The Curbside Chat is a core Strong Towns presentation that explains why our towns are going broke—despite lots of growth—and how they can build toward a stronger, more prosperous future.
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. This is about how to give our citizens, today and tomorrow, a chance at the future they deserve.
If we want American cities to be strong and resilient we need to change everything about the way we plan and build our places.
In the Curbside Chat, we explain, in plain language, how so many American cities have found themselves in decline after decades of “growth.” And then we show you a revolutionary way forward that could create enduring prosperity—if we just have the courage to change our minds.
Explore the Curbside Chat in Depth
The following films and articles cover the key components of the Curbside Chat.
For thousands of years, humans built settlements scaled to people who walked. In a generation, Americans transformed an entire continent around a new transportation technology. We often fail to appreciate how we are testing this approach as we go. Quite simply: it's a massive experiment.
America’s cultural belief is that growing cities experience not only opportunity and prosperity today, but also success far into the future. There is a built-in assumption that new growth pays for itself today and generates enough wealth to sustain itself generation after generation This is a flawed assumption.
New growth creates an illusion of wealth. Local governments experiencing growth look and feel successful; they have high revenues and very little immediate costs associated with them. Long term though, as the liabilities start to come due, they learn that a free road isn't really free.
The biggest problem we face in this country is not a lack of growth. What we lack in America is productive growth—growth that builds wealth generation after generation. Productive growth makes a place better with age. It's full of cycles, endings and beginnings, rather than being a linear journey toward decline.
We like our places to emerge fully formed and then we expect them to never change, but that's not how life works. Cities need to be able to change and adapt, to start small and mature incrementally over time. We can't wait around for a big developer or a mega-project to fix our cities. The kind of development we need today happens from the bottom up.
The traditional development pattern has tremendous financial upside and limited financial downside. In contrast, our new, experimental approach is incredibly fragile with limited financial upside and a downside that can literally go negative. We can learn from the past in order to stop making the mistakes that will condemn our future.