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Focus on Manatee: There are countless reasons to love where we live in Manatee County

Sitting in the dark is sometimes the best way to dream.

This is what happened at the Manatee Performing Arts Center at the beginning of the month. A couple hundred people from our region were entertained and challenged by the idea of spending more time creating opportunities for fun and engagement in our cities and less time focusing on the potholes.

Peter Kageyama, author of “For the Love of Cities,” spoke to community leaders, foundations, businesses, government staff, elected representatives and nonprofits about why people love where they live.

And it really hit home: It’s not the boring stuff that adds meaning to places. Whatever we’re doing — wherever we’re living — we can each be part of making our places more loveable.

It wasn’t Kageyama’s first gig here. But together in the theater, you could almost hear the collective sizzling of brain power considering the unexpected, unique features of our communities that make us who we are and drive others to check us out.

Kageyama says every community has the opportunity to create meaning.

There are deep connections between meaning and how people express their love for their communities through giving. Of the $25 million in grants and scholarships (and counting) awarded through Manatee Community Foundation, 100 percent comes from individuals who care enough about their communities to invest in them with their personal resources.

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Peter Kageyama, author of “For the Love of Cities,” recently spoke to community leaders, foundations, businesses, government staff, elected representatives and nonprofits in Manatee County about why people love where they live. Whitney Patton Provided photo

Most people who work with us choose to give locally. Why? Not just because they live here, but because they love where they live.

But investing where you live is not just about money, and often it’s not about money at all. We come together around issues, ideas and possibilities, and our intellectual and social contributions are just as powerful.

Like most counties, we want competitive schools, a responsive government, innovative businesses, a trusted nonprofit sector, great places to eat, livable wages and jobs. But what is it that makes us lovable here in Bradenton and throughout Manatee County?

It’s unique places such as the Riverwalk, restaurants and galleries in the Village of the Arts, the Florida Railroad Museum in Parrish, amazing parks and other treasures that add such depth to our community.

It’s also what happens there that attracts us — the farmers’ market, nighttime trail walks, festivals. Like every place, we need to keep new energy flowing to create new experiences.

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Susie Bowie is the executive director of the Manatee Community Foundation.

Chewing on Kageyama’s challenge is like a long-lasting piece of gum: If we had greater participation in designing opportunities for fun, people would have more to love about our communities. With that love comes more giving, more reasons not to move away, more reasons to start a business, more reasons to raise a family and grow old here.

I have received some interesting thoughts in my inbox from people who were in our audience. Many of them are framed by a key tenet of Kageyama’s observations of emotionally engaging places: Inexpensive ideas often create outsized impact for residents and visitors.

Collaborative murals, amateur videos, seek-and-find art throughout downtown areas are a few examples. Thanks to creative, high-energy and inclusive partners like Realize Bradenton, we see many of Kageyama’s best practices in play already.

What more could be possible if we each contributed our out-of-the-box ideas and let the voices of others participate in choosing what happens here?

Our local institutions are making strides in listening to and following the ideas of young leaders and under-served populations as we think about places and opportunities. And yet, we have real work to do.

The Manatee Community Foundation is having many conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion, knowing that as great as things seem for some, we have far to go to attract new voices to the decision-making table.

We know that we can create stronger and more lovable places when different people have a say in the design of our spaces, affordable housing, health care, grade-level reading, animal welfare, civic engagement, our environment, the arts.

Here’s our challenge to you. If you are in a position of power, listen to ideas from younger people, from people with fewer resources and from people who do not look like you. If you feel that your voice goes unheard, we want to hear from you.

Through partners such as Manatee County Government, Manasota Black Chamber of Commerce, Manatee Chamber of Commerce, United Way Suncoast and so many others, there are people ready, listening and working in this space.

Most people we encounter in Manatee County have intense pride for community. We know we have work to do, but we love who we are. We don’t want to be like other communities. We believe we can leverage this as we pave the way for the ever-evolving work that makes our places even more of what we imagine. Now imagine how your participation can shape us.

We can rock those potholes any day. It’s time to be courageous and creative.

Susie Bowie is the executive director of the Manatee Community Foundation, a charitable foundation that strengthens the community through philanthropy, education and service — for now and for the future. Email: SBowie@ManateeCF.org. Phone: 941-747-7765.

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