I met LeVette Fuller when I was invited to speak in her hometown of Shreveport. I remember being tired and a little worn down when I first got there, but the energy and passion of LeVette and her partners in ReForm Shreveport cured that quickly.
This was one of the most memorable trips I’ve ever had with Strong Towns. It had a big impact on them, but it maybe had a greater impact on me. I’m deeply inspired by Shreveport. It’s one of my favorite places.
LeVette has since been elected to the Shreveport City Council where she has been a powerful voice for new ideas. I’m really proud to know her, learn from her, and be able to call her a friend.
LeVette did me the honor of writing an afterword for my book. It makes me very happy to be able to share it with you now.
by LeVette Fuller, Council Member from Shreveport, Louisiana
In 2016, a group of Shreveport, Louisiana, city leaders and residents met with Charles Marohn to discuss how our city could expand its capacity to self-correct through better policies and practices. As a result, our city and its culture have been changing daily.
As a river city, Shreveport thrived on the spoils of cotton and oil before supporting a strong middle class built primarily on the telecom and automotive industries. Neighborhoods sprung up around the industrial nuclei to create short commutes for workers. During this time, planners left room for growth around these nuclear points connected by Interstate 20. In more recent times, we have been a culture of drivers who watched our local downtown department stores evolve and relocate to upscale retail centers or malls.
Our history is complex and full of beautiful contradictions and painful moments that impact the decisions that have been made in regard to our development pattern over the last 60 years. Shreveport’s core is a checkerboard of cultures and classes with historic neighborhoods patchworked together yet divided by commerce, highways, train tracks and our own psychology. Our population has transitioned from stagnant to declining as members of Generation X and Millennial cohorts leave to find opportunities in larger metropolitan areas. We are finding our way back to the core through the realization that we can no longer afford to acquire any more land area and that we are at reckoning if we want to strengthen our city.
My group, ReForm Shreveport, began in 2016 as four friends on a mission to get Shreveporters to reconsider their relationship with the built environment. We host small group discussions about Strong Towns concepts. We tour the most productive parts of our city and discuss our failures and successes. We communicate with businesses about the potential of human-scaled retail and service sector development. We reach out to city leaders to encourage policy changes. We set goals to take on the “next small thing” that can make a big difference, just as Chuck encouraged us to do in the fall of 2016.
Our first project, which came just weeks after Chuck’s visit, was to encourage walking in the neighborhood with the most walkability outside of downtown. The Highland neighborhood is an historic neighborhood adjacent to downtown and features a mix of grand homes dating back at least a century as well as modest, character-filled craftsmen bungalows crafted during the city’s post-war boom. The tree-lined streets border blocks where some of the richest and poorest citizens in our city reside and, in some cases, live next door to each other. ReForm Shreveport began cleaning up the neighborhood’s central park to increase usage and pedestrian accessibility. We partnered with a local permaculture influenced farmer to mitigate erosion and save trees. We gained the trust of the city’s parks department by working with some intrepid public officials who helped with the park’s beautification. We canvassed the neighborhood to learn how the residents around the park used it (not much) as well as their hope for a safer and more useful space that they would use more often. Highland Park sees many more visitors today than it saw five years ago.
Because of our efforts, more people are articulating not only their desire for change, but are dreaming bigger (or smaller?) than ever before as a result of learning the tools and the methods of cultivating a stronger town.
There comes a point where you understand policy and the role of the public in shaping policy so well that your friends see opportunities that you don’t immediately see for yourself. Multiple friends suggested that I run for office. I finally heeded the call when I realized that we have an opportunity to push for sound decision making about how we shape our city for future generations. Thousands of people in my city want to encourage growth in our core and choose leaders who aren’t afraid of making tough decisions to improve our infrastructure, encourage change, and show people what is possible if you just work to improve the next small thing within your purview. They elected me to city council at the end of 2018.
Shreveport is a work in progress, but we have good bones. City council members and members of our new mayor’s administration often quote pieces of the Strong Towns message in council meetings. We have a number of projects in progress with different neighborhood groups looking to calm traffic on their streets and encourage bicycle and pedestrian activity. Not every project is perfect, not every implementation is as we might initially envision, but the dialogue and intent with which our community acts is beginning to evolve thanks in large part to the perspective we have gained through the visionary call to action that Chuck is instilling in cities and towns like ours across the country.
This can be your future too. Not a utopian society, but a society of communication and shared vision that values the human-scale, the connection with neighbors, and the understanding of what being a community really means.
About the Author
LeVette Fuller represents District B in the Shreveport City Council. She is also a founding member of Re:Form Shreveport, an organization dedicated to bringing citizens together to share ideas and find implementable solutions to improve Shreveport’s built environment.