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Strong Towns visits San Marcos to talk about prosperity

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Photo by: Sam King | Staff Photographer

Charles Marohn, the president and founder of Strong Towns, visited San Marcos on Tuesday to inform the community about the financial health of the city.

“At the end of the day, what we are trying to do is get cities to look at development patterns that are financially more productive,” Marohn said. “A strong town is really a mindset of recognizing that, and then taking small steps in the direction of creating development patterns that are productive.”

The Minnesota-based media nonprofit started as a blog in 2008, but is now an international movement with over 1,000 members. Marohn travels from city to city to share the Strong Town principles. The organization centers its vision around strong citizens who care about their cities, towns and neighborhoods.

The event was a part of the Strong Towns Texas tour, including Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth and Arlington. After hearing Strong Towns would be in the area, the San Marcos Main Street and Planning and Development Services Department jumped on the opportunity to invite Marohn back following his 2014 visit.

“I’m kind of like the Johnny Appleseed of this message,” Marohn said. “I’ve been to cities (with a population) as small as (one hundred)and as large as New York City, and we find people who want to talk about this message everywhere.”

The all-day affair featured four events free to the public where Marohn first addressed the financial health of our places, and later catered specifically to San Marcos during a walking tour. Among those in attendance were many of the city’s decision makers, including city staff and some council members.

“It’s really just an educational opportunity for folks and for people who are interested in community building and planning to be able to hear his mission,” said Abby Gillfillan, planning manager for the city’s Planning and Development Department.

Alex Arlinghaus, Texas State alumnus and intern for Main Street, said he was delighted with Marohn’s visit.

“I couldn’t believe it. I’ve always seen him as an online figurehead,” Arlinghaus said. “He had so much good stuff to say about the areas we want (to improve on)—south of the square and right by Rio Vista.”

Arlinghaus said Marohn’s focus was largely on how San Marcos can concentrate on small projects that won’t cost the city a lot of money. With suggestions for utilizing off-street parking and working to improve conditions from the bottom up, Marohn said San Marcos is open to new ideas.

With its passion for community, strong neighborhoods and local businesses, San Marcos made it into the “elite eight” of the Strong Towns contest in March. The contest featured over 16 towns across the nation, but San Marcos was eventually beat out by Sandusky, OH.

“Not only (does San Marcos) have the great core of the city and the neighborhoods that are starting to build around it, but you have this kind of ethic of trying out things,” Marohn said. “When we look at San Marcos, there’s a strong mindset here that is pushing it into the right direction.”