This weekend I get an opportunity to deliver the keynote at the Back to Basics conference up the road in Pine River, MN. I always jump at opportunities to share our message locally and this gathering is a great forum. In addition to the keynote -- How ordinary people can do extraordinary things -- I'll also be delivering the latest rendition of the (mysterious) Misunderstanding Mobility report. If you are in Central Minnesota enjoying the warm weather (above zero this weekend), you're welcome to join us in Pine River. 

Now to the week's news.

  • I've run into a couple of really great things at the Rethinking Childhood blog over the years, the latest an article describing the experiences of a German woman raising children in the USA. I appreciate the article's quote of our work (thank you), but beyond that, it was insightful and a good reminder to all of us what the real cost of the Suburban Experiment is.

I very much miss the German way of being able to let my child go outside by himself, or walk anywhere from our home. I find the infrastructure very car oriented. Distances, as well as property sizes are considerably larger, thus there is hardly any bike paths, but 80% large roads. Hey, even a small town has double the width roads that you would find in any German town, so traffic is much more unpleasant. The sight is usually anything but inviting if I compare it to bike paths I know from back home. Same for distances, with everything just soooo stretched out.

  • In what I hope is an approach that catches on here in the Strong Towns movement (my wife does too), I'm going to by Skyping into a book club meeting in Petaluma, CA, to talk about the Curbside Chat Booklet and our insights on the Suburban Experiment here at Strong Towns. The date is February 12 and they also have an open door policy there (although please RSVP so they have a head count). Would love to reach more groups this way (love to travel, but am pretty booked through June and this is so much more family friendly) so if you would like a virtual chat with a small group, let us know and we'll see what we can do.

The fact that places like Seaside, or Forest Hills Gardens, can maintain a consistent and excellent architectural style without the aid of landmarks commissions, public hearings, and what is a whole other layer of regulation and administration, is not without significance. There are a number of values promoted by new urbanism that are furthered by the use of architectural codes, as opposed to preservation laws: for example, making the approval process swift, and its outcome more predictable.

#2. We have two plans and we need you to select one

  • This article about Tokyo brought tears to my eyes. Thank you, Neil21, for sharing. Yes, this is the Strong Towns approach. They did more with so much less. We can do it here, I know we can.

Like much of the city, these small hamlets were smoldering ash pits 70 years ago, reduced to rubble by the bombs of Allied forces during World War II. When the war ended, Tokyo’s municipal government, bankrupt and in crisis mode, was in no condition to launch a citywide reconstruction effort. So, without ever stating it explicitly, it nevertheless made one thing clear: The citizens would rebuild the city. Government would provide the infrastructure, but beyond that, the residents would be free to build what they needed on the footprint of the city that once was, neighborhood by neighborhood.

  • And now San Diego's Mark Kersey is my favorite political leader and my choice for whatever office he seeks in the next election. We all need to follow his lead and come to grips with reality. That, my friends, is real leadership. Keep going, Councilor Kersey.

One of the city's longstanding problems its infrastructure is that it doesn't know what's broken.

The city either hasn’t examined assets, such as sidewalks or non-building needs in parks and recreation, or those assessments are out of date, such as many city buildings. Park fixes alone could cost more than $2 billion, according to a city auditor estimate.

Without this kind of information, the city can't know what it needs to fix. Kersey's plan calls for assessing all city infrastructure at regular intervals. These evaluations can be costly — think $500,000-plus — but it's the only new spending the plan calls for in the first year.

Kersey also wants to publish this information in an easy-to-understand annual report card.

  • I'll be back in Kansas City next month to speak at the Saturday plenary for the New Partners for Smart Growth gathering. Program organizers are a little nervous about a fight breaking out, but I've assured them that's not my style (although their fear may be the locals). Anyway, I had to laugh when I got this article detailing how Kansas City was wasting another $900,000 doing traffic modeling and studies of the downtown. My first thought was: what traffic? My second: for 10% of that we could fly all of the elected officials and the senior staff to a city where they actually have traffic (just so they could experience what traffic actually is -- we could even buy them cameras so they could take pictures to share back home). Then we could spend another 10% implementing my plan for KC. Then we could throw one huge party downtown with the remaining $720,000, all while saving the city from years of traffic projection purgatory. Go ahead and just scroll down for the comments section all you KC boosters. Reading the rest of this FND will only give you time to collect your thoughts. I enjoy you best unfiltered.

Along with the main task of collecting data, TranSystems also will develop models for the future of downtown transportation. The contract said the firm will measure the effect of the city’s new 2.2-mile streetcar line, expanded bus services and increased pedestrian and cyclist traffic.

The final goal, the contract states, is to develop a model that will show what the city will need to do to accommodate growing traffic demands by 2025.

  • As soon as this article was posted on the Atlantic Cities site my inbox started filling up. The core point being made was brilliant, but I must acknowledge that I simply scrolled through all of the engineer eye candy. It is all just a bad dream that I can't wake from.

Geometry tells us that the traditional four-way intersection is inherently dangerous. When you plot all of the potential points of conflict on a diagram – and transportation engineers actually do this – it turns out that vehicles have 32 distinct opportunities to collide into one another at the nexus of two two-lane roadways. Cars can crash into each other while merging or diverging from a given lane. Then the worst action happens right in the middle of the interchange, at that perilous point where vehicles turn left across oncoming traffic.

  • Engineering eye candy reminds me of one of my favorite engineer jokes.

Two engineering students were walking across a university campus when one said, "Where did you get such a great bike?"

The second engineer replied, "Well, I was walking along yesterday, minding my own business, when a beautiful woman rode up on this bike, threw it to the ground, took off all her clothes and said, "Take what you want."

The second engineer nodded approvingly and said, "Good choice; the clothes probably wouldn't have fit you anyway."

  • I'm keeping my eye on Anoka County, MN, and their economic gardening experiment with restrained hope. Anoka County is home to some of the worst of the worst Minnesota communities in terms of planning, horrible financial productivity, Suburban Experiment end-game-delusion and all of the related insanity. BUT, they have a core group of really smart people that are pushing an economic gardening program. So you're tell me there's a chance? Oh yes, that is exactly what I'm saying.

"For midsized businesses, there are no programs out there," said Karen Skepper, Anoka County director of community and governmental relations. "They are making money now, and it's hard to find a program to go to that next level."

The "grow from within" strategy targeting existing businesses is a fresh approach for cities and counties, often focused on courting new and outside businesses, Skepper said.

  • Zoning is the bluntest of blunt instruments. I once heard Andres Duany joking about planners who drew zoning maps with fat magic markers instead of delicate, fine grained colored pencils. (I probably had a marker in my hand at the time, preparing to draw the crude line separating one rendition of commercial from another.) It is a very un-American approach, which is part of the reason it's adherents have struggled to do good with it. They have to fight culture. If big corporations ever began to appreciate how effective a blunt weapon it is against them, we might actually get a groundswell for an alternative.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear an appeal over a Michigan city's zoning ordinance that led Wal-Mart Stores Inc to decide not to build a supercenter there.

Without comment, the court refused to hear a challenge by the Loesel family to new rules limiting the size of new construction by Frankenmuth, a German-themed city known as "Little Bavaria."

  • I wanted to include this article -- Sitting is the Smoking of our Generation -- as I compose this FND from my treadmill desk. My weight loss has slowed but not stopped. I'm down almost 30 pounds with another dozen or so to go. Haven't felt this good for years (sorry Mountain Dew -- those were crazy good times).

As we work, we sit more than we do anything else. We're averaging 9.3 hours a day, compared to 7.7 hours of sleeping. Sitting is so prevalent and so pervasive that we don't even question how much we're doing it. And, everyone else is doing it also, so it doesn't even occur to us that it's not okay. In that way, I've come to see that sitting is the smoking of our generation.

  • Nate Hood recommended the podcast 99% Invisible to me and I have enjoyed it thus far. Wish I had the time and wherewithal to produce a show that sounded that good. Check out their episode on lane striping.
  • Finally, while this movie is excellent, and while this scene in particular has been adapted to many different memes -- not all worthy -- this one was kinda good. Enjoy.


Thanks everyone. Stay warm (or cool, depending on where you are). See you back on Monday.



If you'd like more from Chuck Marohn, you should really get a copy of his recent book, Thoughts on Building Strong Towns (Volume 1). It is a primer on thr Strong Towns movement and an essential read for those wanting to get up to speed quickly.

You can also chat with Chuck, Nate Hood, Andrew Burleson, Justin Burslie and many others over at the Strong Towns Network. Join the conversation on how to make yours a strong town.