Why Strong Towns?

At the start of our Membership Drive, Chuck asked me to take a few minutes to share with you all why I’m a part of Strong Towns, why Strong Towns Matters, and why you should join us, if you haven’t already.

I’ll start at the end of my personal story, which is this:

Once you learn the truth about the Suburban Experiment, you can’t unlearn it. You can’t stop seeing it. It drives you crazy, and it doesn’t let go.

In college I lived in a walkable environment for the first time. My eyes were opened to the experience of being a pedestrian.

Then I studied abroad in Italy. I lived for the first time without a car, and learned I could actually see the world on foot. I left for Italy fearing that not having a car would limit me. I returned with the realization that not needing a car was liberating.

But when I came back, America suddenly felt empty. Everything is so spread apart, all I could see looking around was the vast empty distance of “decorative” grass and pavement separating everything. When I got out of the car and walked around that empty space - something I doubt I ever would have done before - I realized it was even worse up close. The space isn’t just empty, it’s uncomfortable, dirty, and dangerous. You can’t that when you’re driving by at 50 MPH.

What I didn’t yet know is how also amazingly expensive it is for us to build things this way.

In the years to come I got into the real estate business. I learned about well-intentioned laws with horrible side effects. I learned about zoning, parking requirements, development finance, and the many other institutional structures that make the wise and prudent historical development pattern illegal, and mandate the Suburban Experiment. And, honestly, I got mad about it all.

I got connected to Chuck through mutual friends when Strong Towns was still mostly his personal blog. We immediately hit it off, and started working together on trying to do something about all this.

From the beginning it was clear that Chuck could explain the dysfunctional Suburban Experiment in a way that made sense to regular people. People were listening, they were learning, and they were beginning to care.

If I brought anything to the table, I believe it was this: a perspective that what we face is a social problem, not a technical one.

The problem is that people don’t know there’s anything wrong with what we do now. They don’t know it’s driving us bankrupt. They don’t know there’s an alternative.

It’s not that we don’t know how to live in a fiscally prudent way. The problem is that people don’t know there’s anything wrong with what we do now. They don’t know it’s driving us bankrupt. They don’t know there’s an alternative. They don’t know that the Suburban Experiment is not the natural result of the free market. They don’t know that their lifestyle is built on a massive government subsidy, the greatest social engineering effort of them all.

Because they don’t know, they don’t care. And until people care, things can’t change.

Let’s look at that from the other direction.

If we want things to change, first we need people to care. For people to care, they have to know.

Maybe that sounds obvious, but this recognition is, I believe, the foremost distinction between Strong Towns and all the other organizations out there. Strong Towns is different because:

  1. Our message is intended for ordinary people.
  2. When people hear the message they care.
  3. Our mission is to spread the message.

We get asked a lot, especially by industry professionals, why we don’t spent more of our energy on lobbying, policymaking, and projects. The answer is simple. As long as most people don’t know or care why we’re fighting the system, then we’ll always be a tiny minority fighting an uphill battle.

To create change, we need people to care. Millions of people.

Strong Towns matters because our calling is to clear the way, to grow a mainstream movement for change.

If you’re already a Strong Towns member, you have only one mission every year: recruit one more member.

You’ve got twelve months to find one person from among your friends and family, to tell them about Strong Towns and ask them to cast their vote of support by joining the movement. That’s not too much, right? 

But look what happens if we all do it:

2013 - 250 Members

2014 - 500 Members

TODAY - 791 Members!

2015 - 1,000 Members

2016 - 2,000 Members

2017 - 4,000 Members

2018 - 8,000 Members

2019 - 16,000 Members - bigger than Brainerd, MN ;)

2020 - 32,000 Members - this is just 5 years away!

2021 - 64,000 Members - bigger than Ohio State University

2022 - 128,000 Members - bigger than AIA

2023 - 256,000 Members - bigger than AICP

2024 - 512,000 Members - bigger than the ACLU

2025 - 1 Million Members - bigger than the NTHP

2026 - 2 Million Members - bigger than the NRDC

2027 - 4 Million Members - bigger than the Sierra Club

2028 - 8 Million Members - bigger than the NRA!

2029 - 16 Million Members - bigger than Illinois!!

2030 - 32 Million Members - bigger than the GOP!!!

This sounds insane, but all it takes for this to happen is for each of us to recruit one person each year. That’s it!

I’m not going to predict that we’ll have 32 Million Members in 15 years. But I will predict we’ll have 1000 members by the end of this year, and that will make three years in a row that we’ve doubled our membership.

And I’ll make one more prediction: We are going to get to a million people who care.

It’s not crazy. It’s movement building. This is how we’re changing the world. One person at a time.

If you’ve made it to the bottom of this post, I hope you’re as excited as I am. And if you’re not a member yet, I hope you’ll take this chance to join us. Your contribution, starting with as little as $25/year, is a vote of support. It adds your voice to the chorus, your mass to the wave. It helps us double every year.

And I won’t even count you as my one person to recruit :)

Thanks everyone, and keep doing what you can to build Strong Towns.