In a blog from the road in North Carolina where Joe Minicozzi and I are sharing a message of economic resiliency throughout the Piedmont region, I want to lift the hood a little share some changes that are taking place with Strong Towns.
When I started this blog at the end of 2008, I could never have predicted what would happen. More importantly, I never would have predicted the amazing, brilliant people I would come in contact with. My co-founder, Jon Commers, who was an early voice of encouragement and helped get this whole thing going being first among them.
Today I want to formally introduce some more, beginning with our new Executive Director, Jim Kumon. I couldn't be more excited about an addition to our team. I met Jim through CNU's NextGen group and was immediately drawn to his straightforward, logical way of getting things done. When he married our board president, Faith Cable Kumon, and moved to Minnesota, it set the stage for some great things. I've been seeking his advice for quite a long time and now he's going to be running Strong Towns day to day. This is a great thing.
Here's Jim's bio:
Jim Kumon is an urban designer and community organizer based in Minneapolis. As Executive Director, he organizes events, volunteer initiatives, membership activities and sponsorship programs for the group. He is your primary point of contact for engaging with anything relating to Strong Towns.
Jim was born and raised in a rural township about fifty miles northwest of Detroit. After graduating with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Architecture from the University of Michigan, Jim started his professional career in architecture and urban design in Los Angeles, and later moved to Denver. He has served on the board of a multitude of professional and trade groups and brings over a decade of not-for-profit experience to Strong Towns. Most recently, he served as operations manager of a national niche consulting company in the architecture and engineering industry.
Jim and his wife, Faith, live in the heart of south Minneapolis, where they are slowly renovating their 102 year old house. A self proclaimed rain barrel enthusiast and edible garden aficionado, he is working to maximize the return on investment in their small city yard. He serves on the board of directors for Kingfield Neighborhood Association and chairs its redevelopment committee.
The only downside of Jim joining the staff is that Faith Kumon will be stepping down as the leader of our board, although we'll still be able to tap her knowledge and leadership through Jim. Their front porch is a frequent meeting place for our team of Minnesota volunteers and those who happen through the MSP airport from out of town.
With Faith leaving the board, we've been able to recruit another high level thinker, Betsey Buckheit, a former elected official and early Strong Towns enthusiast. Like our famous George Matthew Linkert, I met Betsey through this blog. Lots of questions -- many of them pointed -- and some suggestions about how this movement we are creating could help her as a public official lead change in her community. It was welcome insight and I have found my thinking credibly challenged many times by Betsey. She is the perfect board member, not only because she is a thoughtful, critical thinker, but also because she is a friendly person who seems to end every conversation with a warm smile. I'm very excited to have her enthusiasm.
Betsey Buckheit’s route to the Strong Towns board began in 2001-2005 when she chaired the Northfield, MN Planning Commission and began asking questions about how Northfield got to where it was, where it wanted to go in the future, and who would pay for it. This lead her to the Humphrey Public Policy Fellows program, the Blandin Community Leadership Program, and a term on the Northfield City Council. Betsey is also currently on the board of the Northfield Downtown Development Corporation, a group dedicated to sustaining a vibrant Downtown Northfield. Betsey blogs at www.betseybuckheit.com about development-related policy and local issues with large dollops of non-motorized transportation advocacy thrown in.
Betsey has a B.A. in Religion from Swarthmore College, an M.A. in Philosophy from Syracuse University, and a J.D. from the University of Minnesota Law School. She lives in a brightly colored house in Northfield with her husband and 2 large dogs. In 2013-2014, Betsey will be in Cambridge, England and Jyväskylä, Finland where she hopes to enjoy and investigate European cities to look for inspiration to bring back to Strong Towns
Betsey is also an enthusiastic supporter of public transportation
When I mentioned earlier this year that I would be stepping down as Executive Director, there were quite a few people that emailed me to find out if this meant I was leaving Strong Towns. Absolutely not. I'm staying right where I'm at, continuing to do exactly what I do, with Jim and Betsey's assistance helping me do more. And do it better. What my exact title will be has not been decided -- mostly because I don't care -- but I'm going to remain close to the center of the Strong Towns movement, albeit with a lot more help.
Running a non-profit is a complicated task. I've been blogging three days a week for for four and a half years. Most of that time, I was simply volunteering, only actually becoming the staff of this organization Jon and I started two years ago. In the interim, I added a weekly podcast and weekly video production. Through it all, my email inbox has become a curse, my inability to answer everyone that contacts us as thoughtfully as they deserve a drag on my conscience, not to mention a missed opportunity. Balancing the books, putting together press releases and sending think you cards to donors frequently happened at 2AM, if at all. Adding new capacity to our lean organization is going to help us be vastly more effective.
I've also been cognisant for a long time of what I would call the "founder's syndrome." There are hundreds of people that have stepped up across the country, taken the Strong Towns message, molded it to their community and worked to make their place better. For this movement to expand -- and that is absolutely essentially if we are going to save this country and make it, once again, a collection of strong, resilient places -- it needs to grow far beyond my capacities.
I'm humbled and flattered that so many people are enthusiastic about what we are doing here. I've personally gone from feeling like a voice in the wilderness to being continually affirmed (and challenged) by people who share my vision. It is a huge relief that has changed my life. At the end of the day, though, I'm just one person. I don't understand all the challenges, let alone have all the answers. I want to continue to make room in this movement for new voices, new perspectives and new ideas to emerge.
I've always thought that the best leaders are those with a vision that surround themselves with brilliant people and allow them the flexibility to go out and do great things. That's the approach I've tried to emulate. This is the next step.
If you are in a position to helping us -- these transitions require resources to sustain -- please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to Strong Towns. We appreciate all of the support. And regardless of your capacity to help us directly, let's all keep doing what we can to build a nation of strong towns.