaigns, ("Do you love your city? Plant a tree!", Bloom the beloved city!", "Blooming Russia!") The flowers won't even be in bloom when the Winter Olympic Games are in effect, but regardless, the mayor says in the introduction of the book that he is convinced that Krasnodar will become the "greenest city of Russia", and a tourist haven that will attract much business. Hum. Perhaps we should look up and take notice. The mayor has had something of an epipheny. Perhaps my dad was right when he said that Europe was ahead of us in civilization with the regard it held flowers.
The easiest things to gain and lose in a city are art and flowers. It's odd that both are ephemeral and easily overlooked in their importance. But if you just think about it, it seems so obvious. Where do we get married? In a garden or a church filled with art and flowers. Where are we buried? In a cemetery garden filled with statuary, trees, and flowers and benches for visitors. Where do we like to go on vacation? To a beautiful city filled with art and flowers, or to a park, or some other naturally beautiful place. Where do we take visitors? To a place filled with natural beauty such as a national or state park, or a city filled with art and flowers. Where do we long to live? In a place filled with natural beauty all around us. America has done a wonderful job preserving our national and state parks, but many cities overlook the importance of parks and flowers to attract the people who might want to live there, and as a consequence - business.
For so long manufacturing has been the key to a cities' development that we forgot that what people really want is to live in beautiful spaces. What we have always longed for is to make enough money to move away to a beautiful peaceful place, but why not make where you live now a beautiful place? Filling a city with beauty when it has little money is so easy, so obvious, it is difficult for people to believe the results when you make a place where people want to congregate. Look at Central Park in New York City. This park must be the most, or at least one of the most beloved, most important parks in the world. It is also a natural space in an urban environment where people can go and get in touch with some sanity and peace, and it belongs to everybody. Or closer to home, consider San Antonio's River Walk park. The River Walk almost didn't happen. The city was considering paving it over and making a drain for the river, but a commission advised a park with landscaping and water regulation making it attractive to the tourist industry. What a success! Now the river walk has been expanded to double it's length. Everybody who takes visitors to San Antonio makes a visit to the River Walk at least once.
Where would you want to live if you could afford it? In a beautiful peaceful place filled with art and flowers and natural beauty of course. How could we get distracted from this simple fact? Filling a place with flowers and art is so easy it's almost too simple. Try this experiment. Go downtown and look for an ugly curb. Find some shade and put a bench there. Plant some simple annuals that like sun such as zinnias in some barrels. Find a musician who wants to sing for his supper. Invite an artist to set up an easel, or a jewelery maker to set up a table. People will linger and pretty soon you'll have vendors asking to sell tee shirts, funnel cakes, and crafts. Voila! Now the owners of the buildings on the ugly curb get inquiries about renting out their building. They find the inspiration to ask for a tax rebate if they fix up the building to rent it out.
Suddenly the ugly curb isn't so ugly anymore. It's desirable real estate all because of some barrels of flowers, a bench, and last but not least, art and music. But the odd thing is that the barrels of flowers are just as important as the art and music. People will still like to gather there if there are only flowers and a bench, but people won't like to gather there as much without them even if there is art and music. Sometimes the simple things are the most important, but most overlooked in a formula to making your city a desirable place.