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CivicCon Focuses On Pensacola's Long-Term Growth

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strongtowns.org
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Tuesday night kicks off “CivicCon” – an initiative by the Studer Community Institute aimed at collecting ideas about handling future growth in Pensacola.

CivicCon is short for “Civic Conversations.” Organizer Christian Wagley says a number of decisions regarding Pensacola are looming on the horizon.

“The infrastructure, the Triumph Gulf Coast money that’s coming, and our downtown is growing and kind of redeveloping,” said Wagley. “It seemed like a good time to bring in some national speakers to talk about some of the smart and great things that are happening in other cities that might inspire us.”

Wagley was asked by SCI to locate and bring in some of the top urban planners in the United States. He set out looking for speakers on a broad range of issues.

“Things like how local governments make good decisions on the use of limited taxpayer money,” said Wagley. “There a big movement going on nationally in making cities more walkable and more bikeable, [and] how government really connects with its citizens.”

Kicking off the nearly year-long series is Chuck Marohn, the founder of the group Strong Towns – a non-profit based in Brainerd, Minnesota. Wagley says Marohn is the ideal leadoff man.

“It just seemed like Strong Towns was a great name – a great message for starting out the CivicCon series,” Wagley said. “I mean, who doesn’t want to be a strong town, right?”

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Chuck Marohn, founder of Strong Towns

Marohn’s topic for Tuesday night’s appearance at Pensacola Little Theater is, “Is Pensacola a Strong City?”

Well, is it?

“I think the short answer for Pensacola and for all North American cities is ‘no’ and we’re going to explain why,” said Marohn. “There’s [sic] a lot of ways that Pensacola -- and other cities in the region, too – can take steps to become stronger, to become financially healthy.”

Marohn – a civil engineer and land-use planner -- points to growth after World War II, which he says has created a lot of liability for cities. The key he says, is finding ways to do such things differently.

To move forward says Marohn, sometimes you have to take a step back.

“When we build today, we get a lot of benefits from a cash standpoint; but we take on a lot of liabilities,” said Marohn. “When you look at it over the long term, all that roads, all that sidewalks, all that pipe that we promised to maintain; that bill comes due someday.”

And when that day comes, Marohn says they find that the tax base created to pay for it is inadequate. Before then, he says cities have to begin the conversation on making investments that are financially productive.

One such city Marohn uses as an example is Lafayette, Louisiana, where Strong Towns did some work on financial modeling. He says Lafayette is a good town for Pensacola to consider.

“Lafayette is broke; they are insolvent,” Marohn said. “The median family in Lafayette pays $1,500 a year to the city in taxes. In order for [the city] to make good on every promise they’ve made, they would need to go to $9,200 a year. That’s one out of every five dollars a family there makes.”

Organizer Christian Wagley says the schedule calls for about one speaker per month beginning in January. He was asked what they hope to take from the series.

“Through the Studer Community Institute and their ‘Pensacola Dashboard,’ they say what gets measured gets improved,” Wagley said. “And so with each speaker, we hope to come up with one or two new items to add to that dashboard.”

A second goal is to keep the discussion going so that it leads to action. Chuck Marohn speaks Tuesday night at six o’clock, at the Pensacola Little Theater, sponsored by the Studer Community institute and the Pensacola News Journal.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.