Strong Towns Leads Vital Conversation in Pensacola


Two weeks ago, Chuck Marohn gave a Strong Towns presentation in Pensacola, FL for the kickoff of CivicCon, a yearlong series of conversations and presentations to discuss the future of Pensacola. We’re deeply thankful to Strong Towns enthusiasts Quint Studer and Christian Wagley for helping to make this happen.

To frame this year-long initiative and explain their role in it, the Pensacola News Journal put together an overview article. If you look closely, you’ll probably see echoes of your own town here:

Downtown Pensacola is bustling, and metal frames denoting new construction dot the skyline from Garden Street to Nine Mile Road. Unemployment is way down, and job growth is way up. […] There is excitement around the potential for new jobs and industry through initiatives like VT Mobile Aerospace Engineering and The Bluffs. […] There is more construction taking place now than at anytime in modern history. Add in beaches, Bush Whackers, the Blue Angels and downtown's assortment of bars and boutiques, and Pensacola is a pretty fantastic place to live.

But it could be better.

It's easy to forget — or ignore — that for all the prosperity downtown and on the beach, roughly one in four of our local children live in poverty. Two in five residents are living check to check with no significant savings of which to speak.  

There are dozens of neighborhoods where the streets flood anytime there is a sustained rain. There are just as many neighborhoods where kids can't walk to school because there are no sidewalks or safe routes. 

We borrow and spend millions supporting new roads, interchanges, drainage and subdivisions on the outskirts of town, while in the heart of Pensacola, homes and businesses sit vacant. Slow, convoluted and inconsistent development processes have discouraged and driven off entrepreneurs.

Chuck Marohn speaks at CivicCon

Chuck Marohn speaks at CivicCon

This is the story of so many American towns; things might look shiny and successful on the outside, but just under the surface (or in the adjacent neighborhoods) debt, disintegration and poverty are lurking. Pensacola in particular has an urgent need to figure out a better model for development because they are about to receive $300 million in BP oil spill settlement money. So local organizations including the Studer Community Institute and the Pensacola News Journal (PNJ) have come together to spend a year in public conversation about how to grow stronger and to use this money in a productive, incremental, resilient manner.

One important stakeholder in these conversations is the residents of Pensacola. Kevin Robinson at PNJ writes:

We want everyone to come together to one table, for one ongoing civil conversation with the goal of taking action.

We're in it for the long haul, and we want you in with us.

The yearlong conversation will be framed around six pillars: Good Planning, Building Prosperity, Civic Engagement, Quality of Life, Community Caring and Infrastructure. Chuck Marohn led the initial conversation on Good Planning and Strong Towns plans to continue to participate in this dialogue.

In addition to that introductory article about CivicCon, PNJ also ran an excellent summary of Chuck’s talk which you can read here. And Strong Towns member and event sponsor, Quint Studer, also put together this concise synopsis of key Strong Towns concepts gleaned from the presentation. You can see a video recording of this Curbside Chat in Pensacola here. Listen to a PNJ podcast interview with Chuck here.

One commenter on the Studer Community Institute website remarked on Chuck’s presentation:

[M]ost of all I love how he tied it up with the need for a strong town to do the next small thing. What is the next small thing that is needed in Pensacola? […] What would you do in your neighborhood?

As Chuck said during his presentation at CivicCon, “All it takes is for us to humble ourselves and see success a little bit differently.” That’s how we begin to build strong towns.

(All photos by Tony Giberson, courtesy of PNJ)

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