The Strong Towns National Gathering just got even better with the announcement that former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn will be presenting the Saturday keynote.
“Mike reached out to us. After chatting with him, it’s clear that he has not only been there, but he totally gets it,” said Jim Kumon, Executive Director of Strong Towns. “His story of working as a neighborhood leader and activist and then becoming mayor is going to strike a chord at the National Gathering.”
Mayor McGinn has long worked to build communities that are safe, thriving and environmentally sustainable. Elected Mayor of Seattle in the midst of the Great Recession (2010-2013), Mike championed low-cost, high-impact interventions to increase both quality of life and economic activity. During his term, Seattle made walking, biking and transit priorities, coupled with an emphasis on safe streets. Obstacles to market supplied housing were reduced and new housing types – such as micro-apartments and alley housing – were permitted. Historic neighborhood business districts were supported through new grants, and street life improved through mobile food trucks, sidewalk cafes, parklets, and reform of parking policy.
“I’m really impressed with what Mayor McGinn stands for and what he was able to accomplish. We have a lot that we can learn from him and are thrilled to have him on the team,” said Chuck Marohn, Strong Towns president.
Before becoming Mayor, Mike founded and ran a non-profit, Great City, which brought together neighborhood leaders, environmentalists and business leaders to find common ground on building a thriving and sustainable city. Great City successfully led the fight for a new parks ballot measure, and helped pass Complete Streets legislation.
Great City built on Mike’s work as a Sierra Club volunteer and neighborhood leaders. In the Sierra Club, Mike worked to help elect environmental leaders at the federal, state and local levels and build the Club’s influence on policy. In 2007, he led the Sierra Club’s opposition to a regional ballot measure that tied rail expansion to highway expansion. The ballot measure lost, and in 2008 rail expansion alone succeeded at the ballot box.
Mike’s neighborhood work began in 1996, in trying to get sidewalks built in his new neighborhood of Greenwood. He then served for years as president of the local community council, working on rezoning and redevelopment of the auto-oriented portion of business district to support mixed uses.
Mike came to prominence and won his campaign for mayor in large part due to his opposition to a tunnel for a highway on Seattle’s waterfront. Unified support for the tunnel from business, labor and elected leaders ultimately prevailed, but the tunnel boring machine is now stuck under the waterfront. Costs are mounting rapidly and the future of this mega-project is uncertain. The contrast with the low cost, incremental approach Mike champions makes a great backstory for what is sure to be a great conversation.