Local Chapters of Strong Towns

We just got done with a very successful member drive where we became 1000 Strong. There is a lot of enthusiasm out there for Strong Towns and the recurring question that we have long struggled with keeps coming up.

Chuck, I am so excited about what Strong Towns is doing. How do I start a local chapter and get things going here? Can you send me the paperwork? What do I need to do? I'm ready!

First, I want to give a big hug to everyone who sends me that email. Or at least a fist bump. I'm with you! I want to get things going too. I'm so impatient.

One of the really difficult things we've struggled with at Strong Towns is understanding what we should be doing. Or, perhaps more specifically, where what we're good at actually intersects with all the things that need to be done.

That is a really difficult question that we've struggled to answer. There is so much that needs to be done and we feel this compulsion to try and do it all. We've been asked to consult on projects. Yes! We've been asked to help draft legislation. Yes! We've been asked to do research. Yes! We've been asked to make a documentary. Yes! We've been asked to create a college course. Yes! We've been asked to do lobbying. Yes! And we've been asked to start local chapters. Yes!

Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!

Except, when we say yes to everything, we actually say no to everything. Regardless of how powerful our ideas and insights are, we can't do everything that needs to be done. In fact, we can't even do a small portion of what needs to be done. We have to do some things and consciously say no to others. The struggle is, how do you decide which is which, especially when you have people -- members and good friends -- who are so enthusiastic about something?

Last summer we finalized our first strategic plan. In the process of putting it together, we put all of the "things that we can do" on post it notes and placed them on the wall. We then organized them based on how hard they would be for us to do. Are we good at this? Can we actually accomplish this?

Once we had these organized top to bottom -- doable to not -- we then asked another question: Which of these would have the biggest positive impact on the change we want to see? We then organized these from left to right from least impact to the greatest. At this point, it became pretty clear what was both doable and mattered. It was one of those amazing moments of clarity that one struggles for years to reach.

So what are the things that Strong Towns can do that actually matters? There are three:

  1. We can produce high quality content to share our powerful message.
  2. We can distribute that content as broadly as possible.
  3. We can nudge people to take action.

In short, we can start a national movement to change the way people think about growth, development and prosperity. That's it. That's what we can do, although if you think it through, that's not a modest undertaking.

Legislation matters but we don't have the time or budget to write it. I've not the right temperament to be a lobbyist, do research or run a think tank. I would not do any of those well. A college course or documentary would be great but how many people would it really impact versus how much time we would need to spend to do it right? Consulting is a nice way to pay the bills but sucks up a huge amount of time for not much impact. Plus, we need others out there doing the consulting if this conversation is going to change things. And, of course, being a community organizer is a special gift that I do not have. Not only that, I could not conceivably get the resources to do community organizing or create local chapters on the scale that it would need to happen to matter.

This I'm very comfortable with. We are working hard to create the best content possible, distribute it as widely as possible and nudge people to take action to make their places stronger. That's a pretty worthy undertaking. We're very locked in and focused.

If any of you want to get together and talk Strong Towns, that would be awesome. If you want to start a discussion group like Austin and North Texas have done, that's awesome too. If you want to get together and advocate for change at the local level inspired by Strong Towns principles, that is also really amazing. Go for it! If you want to call yourself a Stronger Austin or Stronger Brainerd or whatever (just not Strong Towns), you don't need our permission. Just know, we're not going to tell you what to say, what to do or how to initiate the chaotic but smart innovations that need to happen in your community. We also might not agree with you. Chaotic but smart. 

What we will do is provide you with lots of food for thought, plenty of materials to share with others and all the ways we can find to bring more people to the conversation.

We're working to create a movement with a million people who care enough to share our message with others. If you care about something we are talking about, share it with others. Who knows where that might lead you.