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Area leaders learn how to build Strong Towns

Alex Doty • May 19, 2017 at 1:00 PM

Leaders and local stakeholders from across Ottawa County converged in Grand Haven on Thursday, filling the Community Center for a lesson on building strong communities.

Charles Marohn, president of the non-profit group called Strong Towns, led a discussion that explored issues related to development patterns, infrastructure, financial resiliency and quality placemaking practices in local communities.

"The reality is, we're in a completely new place,” he said. “Nobody has ever reconfigured an entire continent the way we have over the last 60 years, and we're now living with the ramifications of that. To get out of that is going to require some humility, it's going to require us to think differently, (and) it's going to require us to try new things.

"If we realize cities are complex systems that we quite haven't figured out yet,” Marohn added, “we can free ourselves up to approach them in a healthy way.”

Nearly 150 people attended Thursday’s all-day workshop. The event was designed to open up new ways of thinking about development by examining both new and old-but-forgotten concepts.

"We're trying to figure out how do you make post-housing crash cities work,” Marohn said. “You don't make them work by throwing a trillion dollars at new infrastructure. You make them work by making good use of the stuff you've already got. How do we do that? We don't have a lot of good models for it. We're trying to figure it out.”

Marohn, who also hosts the “Strong Towns” podcast, has spoken about planning and development issues in dozens of towns and cities across North America.

"We’re a non-profit organization that is trying to share a message about growth and development, and capital investment, and how we can do things different in our cities to help people be wealthier, more successful, and help our cities be financially stronger,” he said.

Marohn noted that he and his organization are doing everything they can to share their message in as many different ways as possible.

"What you see is our conversation is building, and you're getting more and more people in the room," he said. "What starts as kind of a whisper has now grown into a bigger roar of more people wanting to engage and wanting to do things differently."

Thursday’s event was hosted as a collaboration between the City of Grand Haven and Ottawa County.

"It's a good collaborative effort and I look forward to the opportunity to having these collaborative discussions in the future, as well,” noted Ottawa County Planner Paul Sachs.

Sachs said it was great to have Marohn in attendance for the day-long workshop.

"I’m familiar with Chuck's work, but this is my first time seeing him in person at a workshop,” Sachs said. “We're really pleased to have him.”

Sachs said he was impressed with the turnout at the workshop, and noted that attendees represented a good cross-section of the community.

"We have local planners to elected officials to developers to architects,” he said. “It's wonderful. It just demonstrates the level of interest people have in trying to get an understanding of a need in a shift in thinking.”

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