Welcome to the next match-up in the third annual Strongest Town Competition! In this round, 16 towns are facing off and 8 will advance to the next segment of the contest based on your votes.

We invite you to read the answers that representatives from these two towns provided to questions about economic resilience, citizen involvement, land use and more, then vote for the strongest. Can't decide? Read commentaries by Strong Towns members to help inform you choice here.

Voting closes at 12pm CT on Friday, March 9.


Pensacola, Florida

Entry submitted by: Studer Community Institute and Pensacola News Journal

How are residents in your town involved in the life of the community? Share a few examples of times when residents came together to work on a project or make decisions about the future of the town.

Pensacola has a strong core of engaged citizens who are invested in reshaping Pensacola and empowering citizen-led change. In fact, one of our citizen leaders, Quint Studer, just wrote a book (due out in April) that tells the story of Pensacola’s transformation into a vibrant city: Building a Vibrant Community: How Citizen-Powered Change is Reshaping America. There are dozens of groups working to make a Pensacola a great community, but to name just a few: Pensacola Young Professionals, CivicCon Steering Committee, UWF Center for Entrepreneurship, Race and Reconciliation, Think Beyond, Bay Area Resource Council, Gulf Coast African American Chamber of Commerce, Impact 100 Pensacola Bay Area.

Community Maritime Park. In his book, Building a Vibrant Community, Quint Studer tells the story of the 2-year effort to get local approval to build a baseball stadium on the waterfront in downtown Pensacola. He emphasized how instrumental the Pensacola Young Professionals and the minority community leaders were in getting citizens engaged and the CMP referendum passed. As he wrote, “This was a defining moment in Pensacola’s history.” The park has helped to open up Pensacola’s waterfront to the community, brought a high-level of activity and pedestrian traffic downtown, and was found to be the most highly used park in the city in a study by University of West Florida.

Pensacola and Perdido Bays Estuary Program (PPBEP). In 2017, Pensacola was awarded a $2 million, 4-year grant from EPA to establish an Estuary Program for Pensacola and Perdido Bays. This grant will enable the creation of the organizational structure and strategic plan for restoring and conserving these estuaries and watersheds, which are foundational to the environmental and economic health of the region. The Bay Area Resource Council, an interlocal governmental body, took leadership on preparing this grant application, coalescing the efforts of more than 25 government agencies, non-profit organizations, and businesses. BARC’s Technical Advisory Committee worked cooperatively for more than a year to organize and execute a winning strategy and proposal, with stiff competition from two other candidate organizations in Northwest Florida.

At Strong Towns we believe that financial solvency is a prerequisite for longterm prosperity. What steps has your community taken to ensure its financial security? Do local leaders adequately do the math on new investments proposed in your town to ensure that theyll be able to afford them now and afford their maintenance in the future?

We believe that our local leaders are not practiced at “doing the math” on new investments, but we are working hard to help them begin to do so. Through the vision and generosity of Studer Community Institute and the Pensacola News Journal, we are hosting a year-long conference series, called CivicCon, to educate our community leaders and citizens on how to make Pensacola an even stronger city in which to live, invest, grow, and prosper.

CivicCon’s opening speaker was Chuck Marohn who started our civic conversation with an emphasis on making choices based on attaining long-term financial sustainability. One of our upcoming CivicCon speakers is Joe Minicozzi of Urban 3, who specializes in financial analysis of land use decisions and patterns in communities. Joe will provide specific analyses of Pensacola as part of his visit, which we will use to further educate local officials and the community about how to make financially-strong investments.

Because of the millions of dollars of oil spill-related funds committed to our community over the next 15-20 years, various local, state, and federal agencies involved with the planning of expenditures have held hundreds of public meetings over the past 6 years to discuss where and how to invest these funds for the best long-term benefit to the community. This ongoing public dialogue has had at its crux how to spend this money wisely and to not waste it or imperil the next generation with maintenance costs they can’t afford.

A walking tour of our town would reveal a compact, walkable downtown overlooking Pensacola Bay, with historical architecture, tree-lined streets and appealing parks.

If we took a walking tour through your town what would we see? How does your community use its land to the fullest?

A walking tour would reveal a compact, walkable downtown overlooking Pensacola Bay, with historical architecture, tree-lined streets and appealing parks—an amalgam of Spanish, British, French, and American cultures that prospered here over the past 450 years. Palafox Street is the heart of downtown and named one of the 10 best streets in America in 2013.

Downtown is humming with construction and recently completed new buildings, including a YMCA, a 5-story hotel, a 250-unit apartment building, 2 banks, 2 office buildings, plus more under renovation. This renaissance has created the momentum to repurpose empty buildings, parking lots, and tracts with land uses that will further strengthen our vibrant downtown.

On a monthly Gallery Night, you’d see Palafox Street closed to traffic and filled with thousands of people, from Millennials to Boomers, sampling art, music, food, and spirits. On a Saturday morning stroll on Martin Luther King Plaza, you’d experience the weekly Palafox Market, where you can buy locally grown fresh produce, baked goods, and arts and crafts.

A 5- to 10-minute walk north and west of downtown are large areas of lower income neighborhoods needing many improvements. New development is occurring, but existing residents complain that it does not fit the existing neighborhood character. In response, the City is conducting a planning process to introduce simple form-based development standards to these neighborhoods. These standards would specify off-grade homes, controls on driveways and parking, proper placement of porches, and other measures to ensure that new projects match the existing character.

Though our waterfront lands were poorly used or neglected for decades, we are beginning to reconnect downtown to the bay and create a dynamic and attractive waterfront. The first major step was the redevelopment of a 27-acre waterfront property from an environmentally contaminated former industrial site into Community Maritime Park, a mixed-use development intended to attract people downtown. The next was the removal of the downtown wastewater treatment plant, which opened 33 acres of land adjacent to the Park for redevelopment. These projects have been the catalysts for new developments in downtown and west Pensacola.

At Strong Towns we believe transportation investments are a means to an end not an end in themselves. How is your city using transportation investments to make your community more successful?

In 2012 the City of Pensacola completed the first “road diet” in Northwest Florida, in which a high-speed four lane road through the heart of downtown and along the waterfront was dramatically transformed. The road was reduced to two lanes, with leftover space allocated to street trees, landscaping, wide sidewalks, and bicycle lanes. This was a particularly strategic investment, as at the time the City was also building Community Maritime Park and a baseball stadium on the waterfront adjacent to Main Street. In its previous state, the road effectively cut off the people of the city from being able to easily and safely access the new Park. Without this strategic intervention, the Park would never have been successful in bringing activity downtown.

In 2012 the City of Pensacola completed the first “road diet” in Northwest Florida, in which a high-speed four lane road through the heart of downtown and along the waterfront was dramatically transformed.

In addition, the City recently submitted a funding request to Triumph Gulf Coast (BP economic settlement funds) to complete a similar project on West Cervantes Street a short distance outside the downtown core area. This corridor is another high-speed State road built through what was once a thriving neighborhood.

The area supports a high population of very low income and minority residents who have created one of the city’s highest concentrations of pedestrian and bicycle traffic. That combination has made it an unsafe and even deadly corridor. It is also a focus area of revitalization efforts that would bring some of the success seen in the urban core out to an area of early to mid-20th Century settlement. The Historic Brownsville Community Association is one of the most active associations in the area and is helping to spearhead support for this and other improvements in the area. Creating a more humane corridor will greatly support those efforts.

Finally, the City has a very large and mostly intact street grid that helps to reduce traffic congestion and make the city vastly more walkable and bicycle-friendly by helping to shorten distances between locations. This excellent street grid is a foundation that supports additional transportation investments and fiscally sound urban revitalization.

Tell us about your community's local economy. Who are the key players big and small and how do they help your town to be financially strong? What local businesses are you most proud of?

Pensacola’s economy is strong because of its diversity. The tourist industry is one of the most important, contributing $849 million in 2015, a 26% increase over 2014. The expansion is attributed to more people from different areas learning what Pensacola has to offer. Growth in tourism is being targeted during the area's spring and fall shoulder seasons.

The military drives 35% of Northwest Florida’s economy. Military presence is expected to remain strong because of the strategic significance of local bases. Naval Air Station Pensacola, is home to the Blue Angels, the Navy’s flight demonstration team, as well as the National Naval Aviation Museum, which draws 850,000 guests per year, resulting in a $47 million regional economic impact.

The service industry, including health care and banking, is the third largest contributor to the local economy. The largest non-government employers in the Pensacola metro area are Navy Federal Credit Union, Baptist Health Care, and Sacred Heart Health Systems.

We are proud of:

The Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, renowned globally for its research in robotics and artificial intelligence, for being an early driver in revitalizing the community so IHMC could attract world-class talent to Pensacola. IHMC invited urban planning experts to help solve how to create a downtown where young people want to work, live, and play.

Great Southern Restaurants for developing several highly successful and pioneering restaurants—which are breathing life into previously underutilized areas. For example, the Five Sisters Blues Cafe in Belmont-Devilliers district was the first full renovation in a neighborhood that was once the center of African American life in Pensacola.

Innisfree Hotels for their commitment to making a difference in the community. Among their local projects is “From the Ground Up” Community Garden, begun on an abandoned plot under the overpass in downtown Pensacola, which has blossomed into a hub for education, art, music, and sustainability.

Baptist Health Care for their interest in improving the neighborhoods in their community. After Chuck Marohn spoke at CivicCon, Baptist invited him to help them develop ideas about how their organization can contribute to the well-being of surrounding neighborhoods.

After the beginning of downtown revitalization in the early 2000s, Hurricane Ivan decimated Pensacola in 2004. But with crisis comes opportunity.

What is your favorite thing about your town?

The city’s historic legacy and resilience. Pensacola was the first European settlement in America. Most of the Spanish settlers’ ships were sunk and supplies ruined by a hurricane, weeks after arriving in 1559, and the settlement abandoned after 2 years. Resettled by the Spanish in 1698, Pensacola changed hands among the Spanish, French, and British, growing in importance as a strategic military outpost and shipping port. Pensacola was the place where Florida was ceded to the U.S. from Spain in 1821. The city’s size and prosperity rose and fell with the rise and fall of the timber export and chemical industries in the late 19th century through mid-20th century. and Suburban development from 1960s to 1990s, coupled with poor land use decisions, led to shuttering of many downtown businesses and the general decline and neglect of downtown.

After the beginning of downtown revitalization in the early 2000s, Hurricane Ivan decimated Pensacola in 2004. But with crisis comes opportunity. The hurricane’s damage to the Main Street WWTP (one of the poor decisions referenced earlier) led to the relocation of the plant and development of the Community Maritime Park in the late 2000’s, igniting a new era of redevelopment downtown. Then in 2010, oil from the largest oil spill ever in the Gulf of Mexico washed up on Pensacola Beach and sent Pensacola’s tourism economy into a tail spin. The area’s economy has recovered and is beginning to receive an infusion of compensatory funds that will fund a series of catalytic projects over the next 2 decades, fueling the continued revitalization and strengthening of Pensacola.

After enduring four and a half centuries of growth and development through periods of prosperity, disaster, and decline under the differing governments of five sovereign nations, Pensacola’s history of resilience is an inspiring paradigm for overcoming today’s challenges and building a vibrant community for tomorrow.


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Palmetto Bay, Florida

Entry submitted by: Julia Brazell Cespedes and Ed Silva

How are residents in your town involved in the life of the community? Share a few examples of times when residents came together to work on a project or make decisions about the future of the town.

We prevented a major and antique county imposed bridge project that would change the safety and neighborhood atmosphere, as well as increase cut through traffic. Our neighborhood came together and fought the counties Band-Aid approach that only appeased other cities Who want to use our neighborhood roads as a Cutthrough route. Several hundreds of neighbors were involved either through planning, donating money, or walking the neighborhood streets notifying residence about the bridge proposal. Some residents were able to use their social media skills to notify more people or use their computer skills to help the elderly neighbors fill out the No bridge petition online and help them send their very first email. We had major news coverage.

What I especially am proud of is the fact that neighborhood action planning and involvement continues because we felt that since everyone is a part of the traffic problem we need to continue to support our cities transportation shift of getting more cars off the road and more people utilizing public transit. One neighbors idea that continues weekly is her giving up her car during the work week and taking our metro rail transit and recording her commute, interviewing others that are using public transit and then posting it on social media. The metro tails postings encourage the use of public transit as well as notify the county a daily issues that transit writers deal with.

Another project our neighborhood came together on is improving our development regulations. Developers were attempting to build 27 story buildings, there by taking away our village like atmosphere. As a community, residents got the word out about the possible change in neighborhood structure and along with our village council and administration updated our zoning code. Through workshops, Townhall meetings, charades, serve surveys and new development committee's, we discussed how to bring our neighborhood vision to reality and not let developers take over. 

At Strong Towns we believe that financial solvency is a prerequisite for longterm prosperity. What steps has your community taken to ensure its financial security? Do local leaders adequately do the math on new investments proposed in your town to ensure that theyll be able to afford them now and afford their maintenance in the future?

Financial solvency is not an area that most residents are aware or take pardon. From my perspective the villages intent to include, educate and explain the what if's and the if this then that future scenarios or forecast is a step in ensuring our financial security. When residence want a particular Service or neighborhood feature or structure and ask our village to pay for it, village employees in their attempt to accommodate the resident get to work on inquiring it's possibility. The outcome is then given in detail through several workshops, surveys and more awareness conversations to make sure a diverse percentage of our neighborhood is notified and queried on the possible new expenses that Will affect the villages ability to prosper and continue to offer the same service level. Residents are included in the annual yearly budget plan revisions as well as the long-term capital five-year plan through several types of meetings, workshops, etc. As part of the new business application for incoming new businesses, businesses are encouraged to take part in the community to create community awareness which encourages residence to become aware of their services. At the request of the residence a village of Palmetto Bay community center is being proposed. The administration through community workshops has informed us that the community center is highly conceivable and the information relayed to us included they're evaluating the potential revenues based on a conservative probable and aggressive scenarios. We didn't need to determine what should be incorporated into the community center and potential fee structure. This attention to financial details by confirming the villages investment in the community centers maintenance again from a residence perspective build long-term prosperity.

Our land development usage is continuously transitioning to fit the communities needs and strives to keep it small town feel.

If we took a walking tour through your town what would we see? How does your community use its land to the fullest?

Our land development usage is continuously transitioning to fit the communities needs and strives to keep it small town feel. At the same time, the neighborhood keeps its feeling of openness which is refreshing and SOUT sought after to be able to get away from the every day work hustle and bustle. We are currently transforming our dilapidated commercial quarter, making it more of A thriving mixed use area that encourages our residents to visit more local businesses, says reducing our footprint and encouraging the use of public transit. Although we already have established five parks we are currently adopting an area that is an open space except for the existing hi towered electricity poles. The area is currently off-limits to residents. By adopting the area and making it a park, residence as well as our neighbors are able to utilize the land in more of a recreational way. Our community tree committee is highly involved in getting additional trees through local county and state grants as well as utilize our street tree master plan to create an attractive environment that will complement, and hands are unique environmental resources and create additional street canopy for residents and visitors.

At Strong Towns we believe transportation investments are a means to an end not an end in themselves. How is your city using transportation investments to make your community more successful?

Palmetto Bay is sandwiched between two neighboring municipalities that create a hostile Street environment due to the cut through traffic. Although the village has implemented many traffic coming structures and measures such as traffic circles, speed bumps, no turn street signage, the complete Street project implementation encouraging the roadway design concept for all types of transportation modes to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclist, motorist and transit writers of all ages and abilities is what will make our village most successful. Through community engagement, our village is determined to educate the resident at the residence by making them aware that they are part of the traffic problem in our current one car one person mode. Through many workshops, meetings, surveys, studies and even resident created videos, our village is transitioning two more of a transit oriented mindset. By creating the awareness of our auto oriented streets and it's problematic implement amplifications such as our neighborhood health, safety and welfare, slowly but Shirley residence begin to understand and except the purpose of the villages traffic calming measures and except new mobility options such as more biking, walking and public transit trips. Our counsel and Village administration investments involve constant representation along with our neighboring units apologies advocating with the county and state legislature for our much-needed public transit allotted monies and initiatives. This council out reach in my opinion decreases the hostel Street environment, decreases our neighborhood disconnection by encouraging the residence to break down current bureaucratic silos by advocating it's neighborhoods public transit needs.

Through community engagement, our village is determined to educate residents by making them aware that they are part of the traffic problem in our current one-car one-person mode.

Tell us about your community's local economy. Who are the key players big and small and how do they help your town to be financially strong? What local businesses are you most proud of?

Two of the business key players in our local economy are Palmer Trinity school and south motors. Palmer Trinity allows residents to use it's campus resources, such as the library and their athletic fields. This sense of open environment usage allows the community to feel more connected and involved. They also sponsor our annual Veterans Day breakfast as well as donated monies for our mini traffic studies. South motors donated the land for for our new veterans Park. They employ a high number of Palmetto Bay residence and sponsor our annual spring picnic and our annual Fourth of July celebration.

What is your favorite thing about your town?

Overall it's our communities energy. Besides our appealing Parks encouraging us to spend time in them my favorite thing is the fact that my neighbors along with the villages counsel and administration seem to know what we have and are willing to fight to keep it. It's definitely the communities energy during this transitional area of growth.


Voting is now closed.