People frequently ask if there is a way to measure a successful Strong Town. Systems like LEED-ND have value, but the technical analysis required is time consuming and beyond the reach of many non-professionals. The Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) sets guidelines for municipalities, but they don’t generally result in information that is usable for non-technical people.

We understand that cities are complex, adaptable systems that defy easy or precise measurement, so we asked ourselves: are there simple observations we use to signal that a city is either a strong town or on its way to becoming one? If you went to a place and had a little bit of time, could you scratch the surface and get a sense of how strong and resilient it was?

Here are ten simple questions we call the Strong Towns Strength Test. A Strong Town should be able to answer “yes” to each of these questions. (Click on the underlined questions to read a step-by-step guide for answering that question.)

  1. Take a photo of your main street at midday. Does the picture show more people than cars?

  2. If there were a revolution in your town, would people instinctively know where to gather to participate?

  3. Imagine your favorite street in town didn’t exist. Could it be built today if the construction had to follow your local rules?

  4. Is an owner of a single family home able to get permission to add a small rental unit onto their property without any real hassle?

  5. If your largest employer left town, are you confident the city would survive?

  6. Is it safe for children to walk or bike to school and many of their other activities without adult supervision?

  7. Are there neighborhoods where three generations of a family could reasonably find a place to live, all within walking distance of each other? 

  8. If you wanted to eat only locally-produced food for a month, could you?

  9. Before building or accepting new infrastructure, does the local government clearly identify how future generations will afford to maintain it?

  10. Does the city government spend no more than 10% of its locally-generated revenue on debt service?

My hometown of Brainerd scores a 1 or a 2, but only because the biggest employer (the school district) can’t leave town and there are a couple of neighborhoods where multiple generations could technically live within walking distance of each other. We're getting closer on local food, and many the rest are doable with some modest change in thinking. 

What does your place score?