Imagining North Adams / Friday News Digest

Today I am headed to a community festival celebrating all that is and will be North Adams, Massachusetts. At the invitation of my good friend (as well as the designer of this website, one of my most trusted advisers and a fellow CNU NextGen’r), Jen Krouse, I will be holding a Curbside Chat at the month long event known as Imagining North Adams. I’m really excited.

This community festival, in a small town on the other side of the country, is worthy of the investment of my time because of the audacity of the approach. There are no high-paid consultants involved here. No highly-structured public engagement process, with scripts and pre-set objectives. In fact, this event is not even being done by the local government. It is a bootstrap private initiative by Krouse and others that are passionate about the future of North Adams.

It stands in powerful contrast to my hometown where, in a forum this week, it was acknowledged multiple times by local leaders that our community has no real vision. The soul of a community can’t be legislated. It can’t be superimposed. It can’t be artificially constructed and willed by positive thinking. It can only emerge, with all its depth and complexity, thought by thought, dialog by dialog, and interaction by interaction between the people that occupy a place.

While it is possible for a soulless person to live and breathe, such a person will not thrive over a lifetime. For that, more is needed. The same goes for a community. I’m headed to North Adams because I am drawn by a place that has a soul. I am inspired by people that refuse to wait for someone else to strengthen it. I want to be part of a people that understands that community is not something we elect, something we pay taxes to purchase or something we can import from someplace else. Community is something we have to work to be.

If you want to be part of what is going on in Imagining North Adams, you can head over tonight for the Curbside Chat or participate in any of the multitude of events that are taking place there in the coming weeks. And if you can’t make it in person, follow what is going on and allow yourself to be inspired by it.


I’m not sure what this edition of the Friday News Digest is going to be. I was supposed to be in New York last night but flight delays had me instead spending the night in Chicago. After another really short night of sleep, I’m headed to North Adams via Albany via Detroit and so I am going to have a lot of time in takeoff and landing mode. I’m going to try and assemble this in the interim, so this will be an on-the-fly edition.

Here we go.

  • My book, Thoughts on Building Strong Towns (Volume 1), has been out for a month now and I'm getting a lot of great feedback. I had one person order 20 copies to pass out to elected officials in his community. As the author, I can get the book at a lower, bulk rate and so, if you want to get multiple copies at a reduced price, just let me know and I can make that happen. Some of my favorite feedback from the week:

I want to thank you for writing the book, it was much easier for me to read that in a few hours than read through all of your blog posts.

I've been thinking about these things for some time and your book seriously helped me understand it all.

I think I am going to package it up and send it my my city public works director, formerly the city planner (not really sure what the difference is) of my hometown that I recently met at a backyard party.

  • Many thanks to Gregory Jones over at the site The Studio Stoop for sharing the video of my presentation at the NCSL. He had some good insights on the property tax system and I would really like to see his idea put to work somewhere.

The problem with taxing improvements is that the more the landowner invests in the structures on their site the more tax they have to pay. This is counter-intuitive as we want to encourage landowners to develop their land to the highest potential especially in areas that have already invested in public infrastructure. One of the thoughts I’ve had is that perhaps the tax system should be based on a sliding scale of sorts. Properties that are in town or in areas with great amounts of infrastructure investment should be taxed mostly on land value with a very small percentage of the tax on property improvements. Properties that are further out would be taxed more like the current system with a smaller percentage based on land value and an additional percentage based on improvements. Properties that are beyond the reach of most infrastructure would pay most of the tax on improvements and very little on the land.


  • My hometown newspaper ran this week's post on Our Last Great Old Economy Project, College Drive. While the people that routinely comment on the articles in the local paper seem to me to trend to the left side of the bell curve, the feedback was generally positive. The paper also covered the Rosenmeier Forum on economic development that I participated in on Wednesday. I've tried multiple times to upload the podcast this week, which is the audio from the forum. That will have to wait until I am somewhere where I have a better connection.


Charles Marohn is an amazing resource -- he understands liveable, healthy communities, and how to make them happen in a realistic, affordable manner. Good forum.