May 31, 2024

Couldn’t we all just use a little more cute in our lives? Are there people that don’t like cute things? If so, who are they and who hurt them? 

My friend and colleague, Bernice Radle, is a developer in Buffalo and she has been upfront about her target when renovating buildings, and as she states, she aims to make them cute AF. I have been thinking a lot about cute lately and why we are doing such a poor job of it. 

Cute was on my mind on a recent work trip. I was walking around a downtown and came across the cutest block. The buildings were all two-story, half-timbered, well-maintained mixed-use buildings. Each one had a shop of some type on the first floor and appeared to have occupied apartments or offices on the upper floors. This block was a tremendous bright spot in a downtown that had its challenges. This block felt like it had been plucked from a European village. These buildings appeared to all have been built around the same time and in the same style. The overall effect of a series of buildings that were similar but not the same and built with quality materials was extremely charming. It was cute AF!

What is immediately apparent to me about this block, or similar places, is that they are inviting, they are appealing, we are drawn to these places because they delight us, all of us. People flock to cute places because of how they make us feel. This in turn makes them appealing places for business owners. A restaurant or retailer is going to be more successful on attractive blocks since people are drawn to them. And in turn, the real estate becomes more valuable because the businesses located there are more successful. Being on a cute block will allow owners to charge more rent as well, as people to pay a premium for quality aesthetics. 

This is the power of cute and it attracts us all. 

Across the street occupying an entire block was a one-story all-black steel and glass building. It was not cute. It was the opposite of cute. It appeared to be evil. If not the buildings itself, the tenant certainly was malevolent. It was such a stark contrast from one block to the next, almost shocking. I kept asking myself, how did something like this ever occur? How did the community ever allow what all of us would describe as a scary building to be built adjacent to the most delightful buildings? 

It seems that aesthetics aren’t all that subjective. Sure, there are preferences from one person to the next, not everyone will agree 100% on how things should look, but I think we are far closer in what we prefer than what we don’t. Case in point, everyone would prefer the block of half-timber buildings over the evil empire building. Everyone finds a block of two and three-story Main Street buildings superior to a one-story strip mall. Quality materials are visible and more appealing to the eye. Buildings closer to the heights of mature trees are more comforting. Buildings that are similar but not the same, that provide a repeating pattern without being redundant, satisfy our brains immensely. 

Why did we ever get away from making things cute? What rationale could our communities have used to justify not building cute anymore? I know there might be some truck bros out there who would swear to not liking cute things, but I don’t believe them. Most of them decorate their trucks after all. 

I really wish the concept of cute was more comfortable for all of us. I would like to see every city have a department of cute or at least a cute committee. Sure, grandeur in architecture is awe-inspiring, but it also tends to be very expensive. Cute doesn’t have to cost more, typically cute things are small. My favorite part of every town is the cute part, the small buildings and shops, the small streets and stoops. 

Simply put, every effort put towards cute improves a place. Each hour spent making a community cuter is an hour that contributes to making that place more lovable, easier for people to grow an attachment to, and ultimately makes that place stronger. This is where we should be spending our volunteer time and how we should be engaging with residents. When someone asks how they can get involved, don’t send them to a meeting or ask them to join a committee, just let them know the best way they can help their town is by making it just a little bit cuter. 

you may also like

June 21, 2024

From Apathy to Pride, A Path

From Civic Apathy to Civic Pride, The Journey of Downtown Revitalization Downtowns have an amazing ability to turn around, shifting from neglected and rundown areas to lively, bustling districts. This

June 14, 2024

Discerning Development

This stuff is tricky, I get it. The people I talk with all the time about their community concerns are in the same boat. They understand something is wrong, but

May 10, 2024

Better, Not Bigger

Last week I spent a couple of days with the Civic Pride Campaign team in Marshalltown, Iowa.  We spent those 3 days discussing our strategies for their year long effort