I wish that each of you could sit where I am for a moment and see the amazing things that are happening in the Strong Towns movement. When I started writing in 2008, I never dreamed we'd be having this conversation, that our thoughts and ideas would be taking hold across North America in such a major way. Yet, here we are. Each day I am more and more amazed at what our movement has become.
Back in those early days, if we had 25 people read the site in a day it was a big deal. Now we don't get lower than 25 people at any one time, even overnight. Last month we exceeded, for the first time, our tracking limit of 1,000 people simultaneously on our site. Wow! Our audience doubled again this past year and in 2017, we'll reach over a million different people with a radical message of change and empowerment. That should give us all a touch of optimism.
I don't have to tell you that we're in some very strange and volatile times. As I imagine what the end of the Growth Ponzi Scheme will feel like for America, I envision a spinning top slowing down and starting to wobble dramatically from one side to another. Policies and approaches that seemed steady for a long time suddenly shift one way and then another, each new change a more dramatic counter-reaction to the prior change. We've been in this zone for a while. I suspect it will get crazier before the top is fully at rest.
I didn't set out to start a national movement to change the way our cities, towns and neighborhoods are developed. As our conversation has matured, I've felt a responsibility to reach a broad cross section of America and at least try and understand, if not fully reflect, the many different perspectives and experiences we find in this beautiful country. I'm a 43-year-old Norwegian-Minnesotan and that has it's intellectual limitations, both in my personal experiences and in the group of people I recruited to be my core team of strategic advisers from the beginning. It's a work in progress and I know I have work to do.
Still, as we sat down as a board and staff last week at a meeting in Chicago, I realized that we have today -- and have had from the start -- a type of diversity that is in very short supply in this country, yet is desperately needed. We have ideological diversity. Our core team, like our members and like our audience, cover most of the American political spectrum. We've stressed many times in the past few months that we're not a partisan organization -- we don't align or sympathize with any political party -- but that doesn't mean our movement doesn't have people who are deeply ideological.
We do. We have just found common cause in the Strong Towns movement.
Here's a heat map showing where our members are concentrated. These are the people who have found our message to be so important that they have donated to Strong Towns to help us share that message with others. You can see that they are urban and rural. Red state and blue state. North and South. Inland and coasts. Rust Belt, Sun Belt, Dixie and Yankeedom.
You want a movement that is reaching a sharply divided America with a tough, yet empowering, message of local cooperation and change? Here we are.
In our annual report last year, I wrote that I had a sense of urgency, that our Board had a sense of urgency. I said:
It's clear that the current situation -- America's approach to growth and development -- is not stable, that we can't continue on along this course without more and more people being harmed. I don't want more Fergusons. More Detroits. More San Bernardinos. I fear an America that begins to accept decline as normal, even inevitable.
I actually think our situation is now more dangerous than I had anticipated. Not only is decline becoming normal, we've found a way to blame the other for it. We skirt our own collective responsibility for not only causing the problems we share, but for also needing to work together to respond.
That makes our movement even more important and it puts a greater burden on each of us. Not only must we understand the human failings at the core of our approach -- failings that go far beyond a left/right paradigm -- but we have to work to bring people together on our blocks, in our neighborhoods and for our communities. It's not going to be enough to be right. If we want to see change happen, we have to be humble in our personal relationships, especially with those we may not immediately agree with.
This year I had the opportunity to travel to Shreveport, Louisiana, and experience the Allendale neighborhood, a place that truly embodies the Strong Towns ethic. There I walked past abandoned lots turned into neighborhood gardens, old homes with tended flowers out front and everywhere signs that said "We Care" as if it wasn't already obvious amid the standard signs of decline and struggle.
I met with some beautiful people in a place they called the "Friendship House" and heard the story of how their neighborhood was systematically undermined by urban renewal policies, zoning and disinvestment. I saw how they were doing so much with so little, how their efforts at working together to incrementally make their neighborhood better was exactly the mindset Shreveport -- and America -- needed.
And I heard about how, in 2017, as unbelievable as it sounds, the city plans to run a major freeway through the middle of this poor, struggling neighborhood, dislocated many residents and simply dividing the rest from the community.
We have so much urgent work to do, whether providing some sanity to a federal infrastructure surge, developing a scalable approach for cities like Flint or bringing people together to push for change on their own block. Our Annual Report looks back at our accomplishments but, more importantly, puts forth a 12-month strategy for implementing our Strategic Plan and bringing about important change on the ground.
A special thank you to all of our members and everyone who shares our stuff with others. Keep doing what you can to build a strong town.
-Chuck Marohn, Founder and President of Strong Towns