DUNWOODY, Ga. — Local leaders often focus on how to make their city a desirable place to live. Outside of major tourist destinations, less attention is paid to making a city a desirable place to visit.
According to author and community development consultant Peter Kageyama, those things are one and the same.
“Tourists like what locals think is cool,” Kageyama said.
That was the theme of his talk before members of the Dunwoody City Council, staff and business and community leaders March 5. The event was hosted by Discover Dunwoody, the city’s convention and visitors bureau.
More than half a million people visited Dunwoody in 2019, mostly business travelers, according to estimates from the visitor bureau.
The average visitor spends $360 a day on a hotel room, dining, shopping and entertainment, which adds up to millions in economic impact. Discovery Dunwoody estimates the sales tax revenue generated by visitors saves Dunwoody residents about $6,500 per household.
“Tourism is important to us,” Dunwoody Economic Development Director Michael Starling said. “What tourists want is what residents want is what office workers want.”
Discover Dunwoody outgoing Executive Director Katie Williams said the organization wants residents to understand the benefits of tourism in their community and to serve as ambassadors, promoting the city to potential visitors.
Enter Kageyama, whose books are all about what makes people love where they live. It’s not enough for a city to be safe and functional, he argues. Cities should look for ways to make their spaces more attractive, interesting and fun.
“There is no love in fixing potholes,” Kageyama said. “There is no emotional investment in fixing a pothole. That’s not to say we’re going to stop fixing potholes, but we need to do more … ‘Where is the fun?’ is a perfectly legitimate question to ask when talking about placemaking.”
Kageyama’s presentation was full of examples of what he calls “love notes,” small things that make an outsized difference in how people feel about their city. This can include public art, like the “Everything Will Be OK” mural; greenspace, such as Atlanta’s BeltLine; or outside-the-box ideas, like Greenville, S.C.’s bronze mice scavenger hunt.
“Sometimes small and silly is what we need,” Kageyama said.
Discovery Dunwoody, through collaboration with the city, Chamber of Commerce and Perimeter Community Improvement Districts, already have projects underway that line up with Kageyama’s ideas.
In the coming years, multiuse trails will connect Dunwoody’ hotels with Perimeter Mall and other destinations around the city in a pedestrian and bike friendly way. Visitors often list traffic as Dunwoody’s main detractor, but around 30 percent use MARTA, and many look for opportunities within walking distance.
Another weakness the visitors bureau is looking to address is that less than 40 percent of visitors know they are in Dunwoody. Discover Dunwoody wants to address this in a fun way.
At a Feb. 24 City Council meeting, planners presented designs for new signage, including interactive “Instagram-able” signs with swings forming the O’s in the city’s name.
“It’s been a long time in the making, and we’re excited to get rolling,” Discovery Dunwoody Marketing Director Kim Franz said. “The interactive aspect is something fun.”
“As plans roll out, there is going to be room for more ideas that will continue to enhance Dunwoody as a place to visit, work and live,” she added.