Maumee Is Named Strongest Town Champion After Defeating 15 Cities In USA And Canada

A group of approximately 45 local supporters of the Strong Towns movement met at the newly opened Uptown Fondue + Wine Bar in Maumee last Wednesday evening to celebrate the big announcement that Maumee has won the 2024 Strongest Town championship. Over the past month, Maumee had steadily advanced through four weekly rounds of the bracket-style competition, eventually besting 15 other cities in the United States and Canada that have also adopted the Strong Towns concept, first made popular by author Charles Marohn. The informal gathering was comprised of a diverse group of Maumee residents, including city officials, council members, city employees, local families and various community and business leaders, who all wanted to be a part of the “listen party” for the official announcement of the 2024 Strongest Town champion. Maumee’s good news was received via a telephone call shortly after 6:00 p.m. and the tone of the crowd shifted quickly to one of joyous celebration and hometown pride. Several individuals took the opportunity to pose for this impromptu photo as they toasted Maumee’s victory with refreshments that were purchased for the gathering with private donations. MIRROR PHOTO BY MIKE McCARTHY
Maumee City Council members (from left) Scott Noonan, Jon Fiscus (head turned away), Gabe Barrow and Josh Harris gather closely to listen to the phone held by Maumee city administrator Dr. Patrick Burtch (right) as Charles Marohn, founder of the Strong Towns movement, officially announces that Maumee has won the 2024 Strongest Town championship. Anticipating the good news with their hands held high are Maumee IT manager Curt Smith and Mayor Jim MacDonald (right). PHOTO COURTESY OF NANCY GAGNET / CITY OF MAUMEE

BY KRISTI FISH | MIRROR REPORTER — After a whirlwind campaign and thousands of votes from former and current residents, business leaders and Strong Towns enthusiasts, Maumee has officially earned the title of Strongest Town.

Maumee competed against 15 other towns in the 2024 Strongest Town Contest, hosted by the Strong Towns organization, which encourages cities of all sizes to create a pattern of development that is financially strong and resilient, making the city safe and livable for all.

Charles Marohn, planner, retired engineer, author and founder of Strong Towns, created the organization to help residents and city leaders improve their communities. The goal is to move from the post-war suburban experiment to cities that are easily accessible for all residents. Strong Towns also encourages cities to become destinations where everyone will want to eat, play, live and work.

The philosophy has since been explored by cities across the continent.

“Many cities across North America – U.S. and Canada – were considered for the award. Maumee was asked to submit an application along with many, many other cities. Strong Towns vetted everybody that came into that and narrowed that field down as to who they felt were really the strongest contenders with what they had going on in their cities,” explained Maumee Mayor Jim MacDonald.

Those cities were each separated into four categories: most progress toward a transparent local budgeting process, best progress toward building safer streets, best public engagement process and most progress toward a robust and responsive housing supply.

In round one, a city was awarded in each category. Maumee had been placed in the safer streets category, but did not win the round.

For all subsequent rounds, a bracket-style competition was held, with Maumee competing against a new town each week for four weeks.

“Looking at the four towns that did win the individual awards that they did in the first round, they’re actually the four towns that we beat each round,” said Maumee City Council member Jon Fiscus. “It’s cool to see that they’re all really great in one area, but we are embracing all of it, and we’re excelling in all those areas.”

Those areas of focus, Fiscus said, are important to council and city officials, who are looking toward the future and how best to support the community in the decades to come, not just right now.

According to Maumee city administrator Dr. Patrick Burtch, the city must analyze all intended and unintended consequences before solving a problem. It must also make choices that are sustainable now and in the future, which is something the Strong Towns philosophy embraces.

“Maumee City Council has understood this philosophy, and every decision we make gets weighed against that philosophy in terms of what makes us sustainable as a community going forward,” Burtch said. “That’s incredible because you don’t see many communities do that.”

Having the top title from Strong Towns means that others outside of the community are also recognizing the effort that goes into creating a community that will exist and thrive far into the future.

“It’s not only good for Maumee, it’s good for our whole area,” MacDonald said. “The whole idea that we’re transforming the way we make roads sharable with everybody is really catching on. I hope it really permeates throughout Northwest Ohio. The net result is that we’re going to make people want to live here and set up their businesses here.”

In order to make transformation sustainable, though, it must be done steadily and thoughtfully, Burtch noted.

It means ordinances and regulations must be carefully planned and there must be reasons for enacting each of these measures, he added.

“When you’re talking about the amount of infrastructure in a community, just in Maumee, if we had to replace every bit of our road, water and sewer, that’s 600 or 700 million dollars. Where is that money coming from? You’ll never have that in a lifetime. What you have to do is start looking more sustainable,” Burtch added.

Changes to make the city more economically sustainable would mean narrower roads that don’t require as much maintenance cost in the future. It means infrastructure that will last and not damage the surrounding environment.

Additionally, up-front costs, like trees and native plants, must be incurred, Burtch said. 

If I’m putting street trees in, we know there’s a direct relation between a canopied city and value of that city and one that doesn’t have that canopy. More trees, more value; less trees, less value,” Burtch said. “That’s what we get people to do – recognize those trends and then act accordingly. It’s pretty simple, people just don’t do that.”

The Strong Towns philosophy, which embraces many of these ideas, has been supported by city officials and council, MacDonald said. Now, it is important to make those philosophies accessible and known to the Maumee community and beyond, Burtch added.

“The root of the Strong Towns philosophy is having pride in your community, whether it’s picking up trash or getting involved in council or a citizen board,” Fiscus said. “It’s all about getting involved on some level, whether it’s a big thing or a little thing.”

More information on Maumee’s efforts in creating a sustainable community that is safe for pedestrians, bicycles and vehicles, will be the focus of the short documentary created by Strong Towns as part of the contest.

A Strong Towns video creator will visit the area this year to help film the documentary about Maumee. According to MacDonald, the city will also formally accept its award at the 2024 Strong Towns National Gathering on May 14-15 in Cincinnati.

“We’re real proud of everything we’ve got going on in Maumee right now,” MacDonald said. “It’s a community vision that we all embrace, and I think you’re going to see more of that as we move forward in the future and how we kind of develop our cities.”

Maumee was named as the winning town during a live announcement with several community members and city officials celebrating the victory at the Uptown Fondue + Wine Bar on April 17.

More information on Strong Towns and its philosophy can be found at strongtowns.org.

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