This week is membership drive time for our good friends at Strong Towns. Jason asked me to share a little bit about why our firm supports the organization and what we hope we can achieve in the coming years by working together.
Strong Towns has evolved and grown significantly since I first stumbled across Chuck’s blog back in 2011. My partners and I had recently formed VERDUNITY with the mission of bringing people and perspectives together to build resilient communities. We were tired of seeing the same solutions being proposed over and over, and seeing engineer after engineer fall back on the sacred standards and traffic projections.
Everything here in Texas focuses around dollars, so I was looking for resources that could help us communicate the fiscal consequences of the suburban development pattern to a broad audience. I found the content on the Strong Towns blog to be a combination of well researched case studies, aggregated news content and personal commentary on the municipal finance/infrastructure/development nexus. One of the things that really stood out to me was Chuck’s breadth of knowledge of planning, engineering, economics, religion and history, and his ability to tap into different references to reinforce the concept he was writing about. After a few months of reading, it was pretty apparent to our team that Strong Towns was an organization that shared our passion and had a network we could learn from, and potentially also share our experiences with.
Our firm is based in North Texas, where sprawl is law and suburbs constantly one-up each other with infrastructure investments and incentives in pursuit of being the “Best Place to Live” or wooing the next big business to town. The majority of citizens, elected officials, and practicing engineering professionals are content building more of the same stuff, so we must change the conversation.
As consultants, we share our experience and opinions, but it always help reinforce our message when we can reference other sources and case studies. We frequently share posts from Chuck’s blog with our clients, contacts and friends and reference the case studies and other Strong Towns content in presentations we make. The combination of our team’s experience and our partnership with Strong Towns has opened new doors and has created opportunities for our team to do more of the work we love. An emerging niche for us is using the comprehensive planning process to connect Strong Towns concepts like infrastructure and land productivity assessments, economic gardening and small scale development together in a strategic way to move communities toward a more resilient future.
Why we became Strong Towns members
When Strong Towns decided to shift to a membership-based organization, we felt compelled to sign on as a company sponsor. We considered what we had spent in the past on sponsorships and memberships with groups like ASCE, APA and others, and what we got in return. When compared with the information and relationships our affiliation with Strong Towns was delivering, it was a no brainer.
We met Chuck for the first time in 2014 when we sponsored a series of Curbside Chats in North Texas, and he did not disappoint. Some of the project work we’ve done came as a result of those discussions, and we just recently asked Chuck to come back to help us kick off a comprehensive plan where we’re making the financials and small-scale development strategies the main focus. Chuck has always been gracious with his time, not just for our team, but with others we put in contact with him.
The most exciting thing about the Strong Towns movement, however, is its members. Our country and our cities need some fresh ideas and new energy, and the Strong Towns network exhibits this en masse. My partner Kristin Green and I attended the National Gathering last year, where we got to meet a lot of the early Strong Towns members and share our stories. It was refreshing to go to a “conference” and be surrounded with a variety of people who shared our ideals and vision for change. Even better, the majority were not engineers or planners, so it helped us expand our perspective on some issues.
We reconnected with some of our Strong Towns friends at CNU in Dallas this past spring, and again at the first Small Developer Boot Camp in Duncanville. The things Strong Towns members are doing to change the conversation and transform their communities are truly inspiring. I’ve shared many of the ideas and projects we’ve heard from members in presentations and on our projects to engage and challenge citizens to think outside the box. And just like with Chuck, I consider many of these people friends now.
The Strong Towns movement is growing
The message is important, if not critical, for our country. The resources are being expanded, including more frequent blog content from excellent writers, more podcasts, Curbside Chat videos and more. I personally hope the message will get more serious consideration in D.C. with the policy wonks, although my past experience participating in conversations on The Hill tell me that’s unlikely any time soon. I also hope the discussion will continue to evolve in regards to traffic engineering and fire codes. We’ve got to get back to building places for people first.
As planning and engineering consultants, it’s a pretty big risk to be advocating for less expansion and development and more infill and small, incremental projects. Our team here at VERDUNITY feels much more comfortable pushing this approach knowing we have an organization like Strong Towns and its members behind us. We want to continue to leverage the Strong Towns platform to help us find communities to work with and quality people to grow our team.
If you’re a community who is looking for a consulting partner who believes in Strong Towns principles, or an engineer or planner who’s not afraid to challenge the standards, we’d love to talk with you. Our most recent hire reached out to me after hearing us on the podcast, and ended up joining us here in Dallas after wrapping up his Master’s degree in the Boston area (hello, culture shock!). If you’re here in North Texas, we’ve started a Strong Towns North Texas group on Facebook and will be working to organize some meet-ups soon. Hopefully we can continue to do our part to share the Strong Towns message and encourage more people and organizations to join the movement.
Kristin and I have talked with Chuck about our firm’s story and experiences in past podcast interviews , and we look forward to digging into some of our projects on future podcasts. We’re putting finishing touches on a redesigned website and will be firing our blog back up as well. 2016 is setting up to be an incredible year for our firm, and we owe a lot of our momentum to our partnership with Strong Towns.
Keep doing what you can to build Strong Towns, and if you’re not a member already, please consider signing up at whatever level you can.
THIS MEMBER TESTIMONIAL IS PART OF OUR FALL MEMBERSHIP CAMPAIGN #1000STRONG. WE'RE VERY GRATEFUL TO THE MEMBERS WHO CONTRIBUTED THESE POSTS. OUR MOVEMENT IS FULL OF ARTICULATE AND PASSIONATE PEOPLE PUTTING THE STRONG TOWNS APPROACH TO WORK IN THEIR COMMUNITIES. PLEASE JOIN US AND BECOME A MEMBER TODAY!
Kevin Shepherd, P.E., is a founding principal of VERDUNITY, a Dallas-based consulting firm focused on bringing perspectives together to create communities that are healthy and fiscally resilient. He helps communities identify and deliver projects that have a positive impact on city finances and quality of life, while minimizing impacts on natural and community resources. He is a technical advisor for ISI’s Envision rating system and STAR Communities program, and serves on the Board for the North Texas Chapter of the Congress for the New Urbanism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @k_shepherd and @verdunity.