Gracen Johnson has been a regular contributor for Strong Towns since 2014 and is a founding member of the organization. She calls her work, "Projects for Places we Love." She mostly helps individuals and organizations with strategy, research, communications, and outreach. Despite finishing her MPhil in Planning, Growth, and Regeneration in 2013, she has never stopped studying the city. Gracen thinks of her day-to-day as action research, diving into the question of how Strong Citizenship can transform a place. She lives with her husband and coonhound in Kitchener, Canada. In her column, Field Notes, you'll get snapshots of life as a friendly neighbour and community organizer. Gracen has also created (and continues to create) many of Strong Towns' short films.
Podcasts Gracen is featured in:
In early January, I adopted a dog. As with many rescue stories, we ended up with more dog than we anticipated, which has put me and my new neighborhood through a rigorous test. My dog has given me a tough decision: get a car, or become the neighbor I want to be.
A signalized crossing is an unnecessary expense for what a few traffic cones could easily accomplish. Humanizing Brunswick Street, on the other hand, would be in the best interests of the province and city.
Rachel Quednau interviews Gracen Johnson about making the hard decision to move to a new town, plus her work with the Incremental Development Alliance and her philosophy that "love will save this place."
What if some of the stuff we think we can leave to history were core features, rather than unfortunate side effects of the traditional city? What if we can’t have the good without some of the bad?
You cannot build a place of enduring value that isn't homey, that isn't loved.
We live in cities starved for good public space. There are so few spots in North America where you can sit comfortably for free. And when we do try to create sittable public space, we often fail spectacularly.
A year ago, I wrote about an old school being converted into a community center. This photo collection shows what has happened since, the results of Strong Citizenship.
What would a contemporary neighborhood in which people work and proudly display their names and livelihoods on the door be like? It's not what I'd call revolutionary, but in 2016, it's a completely novel and magnetic idea to me.
Rather than allow for natural pedestrian movement and traffic calming, my city has recommended funnelling pedestrians into a signalized crosswalk so they can wait their turn to cross the street in an approved manner. I believe that is the wrong answer to the right question.
If one were to follow Schumacher’s advice and put the inner house in order, testing out our biggest goals at the household level, what does that look like?
As I engage more in this work of neighbourhood-level doing, the role of local knowledge is becoming clearer to me. It seems almost cruel that at a certain scale, local knowledge is worth everything.
What do homebuddies do? Homebudding: growing homeyness. (Or in Strong Towns terminology, they create productive places.) Here's a video with examples of homebudding.
Built and social environments are interdependent and right now, that relationship in the world around me is out of sync. Indigenous people who have lived on this land for thousands of years have a lot to teach us.
Small scale developers envision a world with a lot more landlords. Here's why we think that’s such a good thing.
What is the process involved in becoming locally influential on urban issues if you don't work for the government or a planning firm? Here are some tips I’ve pulled from my experience so far.
I recall listening to a conversation about technical debt a few short weeks ago and nodding my head at the metaphor. So I asked my partner Ryan, and our friend Brendan, both of whom work in software, to explain technical debt a little further.
Tips and tricks for understanding zoning codes and starting out as a small scale developer.
This summer, Gracen Johnson documented the absurd incidence of benches and other seating arrangements built where no one would ever want to use them, then she created a solution.
Tradition can help make strong citizenship habitual, but first we need to come to terms with how we got here, who we want to be, and what traditions support the society we want.
In order to solve the biggest problems of today's world (climate change, dysfunctional cities, global crises) we need to harness the strength of a movement.
We've all heard reference to vehicles, business sectors, tourists, social groups, etc as though they are invasive species. There are also literal invasive species that thrive in urban environments. Are there any cases where "We're just very negative about them" when they are simply filling a void through "hardiness and lack of competition"? What are the "pristine ecosystems" that we try to conserve in the urban landscape?
For a few weeks, I’m visiting my family back in London, Ontario. This means, for a few weeks I am living on a cul-de-sac in a subdivision surrounded by other subdivisions, close to an arterial lined with shopping plazas, gas stations, drive-thrus, strip malls, an upscale enclosed shopping mall, and a big box centre.
On the surface, it might seem more difficult to deal with co-existence in a big city where you are constantly in close quarters with people you do not know and may not want to know. But not knowing is so easy. On the contrary, it’s community that’s hard.
This Saturday, a short film I made is being screened at the New Urbanism Film Festival in LA. Sadly, I will not be in LA to see it live and talk to the audience and other film-makers. I'd like there to be a place to field any questions or discussion about the film though, so here is the Strong Towns premiere of Do Season.
A photographic follow up on some of my neighbourhood projects that are coming to a close.
Can we ever design a city devoid of the suffering and loss we've always experienced? I suppose the answer makes little difference in my resolve to minimize the hurt. But studying the forest does make me question the city - what is truly a problem and what is simply a feedback or system within a system.
Last week, Sarah Goodyear from CityLab interviewed me about the project. Her first question was this: When you did your chairbombing, were you worried at all about the police confronting you? The landowner? My answer: In this case, not really. AND THEN! Here was the scene this week at the market...
What are people really trying to say when they divide cyclists into the good ones and the bad ones?