October is upon us and we have a month of big events and big announcements here at Strong Towns. This summer, the phone has rung from area codes far and wide requesting us to come and speak to their town. In this fall’s very full schedule, we’ve managed to fit in a few events outside the formal Chats to meet many of you along the way. Despite Chuck being on the road every week and I every other, it is not enough to reach everyone.
Living close to the MSP airport, I’ve had the pleasure to host many of our close Strong Towns friends as they’ve traveled through the region on other business this summer. The energy of those small group gatherings made it clear that we had to think big and get EVERYBODY in the Strong Towns community together. And soon. So, as of today, this is what we know:
Name: The Strong Towns National Gathering
Dates: September 2014 – Three days, over a weekend
Location: Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota
Venue: Not in a convention center or hotel ballroom
(Okay, where then?): In a neighborhood, on a main street, someplace in the city not considered touristy
Cost: As low as we can and still pay all the bills
Q: Awesome! Will this conference move around the country each year?
A: No. Well, sort of. Not really though. Unlike many other organizations, we’re not going to have a national cattle call event every year. First of all, no one can personally afford that. Second of all, this country is too big to solve much at a national scale. Third of all, that’s not really Strong Towns style. We have to be local - regional at most.
Q: Okay, so what’s going to happen in MSP then?
A: The Strong Towns Staff, Fellows, Members and local volunteers are going to create an event as a pilot-model to show what a Strong Towns ‘conference’ looks like. This will set the stage for similar events at a regional level so there can be 10 or so of these within carpool/train distance of everyone in the country in 2015.
Q: Wow! 1 in 2014, 10 in 2015?
A: Hopefully. The only way that will happen is if people from all over the country to come to this event, interact, get inspired, and start to game plan on what could be done back home. We’ve got a rough map in mind of how the regions could work, but that will be refined and confirmed by the participants at the Gathering.
Q: So what does the model look like?
A: It’s going to look a lot like Imagine North Adams and the Placecraft Summit that took place in September 2012, organized by our friend and Strong Towns Fellow, Jen Krouse. Chuck was there and did perhaps the longest Curbside Chat on record. You can hear Chuck and Jen talk about what all was going on with the two events via a podcast made live from the streets of North Adams. We’ll have some amazing speakers, exhibits, tours and do-tank activities, but all in the name of figuring out what are the best, most replicable strategies for evolving the Strong Towns way of thinking and being. “We start with visioning and end with doing.” – Jen Krouse
Q: Anything else?
A: Yes. We are going to be highly engaged with the local community and our events will put people on the streets of the city in a festival format. We will be in one or more parts of the city, activating some empty store fronts, reimagining public spaces, and otherwise putting on a spectacle of tactical urbanism. Bring some good walking shoes.
Q: Hang on. You said earlier, the Strong Towns Staff, Fellows, and Members. Who are Strong Towns Members?
A: You. The supporters, advocates, enthusiasts and sponsors who carry the Strong Towns message to cities and towns across our country. To grow as a movement, we need better way to organize the efforts of volunteers and fund the organization's basic existence. So we've started a formal membership system. Details will be coming out in waves over the next two weeks. If you can’t wait to hear what’s going to happen – email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and you’ll be included along the way. Anyone on the Strong Towns Network will get the skinny within a few days.
Q: I have ideas for the Strong Towns National Gathering. I want to help. What do I do?
A: Email me. We’ll get some more formal planning resources up and running later this fall when the travel schedule calms down a bit. For those of you who we’ll see in your home town soon, I look forward to having a drink with you and brainstorming about it. I’ll have updates in my monthly column here and on a Gathering website in January.
Q: Is that it?
A: All for now. I’ve got to brush up on my Wyoming geography before next week’s Curbside Chat Tour. Anyone know the way to Flaming Gorge?