Next City isn’t just a news website, we are a nonprofit organization with a mission to inspire social, economic and environmental change in cities. Part of how we do that is by connecting our readers to urban changemakers and holding an annual Vanguard conference bringing together 40 top young urban leaders. Matt Tomasulo is a member of the 2012 Vanguard class.
Name: Matt Tomasulo
Current Occupation: Founder and Chief Instigator, Walk [Your City]
Hometown: Hartford, CT
Current City: Raleigh, NC
I drink: Coffee in the morning, tea in the evening (latest favorite brew tool – the Impress!)
I am an: Extrovert, but covet my personal “Matt time”
I get to work by: Bike (~7 min), sometimes walk (~20 min), and my little Tacoma lives at the office for as-needed errands.
The area I grew up in is: Suburbs, but haven’t gone back for 10 years. I highly value my choice to walk/bike places!
What was your first job? In high school, I was a driving range “specialist,” but all through college I worked at the on-campus pub. Paying my way through school via food service definitely laid the foundation for my nomadic stability while in between undergrad and grad school. My service experience and lean living allowed me to experience a variety of different places, always able to pick up short-term jobs and make enough cash to discover each new city (Copenhagen, D.C., Wyoming, Prague, Richmond, Chapel Hill).
What is your favorite city and why? Raleigh. I wouldn’t live here if it weren’t! I’ll always have a soft spot for Richmond and Copenhagen as well — both dramatically influenced my outlook on how we live. My wife and I definitely kick around the idea of taking off for a year to live and explore a larger city like Paris or Bangkok.
Matt installs one of the original Walk Your City signs in Raleigh
What do you do when you are not working? There is a fine line between life and work in Raleigh. The community here is really collaborative and supportive of each other so there are always fun events, art openings, food tastings or mezcal sippings to be had with friends. (Typically associated with plotting the next community project!)
Riding the Raleigh greenways and playing bocce in the nearby park are definitely the most frequent weekend activities.
Did you always want to be an urban designer/civic instigator? I’ve always gravitated toward the design realm, but didn’t know “design” (much less “urban design”) was really even a thing until I went off-curriculum in undergrad, and explored architecture through a study program in Copenhagen. It was there that I discovered my interest in “the space between buildings” — and how we influence and shape it.
What is the coolest project you worked on? The Wanderbox was a three-week sprint “side project” last summer that was a pop-up shipping container beer garden at CAM, Raleigh’s contemporary art museum, where 7,000 people enjoyed a beer at this little 4,000-square-foot event over 11 days. Growing 27 illegal plastic signs into a respected business/organization has been pretty cool too. [The Walk Your City toolkit started in Raleigh and is being exported to other cities.]
The Wanderbox beer garden in Raleigh
What are the hard parts about your job? Persistence in the unknown, not knowing the answer — every day on the job. Capacity: addressing recognized opportunities with a lean team, finances and time.
What is the biggest challenge facing cities today? Human-scaled development — accommodating preference changes by providing more choices and more space for people, not cars. The critical components of human-scaled development are housing and transportation, two huge challenges with which rapidly growing cities like Raleigh are constantly wrestling. My utopic self is also pretty interested in cost-to-serve pricing models and funding for infrastructure. Uncovering new revenue streams will be critical for healthy growth.
What’s the best professional advice you have received? Stay curious and always ask “what if?”
Who do you most admire? Many folks, but a fairly new hero is Antanas Mockus, the former mayor of Bogotá who used seemingly simple yet surprising stunts and social projects to drastically lower the city’s crime and congestion problems.
What do you look for when hiring someone? Curiosity, passion and openness.
What career advice would you give an emerging urban leader? Take as many “risks” while you can! If you go back to grad school, take the biggest when under the academic umbrella. School work is only so important.