If you've hosted a Strong Towns event in the past several months, you are well-acquainted with Michelle Erfurt, our wonderful pathfinder. Today, she's sharing about her own town and the challenges it faces.


Children in Ranson making good use of an empty parking lot with chalk

Children in Ranson making good use of an empty parking lot with chalk

One of my main duties as the Pathfinder at Strong Towns is to talk with everyone who contacts us about bringing Chuck to their town to speak. Every conversation begins with the potential client telling me about their town. Often they use phrases like “We’re a great place except,” or “We’re on the way to being a Strong Town, we just need some help…”. And it only makes sense to bring Chuck to these places for Strong Towns education, and to help the citizens and public officials begin the dialog that will lead them to their strength.

I identify with these clients because I also live in a town that is growing into a Strong Town. I’m a new resident of Ranson, WV, a town of about 5,000 of the nicest people I’ve ever met. We’re beside Harpers Ferry and very close to the Blue Ridge Mountains & Shenandoah River. You know John Denver’s song “Country Roads”? That’s where we are and the song is a very fitting description. Washington DC is about 1.5 hours away and so are countless revolutionary and civil war battlefields. It’s a beautiful area rich in history and nature.

Ranson is on its way to becoming a Strong Town. The vision is in place. The citizens are open-minded and proud. The Mayor, City Council, and city staff are thoughtful and they get things done. We are a town that doesn’t need Chuck to come to educate us because Ranson naturally lives the Strong Towns gospel...

Mock-up of a redesign of a local street, Fairfax Boulevard

Mock-up of a redesign of a local street, Fairfax Boulevard

Ranson just doesn’t look like a Strong Town. There are minimal sidewalks. We don’t really have a main street with businesses. There is a major road construction project that will be great when it’s finished but we’re just not there yet. I’m really lucky to have the inside scoop on what may develop in town (my husband works for the city) but you never know if and when a plan will come to fruition.

Michelle with her son and her husband

Michelle with her son and her husband

We are currently in a rental and looking for a home. This isn’t our first time buying a house, but it is the first time doing so with children and in a town with very low housing inventory. Eliminating my husband's commute is pretty much the only location sensitive rule that we have and the town is so small that that won’t be a problem. So, it really comes down to figuring out which house will work for us and we’ll only know that when it comes on the market.

We are trying to live a Strong Town life even though we aren’t in a Strong Town. It’s a challenge to know where things are going. It’s harder to know the timeline for when things will be finished. I’m trying to buy into an area that is currently making many incremental investments. That looks great on paper, but in reality, it looks like a bunch of disjointed construction zones.

I wonder if there is anyone else in the same sort of limbo. What are the challenges that residents in smaller towns face? How did you deal with it? Frankly, I’m tired of waiting to see the actual changes in my town. I want them now! How do you go along with it all? Please leave a comment and let me know. Thanks!

(Top photo of last winter's massive snow storm in Ranson. All photos from Ranson, WV Facebook page)


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