The mayor of Smithville, Missouri, walks nearly everywhere.
To the nearby elementary school with his daughter. To City Hall. To the new downtown coffee shop that doubles as a community theater at night. To the downtown food coop that serves seniors and school kids, and also operates as Smithville’s first farmer’s market.
Before last summer, Damien Boley lived in a Northland subdivision with his wife and daughter and lived a commuter lifestyle. Then a brick building downtown that had been built in the 1880s gained a new landlord.
Spotting an opportunity to invest in Smithville and “reduce our carbon footprint,” Boley rented a corner space and opened a bike coop, where he sells bikes and rents other sports equipment and tools. Then he eyed some upstairs rooms. They were rough, but habitable. After some work, Boley and his family became downtown dwellers.
Smithville, with a population of about 10,000, sits in the northwest corner of Clay County, where voters lean conservative and helped Donald Trump beat Joe Biden countywide by more than four points in 2020. It seems like a risky terrain for a mayor to go all in on climate action.
But Boley says his goals for a walkable community with abundant green space aren’t much different from the wishes of people who live close to Smithville Lake for its hunting and fishing opportunities.
“Is it focusing on climate change or is it focusing on keeping our natural surroundings?” he says. “However you want to phrase it, it’s keeping the beauty that we have and wanting to not destroy things.”
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