Board members Ian Rasmussen (left) and Andrew Burleson

Board members Ian Rasmussen (left) and Andrew Burleson

This past summer our Board of Directors adopted our first, formal strategic plan. The total number of words -- just 673 -- is half of my typical blog post. Still, there is a ton of substance to the brevity. It affirms some old beliefs and provides some important, new guidance.

The mission stays the same as it has been since the beginning, with one modest tweak:

To support a model of development that allows America's cities, towns and neighborhoods to become financially strong and resilient.

The one word change: we support a model of development where we used to speak of a model of growth. That subtle change of emphasis reflects our growing understanding of both the perniciousness of a model dependent on growth for its survival (the Ponzi scheme) and the inherent strength of a development pattern that can withstand long periods of stagnation, and even decline, without failing. 

I would like to change the word "resilient" to "antifragile" because that is what I really mean, but the more accurate term is not (yet) a widespread part of the American conversation and so resilient it is.

Our strategic plan then includes a vision of what we are trying to accomplish, something we've long thought but only now committed to words:

We seek to make the Strong Towns approach the default for every city, every state and nationally.

Our early drafts contrasted the Strong Towns approach with the Suburban Experiment, but we cut it back to focus on the affirmation. This is a big assertion -- the Strong Towns approach -- and I'm going to write about it for tomorrow. Defining an approach instead of a series of "solutions" -- a way of thinking instead of a way of doing -- reflects how we think about these things. 

With America's Suburban Experiment failing, we face a great unknown: a continent transformed by two+ generations of financially destructive development. We are financially fragile and socially frayed. These are starting conditions no other civilization has ever faced. The way to put this all back together into something coherent -- let alone strong and resilient -- is not clear. If it is to you, you don't really understand the complexity of the problem.

The way forward then is not a series of grand, universal solutions but a method for probing uncertainty. That's what I'm going to write about in more specificity tomorrow, but you can get a preview on our mission page.

The strategic plan then sets out our identify and explains who we are.

We are a media organization that is growing a national movement for change.

This statement is perhaps more important for what is excludes than what it says. As we have grown as an organization, we've dabbled in things like consulting, writing reports and doing projects. We've found these take a lot of time and effort and, while they might help pay the bills, they don't produce the results we need to see if we are to accomplish our vision with any sense of urgency. I have a sense of urgency and so does our board, so these things are no longer part of Strong Towns.

What is, as this identity statement suggests, part of Strong Towns are the things we do best. We write a really popular blog. We do a podcast that has listeners well into the five figure range making us, in the podcasting world, more than a minor player. We have growing and enthusiastic participation in our events and engagements. In short, our strength is our message and how we communicate it. If we want to see change happen, it is going to come from those strengths.

Finally, our strategic plan identifies our strategy.

We believe the change we seek will occur when a million Americans care enough to share our message with others. Our efforts are to create those million people.

A million people who care has been part of our internal conversation for a while, but this is the first time we actually defined what that meant. It's not audience and it's not members; it's something in between. It is a person who receives our message and finds it so important to their future that they tell someone else about it. We want a million of those people.

That means our message not only has to be compelling in its soul but has to be delivered in a consistently compelling way. That's a challenge I embrace. As a planner and engineer, it's not a natural skill set for me -- they don't teach you digital communications strategy in engineering school -- but I realize that we are the ones to deliver this message in this place at this time. We're giving it our all and, when I step back and look at what we've done, I'm proud of what we've accomplished thus far.

There is so much more to do, however, so no resting yet. Tomorrow I'll write about the Strong Towns approach. In the meantime, do your part and join 827+ who have already become members of the organization. We need your support to carry out this plan. Help us get to 1,000 Strong this year.