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Monday, Aug. 13, 2018

Strong Towns

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Why ReForm wants you to re-think and reconsider

In 2016 a group called ReForm Shreveport made me queasy. It was the kind of cold, clammy, sick-to-yourstomach feeling of realizing that much of what you had believed for years was flawed.

2016 was the year that this small group of local millennials started working to blow up the status quo, to force the reconsideration of long-held beliefs about community strengths and weaknesses, to put the myths of growth on display, and to encourage what has become a remarkable and overdue public dialogue about future planning.

What spun me in circles was a two-day encounter with a very nice Minnesotan named Chuck Marohn, founder of a nonprofit called Strong Towns, who was in Shreveport at the invitation of ReForm. Marohn’s life work has become encouraging people to take a hard look at the consequences if cities do not deviate from their current paths. During Marohn’s visit, all I thought I knew about growth through annexation, the tax-base importance of wealthy suburbs and the relative drain of poor inner-city neighborhoods was turned on its head. It was a conversation that was both fascinating and terribly troubling.

In 2017, ReForm brought in Urban3 founder Joe Minicozzi, who, using what he likes to call his “fifth-grade math,” gave a number of presentations that showed real challenges to our city’s financial future if changes are not made. Point by point and slide by slide, Minicozzi, using information gleaned from real estate and financial data, pointed out the areas where we (and almost every other city in the country) should be investing, but are often not.

Minicozzi and Marohn pointed out the problems that are coming, and discussion was robust. The questions that came after the speeches and workshops were how to change directions and “fix” the problems and how to best engage the public to play a role.

These questions are what encouraged ReForm to seek out the Cultivate Collaborative of Dallas, who will be making the trip to Shreveport for talks and workshops on Aug. 23 and 24. Chris Lyon, a ReForm founder, says the Cultivate Collaborative is one of just a few groups putting Marohn’s theories into action.

ReForm, says Lyon, has been impressed with Cultivate’s on-the-ground rebuilding of communities that have traditionally struggled economically. “Cultivate has helped us connect the dots between the bigpicture ways we think about our city, and the concrete ways in which we make these ideas reality,” he says.

On Thursday and Friday, Aug. 24 and 25, ReForm Shreveport will be hosting the Cultivate Collaborative in a Cultivating Strong Towns keynote talk and workshop at Central Artstation, 801 Crockett St. Cultivate’s Kevin Shepherd, a professional engineer and sustainability guru, and Matt Lewis, urban designer and city planner, will use the keynote to talk about what it takes to turn ideas into action and hopefully to inspire deeper thinking about cultivating strong communities through our choices.

On Friday beginning at 9 a.m., they will host four sessions on how to make planning and zoning a partner in development and redevelopment, determining what infrastructure really costs to be able to make informed decisions about funding it, how developers can create projects that spur investment and buy-in from the community, and why the future should be more about small businesses than corporate giants. The keynote speech and the workshops are all free.

“We hope that the attendees, be they everyday citizens, developers, business owners, public servants or elected officials, come away with the ‘next best steps’ that can be put into action” says Lyon, who says the “double bottom line” should measure both financial performance and positive impact on the community as a whole.

If you’re interested in finding out more about how decisions being made now will affect your city’s future (whatever city that may be) and how to be more engaged in those decisions, it’s time to start cultivating.

Liz Swaine is the executive director of the Downtown Development Authority. She can be reached at liz@downtownshreveport.com.

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