Strong Towns thinking is like a diet

We've had so much good stuff over on the Strong Towns Network, we've decided to share a second blog post today. This one is by Max Siegel, an accountant living in Mountain View, CA, and a regular contributor of good ideas over on the Network. Max has worked in government, local politics and high tech.  He is currently looking for ways to implement low cost/high return projects in his community. The best way to get a hold of Max is by email


If there are stages to Strong Towns thinking, the follow-up to understanding the curbside chat is to ask: “What do we do now?” “How do we fix what we have?”  The only response is to say  "Stop."  Stop what you are doing, and look to what is truly financially viable and what is not.  Triage, and then move on.  In many ways this is like a diet.  I’m not reference a diet like a “road diet.”  I’m referencing approaching the system and habits that lead to poor outcomes, identifying weaknesses, and reinforcing positive behavior.  A diet isn’t about being proactive.  A diet is largely about stopping.  In this way, approaching the Suburban Ponzi Scheme is like approaching weight loss and unhealthy eating.

So we are on the same page, I define the purpose of a diet to: 

1) Return a body to a healthy state (in weight and other physical functions); and 

2) Develop long-term habits that will sustain this new healthy state.  

I speak from my experience losing a considerable amount of weight.  This is not medical advice, nor is founded in scientific study.  The purpose of this writing is to draw an analogy, not to recommend a lifestyle.  Consult your doctor before starting a new eating regimen.

When I was losing weight, I was not proactive.  I didn’t eat certain foods or buy certain exercise equipment.  I didn’t even exercise.  After all, if running for one hour burns the equivalent of a Twix bar, it seems a lot easier not to eat the Twix bar.  Emphasis on the "seems."  Rather, I identified the habits and foods that lead to my previous state…and stopped.  I stopped post-supper eating.  I stop mid-meal eating.  I stopped eating foods that were made by people whom I would never have a chance of meeting (processed foods, fast foods, most restaurant foods).  When I whittled away the unhealthy habits, I was left with only the healthy choices that lead to my current state.  Objectives one and two achieved (for now).  That’s the short of it.  It is simple, but hard to implement.

This analogy extends further when you consider incentives to eat and build.  How can an unsubsidized orange compete with a fruit snack made largely from heavily subsidized corn?  How can we expect cities to choose to build any other way when they have the option to buy a highway at a low (subsidized) cost?  Sure, there’s free will, but who’s going to give up the “free” money?

Moving forward with building productive places will be the same as dieting.  One way or another we will identify the buildings and habits that lead to a financially unproductive environment.   We’ll cease these habits through either our collective will or our empty wallets.  The excess of our built environment will shrink over time, leaving us with the trim towns and cities that previous generations knew well.   So, let’s get it on.  At least, that is the thinking that allows me to fall asleep after reading this blog.


If you have some great content that you would like to see appear in this space, head over to the Strong Towns Network and share it as a blog. Each week we are taking the top blog content from the Network site and sharing it here. Many thanks to Max Siegel and Kevin Klinkenberg for this week's contributions.