We've been in Wisconsin this week, a trip that was long overdue. Last night we had a Curbside Chat at Marquette University in Milwaukee. When the presentation was over and we were about to start the "chat" portion, we were informed that the lecture hall was booked by another group and we would need to vacate. We wound up downstairs in a student lounge with a bunch of couches. It was the most intimate, relaxed and productive conversation we've had -- incredibly enjoyable. I think we've discovered a new format.

Enjoy this week's news.

  • I feel really bad about not getting a podcast out again this week. Things have kind of snowballed on me. I had a bunch of interviews lined up and they all fell through. I was then going to record a solo episode last week but my voice was gone. So sorry. I promise to make this a priority in the coming week. In the meantime, my guilt in only amplified by this very flattering post about the podcast by Sarah Bowman. Thank you.

Whether Marohn is speaking with a religious scholar, planner, designer or artist, he allows breathtakingly beautiful moments to take flight by offering a problem – not the solution – for others to respond to.  These podcasts contribute mightily to town-making by drawing in a diverse group of doers so that we may learn from them.  Kudos to the Strong Towns team for providing a truly enjoyable learning experience.

Engineers from James Gores and Associates attended a Strong Town meeting in Lander earlier this month in which the presenters indicated that communities could be improved by small projects. “I thought there were some things we could do in Riverton to help the community with beautification,” James Gores said Friday afternoon, after a team from his office re-striped the downtown Riverton parking lot in just four hours.

Somewhere along the way, too many of us “professionals” of all stripes began looking to the federal government as a source of innovation, rather than the repository of best practices.  At the other end of the spectrum, I have seen specialized agencies and special service districts insulated from the public.  Those of us interested in good government do need to keep an interest in these organizations—don’t wait to be asked, offer to help out.  It is in the local, the focused, the specialized where we have the most flexibility to run controlled experiments and maybe learn something.

  • I thought there might be a little tremor this week when I published my feelings about renewing my AICP license and that is exactly what happened. I know a lot of people have a lot to say about the APA and the AICP -- we care a lot about it -- but amazingly, there was no disagreement in any of the conversations I saw (here's one example) about the need for the planning profession to undergo dramatic change and for APA/AICP to stop being a transactional organization and start leading that change. My email inbox has been flooded, particularly with invitations to speak with state APA affiliates. Thank you, everyone. I'm not leaving you and will do what I can to push for change.

After working for a city where all the planners on staff were AICP to being at a city where I am the only AICP member it feels strange. My dislike of the AICP program goes more towards my dislike of the National APA Organization. I feel I get very little out of my national membership and get the most bang for my buck from my state membership which actually puts on a great conference and lots of opportunities to grow as a professional. 

I only maintain my AICP because my employer begrudgingly pays for my membership. If I was ever in a position where I had to pay my own membership I would drop it in a heartbeat. My AICP memebership doesn't make me a better planner, although some of the seminars I attended to earn CM hours have given me good tools, but I am not sure it helps me in a day to day job. If I was in an organization that had other AICP members I would maybe feel different, but now I feel like the odd one out, the one that has to go to this training so I can earn hours.

  • David Stockman released a book this year called the Great Deformation. Thick read but well worth it if you are interested in considering a high level point of view contrarian to the conventional Bernanke/Yellen quantitative easing approach. The essential premise of the book is that our economy has incrementally shifted from one based on market transactions in America's strong and competitive cities to one based on manipulated currency games, bailouts, large corporations and banks all centered in Washington DC. He is equally hard on Reagan and Obama, the former whose White House he served in, which gives him some non-partisan cred. Here's a three minute clip from Stockman that will give you a taste of his thinking.
  • With the election this week, there is conversation out there about where NYC's innovative transportation leader Janette Sadik-Khan is going to end up. I suspect it will not be Brainerd, MN, a city allergic to painted bike lanes, but just in case....Janette, get a hold of me. If you can make it happen here, you are truly a miracle worker.

There were two applause lines in New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan’s TED talk last month: First, that in six years she "turned cycling into a real transportation option in New York"; and second, that she brought the city its first parking-protected bike lane, with parked cars and a strip of concrete separating cyclists from automobile traffic.

That was a reminder that cyclists continue to lead the conversation about urban street makeovers around the nation.

  • Speaking of New York, they are experimenting with another "radical" reform: reducing the speed limit of automobiles traveling within their complex urban neighborhoods. Now speed limit regulations are an incredibly blunt instrument; if we design the street wrong, it doesn't matter what the posted speed is, people will drive what they feel comfortable driving, which is almost always too fast for a safe and productive place. That being said, it is awesome to see a major urban area clearly grasping that their prosperity will come from prioritizing people over traffic on their streets. (Note: This is the way we need to do streets. For roads -- connections between two productive places -- we need to become even more vigilant on moving automobiles quickly and efficiently).

The rationale for making Claremont the proving ground for the effort was clear. The neighborhood was highly residential, yet it had a long history of traffic injuries. In fact, it ranked in the 74th percentile citywide in 2011 in terms of the number of pedestrian traffic incidents, according to advocacy group Transportation Alternatives. In fact, not long before the program was implemented, a pedestrian was hit and killed there.

The program is based on one in London that has reduced injuries by 46% in areas where it has been implemented. In Claremont, the speed limit was slashed by a third, to 20 miles per hour, down from the citywide limit of 30. What's more, speed bumps—aka "sleeping policemen" in Britain—were installed on many of its blocks. And at key entry points into Claremont, motorists are now greeted by big blue signs announcing that they're entering a "slow zone."

  • I had a local Orderly but Dumb blast from the past sent to me this week: a 1996 news article about the Duluth Omnimax Theatre. The public investment was made to attract new visitors to downtown Duluth, a magic bullet that looks silly today (it is not just a normal movie theater with a really big screen). Duluth is a great example. Canal Park is a success, and the downtown is a getting there too, but what brought these areas back wasn't the big attractions -- the Omnimax and the aquarium -- but the little things that made the area more friendly to pedestrians. Make a place comfortable to be in and people will go there. That should be the lesson of Canal Park. (And by the way, making places comfortable to be in is a lot cheaper than these huge Orderly but Dumb projects.)

After 13 months and about $9 million, the Duluth Omnimax Theatre lifts off tonight with an appearance by astronaut George “Pinky” Nelson and “The Dream is Alive,” a cinematic ode to America’s space shuttle program.

The theater — the 24th of its kind in the country — is the latest addition to the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, one that DECC operators hope will draw around a quarter-million visitors a year.

  • Thank you to Strong Towns Fellow Jen Krouse for always challenging my thinking and core assumptions. Enjoy this article on Sweden's billionaires. Now if there were a similar take on Norwegians, my ancestor's would be proud.

No single Swede comes close to the epic wealth of a Bill Gates or a Warren Buffett. But Stefan Persson, the chairman, main shareholder, and former longtime CEO of H&M, leads a roster of Swedish billionaires who outpace the U.S. (No. 14) on a per capita basis. In part this is just a bit of a funny coincidence—it’s a fairly small country, after all—but the fact that a famously left-wing country like Sweden can be so rich in billionaires is telling and important.

That’s because a billionaire isn’t just a guy with a well-paying job. To reach that level of stratospheric riches, you probably either need to start a big, successful company or else inherit one from someone who did. And however much people care about inequality, almost every place on Earth would like to be the kind of place where successful new firms are born and raised.

  • And finally, while I'm probably late to this one, someone sent me this video that I feel compelled to share. I laughed so hard -- brilliant stuff. Enjoy your coffee at the Starbucks or the Starbucks or the Starbucks or the....

On to Mississippi for a trip long on the board. Very excited to visit a state I've only been to once and then only briefly.


Welcome to all of you who are just discovering Strong Towns. In addition to the blog, podcast and TV channel here, join us on the Strong Towns Network for some additional discussion on this post and more.

And if you'd like more of my work, check out my book, Thoughts on Building Strong Towns (Volume 1). It is a primer on the Strong Towns movement and an essential read for those wanting to get up to speed quickly.