All You Need is Love: Why Love is the Secret Ingredient in Marinara and Place Making – Part 1

I promise you, there will be no guitars, no hand-holding, and absolutely no refrains from Kumba Ya in this post. I realize that love is not the most common word used in business or economic development. We speak of return on investment (ROI), leveraging resources, planning, and many other cerebral, grown-up type words I’m going to suggest in what follows that, although these words capture something important, perhaps they do not capture everything that is important, or perhaps even the most important thing about neighborhood development.  Because I promise you, without love, it will be impossible to make your neighborhood, downtown, or city a place you will  long to spend time in, let alone walk around,– which after all is the purpose of this blog: to facilitate the creation and maintenance of walkable places.


Like food, places are more than merely the sum of their parts. A good marinara is more than the proper ingredients added in the proper order at the proper time with the proper heat (or sunlight) applied. Ask any Italian cook standing over a stove adding seasoning to a simmering pot of marinara sauce, the recipe for which has no doubt been handed down for generations: he or she will tell you that the secret ingredient is love.

Places Actually Look Different When You Love Them

Imagine for a moment that you are in your mother’s attic, and you stumble across a dusty chest in the very back covered with cobwebs. You open the chest, and inside you find your grandmother’s tea tray, a tray you fondly remember from childhood. The tray would likely be tarnished, but what you are present to is not the tarnish, but the fond memories associated with that tray. You take the tray out of the attic, take it home, spend considerable time and elbow grease to clean it up, and then, not being much of a tea drinker, or much for formality, you mount the tray on your dining room wall. Absent love, you might have overlooked the tray or deemed the work necessary to bring it back to life too much trouble.


Often when we speak of buildings and other objects, we say that there is something worthy in that building or thing that makes it admirable. And yet, when it comes to a place, especially one that needs renewal, it is the love that must come first. Love allows you to see the bones of a place, the shining silver lining waiting to be uncovered.

G.K. Chesterton famously pointed this out in a comment he made about a small area in central London named Pimlico, quite fashionable now, which had fallen into decay in his day:

“Let us suppose we are confronted with a desperate thing – say Pimlico. It is not enough for a man to disapprove of Pimlico; in that case he will merely cut his throat or move to Chelsea. Nor, certainly, is it enough for a man to approve of Pimlico; for then it will remain Pimlico, which would be awful. The only way out of it seems to be for somebody to love Pimlico; to love it with a transcendental tie and without any earthly reason. If there arose a man who loved Pimlico, then Pimlico would rise into ivory towers and golden pinnacles… If men loved Pimlico as mothers love children, arbitrarily, because it is theirs, Pimlico in a year or two might be fairer than Florence. Some readers will say that this is mere fantasy. I answer that this is the actual history of mankind. This, as a fact, is how cities did grow great. Go back to the darkest roots of civilization and you will find them knotted round some sacred stone or encircling some sacred well. People first paid honour to a spot and afterwards gained glory for it. Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.”

Now go back, and read that passage again, but every time you see the word Pimilco, substitute the name of an area in the city or town in which you currently live that has fallen into decline and disrepair, or perhaps has never been anything but.

Love is easy when a place has already realized its potential. Perhaps at that point, what people mean when they say they love, say, New York, Paris, or Rome is that they enjoy it. Theirs is a passive love, a love based on consumption, not creation. This is quite different from the active love of a long-time civic volunteer or servant.

To Love is to See What is Right About a Place

Angela Blanchard, the CEO of Neighborhood Centers, Inc., a very successful community development corporation in Houston, Texas, often says:  “You can’t build on broken.” She espouses an asset-based approach to community development. Her members do not walk into communities searching for what is wrong so they can fix it, they seek out what is right so they can build on it.  They listen to the hopes and aspirations of the people who live there. Then her group seeks to help a community realize those aspirations by bringing the needed resources to the table.  But the aspirations must come first, not the brokenness.  You can’t build on brokenness.  Love opens up possibilities that would not be visible to others.

Sure, Money Helps

While it would be naive to suggest that money is not necessary for such projects, and that love alone would be enough to create places worthy of our time, yet we have seen what unloved places look like even with a ton of money dumped into them. Think, in this regard, of the brutalist architecture of the 1960s or of the expensive housing projects launched with great fanfare that decayed and had to be dynamited within a generation because they had been built without love and were not lovely places.

The historic Oliver Hotel, replaced by the "improved" Chase Bank building.

The historic Oliver Hotel, replaced by the “improved” Chase Bank building.

Build in the 1960's, replacing the historic Oliver Hotel in downtown South Bend, Indiana. This building was hailed as an improvement at the time.

Build in the 1960’s, replacing the historic Oliver Hotel in downtown South Bend, Indiana. This building was hailed as an improvement at the time.

The Absence of Love Leads to an Absence of Design


The 45 minute drive from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Santa Fe is overall an enchanting experience. A driver will be treated to wide blue skies filled with white clouds so perfect they look as though they were painted on, stretches of terra cotta earth mounded into high plateaus, and traditional adobe structures set into the landscape that look as natural as the tall rocks and scrub trees. Then, here and there, thrown up on the side of the road in an offensive waste of finite materials will be unimaginative strip center after unimaginative strip center: low-slung, flat, faceless, and run-down structures selling conveniences, gas, electronic devices, etc. They are the architectural equivalent of litter in the park —a mar upon the landscape. Who but someone without love for anything other than money would build such structures so contrary to the spirit of the place in “The Land of Enchantment.”

Love and Marinara

Love is what animates the grandmother who carefully dotes over a pot of marinara, ensuring the necessary hours on the stove are set aside for flavors to blend, stopping by to taste, and add a dash of oregano, a splash of pepper, or an extra clove of garlic. So too it is love that animates the architect who spends time creating ornamentation to articulate, even celebrate, a doorframe, window, or a ceiling. It is these little details that provide the visual interest to the pedestrian, that odd, anachronistic creature this blog is in service to.


2 thoughts on “All You Need is Love: Why Love is the Secret Ingredient in Marinara and Place Making – Part 1

  1. This also reminds me of the saying,”I love you just as you are, but too much to leave you that way.” Love is active and energetic and willing to sacrifice to make the one loved better. Thank you Tamara for this fine reflection.

  2. Pingback: All You Need is Love: Why Love is the Secret Ingredient in Marinara and Place Making – Part 2 | Quarter Mile Smile

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