Michael Kovacs is a member of Strong Towns and the City Manager of Fate, TX. Over the last year, he has been sharing the Strong Towns message with his City Council and Planning Zoning Commission through our Curbside Chat video series. We asked him to tell us about how he made that happen and how his town has utilized Strong Towns principles as a result. Here's what he said:
"The Strong Towns videos have been very well received. I was pleasantly surprised, but then again our public officials here in Fate are well educated and very positive people. I started about a year ago, in preparation, by starting to talk about city infrastructure cost issues and pulled articles about struggling towns maybe one or two a week, and sent them to my City Council members in my weekly update email.
"I also did a four part series of presentations about the costs of city infrastructure, maintenance costs, and financing alternatives other towns have used, and spaced those out, about one every couple months. We showed our Planning and Zoning Commission one of the Curbside Chat recordings and had a post-video discussion that lasted over an hour and a half. People really connected with Chuck as they watched the video. These people are volunteers, with some basic city planning experience at the board level and very little exposure to municipal finance, but they got it.
"From there, Chuck was actually visiting a nearby community at the invitation of Kevin Shepherd with Verdunity, who was working with them on a comprehensive plan update, so my department heads and mayor went to go see him live. The team came back excited, with a sober, "Oh crud," temperance to them. Our city is the epitome of a suburban high growth city, and the sprawl repair mission will be a long battle to right the long term fiscal ship. Today, we are doing fantastic with double digit tax base growth, but we know if we don't build fiscally sustainably, our ultimate legacy will be a burned out, dime-a-dozen metro-edge community. The Mayor was a supporter after listening to Chuck and gave me the latitude to push the Strong Towns concepts.
"We began at the Council level with the videos by showing the Curbside Chat trailer one week. A couple weeks later, we showed two of the Curbside Chat short videos. We talked for over an hour after watching them. Two weeks later, we watched the next two, and again the concepts were well received and we had a long post-video talk. Two weeks later, we finished the series and talked even longer about how to apply these as we begin our new unified development code and zoning code.
"The concepts of minimizing infrastructure spending, and building denser urban places have already radically impacted our comprehensive plan. The update to the plan was completed just before Christmas. The City Council created an "alternative future" to a build out of suburban sprawl in our new future land use map by planning the northern rural half of our city as rural density and moving to create new large mixed use areas around the interstate road that runs through the city. Our old town grid, which is mainly residential, will be a focus area for mixed-use redevelopment. We will continue to have many available lots for single family homes, due to old agreements that are legally binding with developers, but very little to no new suburban neighborhoods will be built in the new plan. The Unified Development Code and map project will implement this vision. The project kicks off on March 1 with a fantastic team lead by Verdunity's Kevin Shepherd, and team members like Gateway Planning's Scott Polikov."
Michael Kovacs is a Strong Citizen spreading the message of financial resilience with his town. If you like what you're reading and believe in our mission, please do the same! And let us know about it when you do.
(Top image by George Armstrong)