What is Strong Towns?
Strong Towns is a media organization leading a national movement for change. We’re challenging every American to fundamentally rethink how our cities are built, and we’re shining a spotlight on an approach that will make us truly prosperous for the first time in over a century.
Curious? Learn more about what we do, our history and how to get involved in the tabs below.
What we do
Why are so many cities and towns across North America going broke? Our roads are deteriorating. Our governments are in debt. No matter how much we increase them, our taxes aren’t enough to fix it all. And no one seems to be able to agree on how we got here--much less how to change the course. This isn’t just about numbers on a budget. This is about the fate of the communities we love most, and the real people that live there.
At Strong Towns, our mission is to help cities, towns and neighborhoods become financially strong and resilient. And we’ve thought long and hard about the best way to do that.
We firmly believe the most enduring changes are incremental and data-responsive, and can only happen from the bottom up—through the work of strong citizens like you. What that means is, we won’t be handing you a blueprint.
Strong Towns will never produce a street design guide for engineers. We won’t tell you an ideal population density per acre. And we aren’t available for consultancy requests—we're a nonprofit that's doing something bigger than just helping one town or one county. Easy, one-size-fits-all solutions from the top down are what got American towns into the mess they’re in; we want to bring you something better.
Instead, it’s Strong Towns’ goal to give you a process that can adapt to your community's unique needs and change as your town grows stronger. We aim to inspire readers to ask a different set of questions about the way their towns are built, and to encourage you to demand a better approach in the places you love.
We publish daily written content, weekly podcasts, and interactive webcasts to keep you asking hard questions, and show you some outstanding examples of people who have gotten it right. We bring live, community-specific events to towns across North America. And we foster an online community where Strong Towns members can organize, share resources, and keep inspiring one another to do more.
(Top photo by Joshuay04)
Strong Towns began in 2008 as the blog of civil engineer Charles Marohn. After more than a decade in the profession, he noticed something that disturbed him. The cities and towns he worked with were going broke. Even though they were growing, local governments were going deeper and deeper into debt just to keep their basic services up and running. And yet they were still building more roads, pouring more concrete, and green-lighting more massive development projects—projects he had helped design.
The underpinnings of the current financial crisis lie in a living arrangement -- the American pattern of development -- that does not financially suppport itself.
If you want a simple explanation for why our economy is stalled and cannot be restarted, it is this: Our places do not create wealth, they destroy wealth.
Our development pattern is not productive enough to sustain itself.
Our national economy is "all in" on the suburban experiment. We cannot sustain the trajectory we are on, but we've gone too far down the path to turn back.
How did we build such an amazing place before the home mortgage interest deduction? How did we accomplish this before zoning? What created this place before we had state and federal subsidies of local water and sewer systems?
From that seed of doubt grew a revelation: Our national system of growth and development is fundamentally broken, and it’s put too many American cities (and the people who live in them) on the path to certain decline.
From that revelation grew a revolution: an approach that could put us back on a path to prosperity, and make the communities we love a lot stronger along the way.
Strong Towns has grown from one man questioning the dominant point of view into a national media organization that challenges everything about the way we build our world--and shows you ways to build it better. Over the years, we’ve built up a dedicated staff, a following of hundreds of thousands of people around the world, and an award-winning archive of content and resources.
But what we’re most proud of isn’t our history. It’s what we’ll do next--with your help.
Essential reading & Listening
Strong Towns has amassed an award-winning slate of content across all media platforms. Explore some of our most popular posts of all time here, and get a sense of Strong Towns’ unique take on the issues that matter most to you.
* See a word in here that's not familiar? Check out our Lingo page to get some quick definitions for the terms we frequently use at Strong Towns. *
Here are some of our most important pieces:
We can make low risk, high returning investments in our cities while improving the quality of life for people, particularly those who are not benefiting from the current approach.
Problems have solutions. Predicaments have outcomes. We're in a predicament.
A federal infrastructure bill is going to make your city poorer in the long run. Here's how.
Most American cities experience a modest, short term illusion of wealth in exchange for enormous, long term liabilities. We deprive our communities of prosperity, overload our families with debt and become trapped in a spiral of decline.
This classic Strong Towns video explains what's wrong with the engineering profession.
We need to stop accommodating bikers and pedestrians within an auto-dominated environment and instead do the opposite: accommodates automobiles in an environment dominated by people.
In this hard hitting four-part series, Chuck examines our dangerously designed roads which cause thousands of deaths every year. The series focuses, in particular, on the deaths of children along dangerous road corridors.
This year we've put resources towards producing a series of videos that share snippets of the Curbside Chat message. Short, shareable videos of key parts of this message topped our request list a year ago. We're provided four thus far. This week -- our last week of the year before we take a break -- we release two more; one on Thursday and the other on Friday.
There are a handful of ways engineers deflect criticism. Here are five that we’ve heard time and time again.
Last week I received notice that a complaint had been filed against my professional engineering license. The complaint indicated that I had engaged in “misconduct on the website/blog Strong Towns” for things I have written critical of the engineering profession.
While new transportation funding is needed, more money without significant reform is worse than no funding at all. We need to continue to oppose all of these funding efforts until serious reform is on the table.
This one’s on you, engineering profession. Society is done tolerating this level of indifference, incompetence and incoherence. What are you going to do?
Dive into our Curbside Chat Series
A summary of essential Strong Towns principles in video format:
Our Best Podcasts
Paul Stewart, Executive Director of the Oswego Renaissance Association, talks about his work to revitalize neighborhoods in his town through historic preservation projects on local homes. Small investments = big returns.
Chuck Marohn discusses the issue of traffic stops and the need to end them in this solo podcast.
Mr. Money Mustache is the individual digital to our community analog. His insights will help you live a better life and, should you choose to be a true Mustachian, put you in position to help your community become a Strong Town.
Special guest Joe Minicozzi joins Chuck Marohn to talk about the movie The Big Short and their own experience with big money and shady land deals.
Chuck Marohn interviews Donald Shoup, Professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. His book, The High Cost of Free Parking, and his extensive research into the effects of parking on cities have made him a prominent voice on these topics.
The global climate is a complex system. Economic markets are a complex system. Why do we react so differently to these different forms of complexity and what can we learn from those reactions?
Chuck reviews three different incidents involving children killed by automobiles and asks: Who are really the ones showing casual indifference here?
Our friend and Strong Towns member Steven Shultis from Springfield, Massachusetts, joins Chuck this week to talk about his experience as a parent of children in an urban school system.
Joe Cortright of City Observatory talks about their report -- Lost in Place -- explaining why consistent and concentrated poverty -- not gentrification -- is America's biggest urban challenge.
Join the conversation
There are thousands of people around the world talking about Strong Towns right now. We invite you to join them online on our community discussion board (Slack), Facebook, Twitter, or in the comments section on each article.
Join them in person by attending an event near you, hosting an event, or contact our Director of Community engagement, Kea Wilson, if you’d like to meet other Strong Towns fans in your area.
We're building a movement of a million people who care about the Strong Towns message. If you like what you see on our website, please share it with others!
Our Movement in Action:
How I stopped being frustrated by my city and started working to improve it, with the help of my neighbors.
The Bike Peoria Co-op offers neighbors affordable access tools to fix their bikes and training in bike maintenance skills. It's 100% volunteer run and 100% financially supported through its own efforts.
Chuck Marohn was recently featured on the Tropical MBA Podcast, which is dedicated to "the growing movement of location independent entrepreneurs worldwide."
Strong Towns member Paul Fritz recently worked with a group of residents in his town of Sebastopol, CA to construct three temporary parklets, to resounding success.
Strong Towns' work on infrastructure spending just got a shout-out on CNBC.
Strong Towns member Morgan Goodwin serves as mayor of Truckee, CA. In this interview, he shares the way that Strong Towns has influenced his leadership and what he loves about living in Truckee.
A neighborhood is an ecosystem, a quirky human habitat, and when it’s been damaged by generations of neglect, it probably needs help that has nothing to do with repairing roofs and bringing wiring up to code.
I used to design big, expensive development projects. Then I realized the most successful places don't depend on huge grants and megaprojects, rather, they have strong local economies and people-oriented spaces.
While she had no professional background in planning, engineering, or even community organizing, Dana Dunbar used her passion for her neighborhood and resources on websites like ours to rally her neighbors against a harmful road widening project.