This week, we are asking those who read, believe in and benefit from Strong Towns to support us by becoming members of the Strong Towns movement. Our small nonprofit is supported primarily through donations from members like you and we need your help to keep doing this important work.
John Perkins is a Strong Towns member and long-time resident of Shreveport, Louisiana. Today, he's sharing his story of how Strong Towns helped him work with his neighbors to fight back against a harmful and expensive highway project. Head to our Success Stories page to see more of the Strong Towns message has helped accomplish.
Road weary and somewhat dazed, I wondered off of I-49 in Shreveport, Louisiana two summers ago in 2015 and into our local Buffalo Wild Wings to pick up dinner for the kids after two days working a tragic news story out of town. Waiting to pick up wings coincidentally was a friend, Dr. Brian Salvatore, PhD., who, in the course of small talk, asked me if I was aware of the local controversial I-49 inner city connecter (ICC) that was being proposed again to go through a long struggling Black neighborhood called Allendale in Shreveport. By my recollection this was settled as a “No Build Alternative” in 1995, once and for all, but Dr. Salvatore insisted that the ICC project was back on the table and asked me to take a look at it.
My first thought was that there must be a good reason to bring this ICC project back to life, so I went to the Facebook page of the group that was excited about it and asked them, “What makes this project a good idea for Shreveport? I got back glib platitudes: “You know it's going to be awesome. It will revitalize the neighborhood and our downtown.” One banker even said that in his career he'd “seen these things work over and over.” The Facebook page owner suggested that questions like mine had already been asked and answered on his page a year earlier and I was welcome to look them up myself. So I did.
I started with a simple Google search, “Inner City Connectors”, and up popped my answer, and answers to questions I had wondered about as I drove all over the United States throughout the course of my job. Among all of the articles and studies telling me that most inner city highways were being removed from cities after causing blight for decades, came an amazing wealth of information from StrongTowns.org.
I began sharing these Strong Towns articles with the Allendale neighborhood group that was studying the ICC and started going to their meetings. At the beginning of 2016, we realized that we needed to confront our city council and our parish commission. We had to say something, even though it felt like the ICC was a done deal, what with the whole business community lined up in favor of a route through the city.
The public meeting didn't seem to go well for us. I had never spoken to the council before and I was nervous and emotional. The media was there with their cameras. Several members of our group got up to speak, and we took our time, each of us allotted three minutes. When we were done, the council voted against us, and we were roundly scolded by three of the council members.
My own councilman told us we didn't know what we were talking about and they did. Had they heard what we were saying about border vacuums and urban freeway removals all over the country that we had read about on Strong Towns? We got up and left the council chamber, but the media followed us out into the hall and started asking really good questions. Local media gave us more time in front of a wider audience to make our case—a case researched from the many articles on Strong Towns.
We became convinced as a result of our studies that we weren't just working to save the Allendale neighborhood from destruction, but that all of Shreveport was at stake. That's the day I realized that I had become a “Strong Citizen” and so had a lot of my new friends in the struggle. We knew what we were talking about and were convincing others.
I was really fortunate last year to help bring Chuck Marohn to Shreveport for an amazing weekend of events that spurred on the conversation started earlier that year and we saw local government officials at the events Chuck hosted.
Inspired now, I regularly exchange emails with local government officials and speak at public meetings. It's easy now because I know what I'm talking about, even if the officials don't or won't admit that they do. I even go to committee meetings when I can, and the back and forth conversations that happen there are very rewarding. Strong Towns’ articles, podcasts and the online chats have supported us for two years now, and the recent series of articles on Shreveport's ICC crisis that came out of Chuck's visit here last year has strengthened us and educated Shreveport's citizens.
I'm forever changed by Strong Towns, and along with my new friends in our once small neighborhood group, #AllendaleStrong, we are Strong Citizens making Shreveport into a Strong Town.
Do you want to see more neighborhoods and cities transformed by the Strong Towns message? Become a member today.
Your contributions allow us to support people like John in their efforts to make their towns stronger and their governments more fiscally responsible.
(Top image of #AllendaleStrong meeting courtesy of Re-Form Shreveport)