Today is the one year anniversary of the Mound Curbside Chat. In terms of the nearly 100 speaking events I've done over the past 30 months, it was pretty ordinary; a handful of people gathered at a town hall on a standard, chilly Minnesota weeknight. That being said, what has come out of that event has been anything but ordinary.
I've written what follows as part of a larger initiative we are working on here at Strong Towns, one that I so very much wish I could share today (not quite ready yet, but soon). It is the perfect way to celebrate the anniversary of the Mound Chat.
George Matthew Linkert, IV is just an average resident of an average town. He is married, has two young kids and lives in a modest house in a suburbs. He drives a modest car. Has a modest income. Even his general demeanor is, as they say in Minnesota, quite average.
But despite being anything but extraordinary, George is doing extraordinary things.
I first got to know George as GLM4, the online moniker he uses when he posts comments on the Strong Towns Blog. And, boy, did he ever post comments. In what felt like a continuous stream of questions, comments and inquiries, George pushed and prodded and struggled to reconcile the Strong Towns vision I was sharing with what he saw in his own community.
At times it was painful. At times, beautiful. George’s background is in music -- a far cry from city planning or engineering -- and so very little of our message was in his professional wheelhouse. Yet, he persisted.
Ultimately the public comments turned to personal emails, the personal emails to instant messages and texts. Every now and then we’d have a break though. “Oh, I think I get it now.” He was working really hard.
I was invited by George to come to his city of Mound, MN, and do a Curbside Chat presentation. This is the first time we met in person. He showed me his town, asked my opinion on some specific things he was experiencing and then, after the Chat, he insisted we go out to eat. I remember sitting there thinking, here’s a very nice man, but besides the pleasant conversation, what is going to come of all of this time I am spending?
Little did I know that George would change my entire thinking about what needs to happen to build a nation of strong towns.
Shortly after the Curbside Chat, George started getting more active in his community. He joined his planning commission and became vocal as a volunteer. He started a blog and began consistently writing about the details of growth and development in Mound. Soon he was taking pictures and videos of roads and parking lots and posting them online, generating some good discussion locally. He would organize neighborhood meetings and schedule coffee discussions with others locals. There was even a newspaper article about his activities.
Then George went and made a presentation to the city council that mixed in slides from Strong Towns with snapshots he took of his community. It was a beautiful narrative about how Mound could be so much better and how a different approach -- a Strong Towns approach -- could make it happen. It was the Mound Curbside Chat that only George could make.
This is when it became clear to me what was going on. George Matthew Linkert IV, by all outward appearances a very average person, was driving the agenda in his community. This part time musician and full time dad was filling the intellectual void in the city’s growth and development approach. He was asking the right questions, making the right challenges and using his energy and positive vision to mobilize people for change. He is exactly what Mound needs.
And as I watched him share his message -- our message -- I realized that George was exactly what we needed.
I realized that every city needs a George.
A special thanks to George Matthew Linkert IV and everyone working to make Mound, MN, a Strong Town. You've inspired us to do more and to work even harder to make our shared vision a reality. We love you guys. If you want to follow what they are doing, head on over to GML4's blog, A Place in Mound.