"Books run out of pages and songs run out of minutes. But the story of the city never ends..." - Aaron Fortner

Aaron Fortner, Founder of  Canvas Planning Group

Aaron Fortner, Founder of Canvas Planning Group

“Stories organize our perceptions of the people, places, and events around us. Stories inform us emotionally, which is why we remember them better than mere information. They are among the most powerful means of human communication, education, and inspiration, precisely because they overlap in our minds with our ways of making sense of other people.” - Chris Malone and Susan T. Fiske, The Human Brand

Cities are the world’s greatest stories. Books run out of pages and songs run out of minutes. But the story of the city never ends. It goes on and on, every generation a new chapter to an endless story.

What I love most about the city story, however, is the opportunity to get into it. We are typically external to great stories, outside observers with brief encounters. But the city story invites you to get inside, up close and personal, and, should you so choose, to come and write the next chapter.

What I love most about the city story , however, is the opportunity to get into it


I’ll never get to go back and be a part of the story of the freedom fighters that began the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. But I can choose to live in Dr. King’s Old Fourth Ward neighborhood today and become part of the current chapter of the story of redemption, equality, and communion playing out on the streets of his community. I’ve never been in any of the past chapters of the story of Detroit, but I can become rooted in the new chapter of renaissance and renewal that is the ongoing story of this industrious city. I’ll never know what it was like in Frank Sinatra’s New York, but I can join in today and find my place in a brand new chapter of the story of America’s First City. 

It is the power of story that makes every city an exciting endeavor. The cities with great stories present a privileged opportunity for us to graft our own lives into the fabric of an unbelievably compelling story. And the cities with regrettable stories are the perfect stages for a new generation of heroes to emerge and to lead the way into a brand new chapter of discovery and redemption.

I hope you agree with me – that we are all attracted to dynamic stories and that ultimately our cities are the world’s greatest stories. And if you do agree, I hope you will further commit to finding the neighborhood in your city that gives you the best opportunity to leverage your passions and capabilities so that the greatest possible story can be told.

And the cities with regrettable stories are the perfect stages for a new generation of heroes to emerge and to lead the way into a brand new chapter of discovery and redemption.

It is my sincerest hope that you and I will live in such a place and in such a way that best enables us to give our city its beautiful stories. Redemptive stories – making right what once was wrong. Heritage stories – celebrating the legacy of good people who have come before. Human stories – affirming the value and dignity of all people. And visionary stories – providing compelling visions for a better future. 

Let’s be storydwellers!

-Aaron Fortner

Q & A with Aaron

1. Where did your passion and vision for "story-dwelling" come from? Was there a certain city or experience that launched you into this idea?

I’m a City Planner and through my work I’m always working with different communities to map out a vision for their future. I started to realize that so much of our planning for the future is aimed at trying to keep up with other areas. The BeltLine is a good example of this. Now that the paths and trails of the BeltLine are built and are successful, there are many other communities that want to catch up and integrate the same types of systems. And that is a great thing. But what I find to be more interesting and more important for long term success is when a community can identify that which make them truly different from the competition. So in my work we call this Keeping Up and Standing Out. Every community should be keeping up with the basic quality of life offerings that other communities have. But we can’t stop there. Communities need to find ways to stand out. So now for me, whether it is in the work I do or just the community I live in, I am passionate about  finding the unique story of a place that gives a sense of value and uniqueness.

2. In the context of Atlanta, we as a city are growing and changing so much right now. What advice and encouragement do you have for those moving into new neighborhoods and learning a new story?

Embrace the uniqueness of your neighborhood. I love that there are so many different neighborhoods in Atlanta, each with their own unique history, identity, and character. The worst thing we could do is to try to import a story that works perfectly in one place into some place else. There are some basic quality of life concepts like safe and walkable streets, proximity to basic goods and services, diversity in mobility and housing opportunities, and accesible open spaces that every community should have throughout the city. Let’s definitely learn from those and make them available wherever we can. But the character and soul of a community should be different from place to place. The unique identity should be a true story, rooted in the authenticity of the local context. Identity and story are not hype, not propaganda, and not slick marketing. They are just great and compelling true stories that are lifted up by the community. So please, let’s all work towards finding the good stories of a community and let’s lift them up, reinforce them, and find ways to keep telling these stories for future generations.

3. This quote is amazing : "It is the power of story that makes every city an exciting endeavor" . What are you most excited about for the story of the city of Atlanta?

I’m excited about the areas of Atlanta that are embracing their unique story. Buford Highway runs through Brookhaven, Chamblee, and Doraville and it is becoming Atlanta’s foodie destination. What was just 25 years ago a suburban highway lined with national chains has become restaurants, cafes, bakeries, ice cream shops, and all kinds of eateries that have been started by people from literally all over the world. The food is amazing and the people behind it all are the exact kinds of people that every dynamic community needs – entrepreneurs! The Buford Highway communities are leveraging this identity to continue to make this place a truly unique destination within the Atlanta region. I’m also excited about the upcoming $3B of investment in transit that the City of Atlanta is about to make which will enable the neighborhoods of the city to continue to write new stories that have never been written before.