Best of 2015: 4 Key Podcasts from the Year

If you haven’t checked out our podcast yet, I can not recommend it highly enough. I enjoy listening to it while biking or cleaning around the house. Here are some of my favorite episodes from 2015, listed in chronological order.


Joe Cortright on Gentrification

Consistent and concentrated poverty -- not gentrification -- is America's biggest urban challenge according to a report released in 2015, Lost in Place. Joe Cortright, author of the report, stops by the podcast for an excellent examination of the findings. 

The report takes a look at high-poverty neighborhoods and the changes that have taken place over the last four decades with a particular focus on the role of gentrification and displacement. Cortright discusses how typical policy responses to gentrification such as more zoning regulations or rent controls can actually make the problem worse:

The impulse often is to stop it, to block it [gentrification], to keep things from changing in the hopes that will make things better. As an economist, it just clearly makes things worse. The more you constrain supply; the more difficult you make it to build more housing; the more you drive up housing costs for everybody. It particularly disadvantages the poor. It’s very, very clear that if you’re concerned about gentrification, you ought to be doing everything you can to encourage the growth of the housing supply. I think what’s called for here is sort of a ju-jitsu. You don’t try to block gentrification but you try to take advantage of the energy and the flow of capital that is being created.


Steven Shultis on Urban Schools

If you raise your kids in a poorer school district in a traditional neighborhood, are you cheating your kids of a good education? Strong Towns member, Steven Shultis, addresses that question head-on in this episode describing his experience as a parent of children in an urban school system. He also teaches in a wealthy suburban school district nearby, giving him a broad range of experience that few others have. 

Shultis does an excellent job describing the challenges and opportunities that come with living in a poorer school district. Particularly fascinating and enlightening is the discussion about the achievement gap between urban and suburban school districts and how it is largely a matter of perception. After listening to the podcast, head over to his blog, Rational Urbanism, for more insights.


1000 Friends v. United States DOT

This episode of the podcast covers one of the biggest stories of the year from a Strong Towns perspective. In May, a U.S. District Court ruled that Wisconsin DOT officials had used a flawed traffic projection analysis that exaggerated demand to justify a road widening project. The ruling has potentially profound implications for road expansion projects.

The podcast features an interview with Steve Hiniker, Executive Director of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, the plaintiff that prevailed in the case. Hiniker outlines how WisDOT projected substantial increases in traffic despite a population that was declining in parts of the area plus fewer miles per capita being traveled statewide.  

The loser is the taxpayer. But it’s beyond the taxpayer. What we have done in Wisconsin when we have run low on funds in the transportation fund for highway projects; we’ve been taking away funds from the maintenance of local roads and transit assistance. So that those forms of reimbursement for maintenance have been going down for the past 25 years and the money has been diverted for road projects. And now even that isn’t enough so we’re looking at taking money from the general fund, perhaps new taxes. All for roads that can’t be justified on the data that is supposed to be used to allow these projects to move ahead. 

Appellate attorney, Mahesha Subbaraman, also joined the podcast to give a more in-depth legal analysis of the ruling.


Toby Dougherty on his City's Efforts to Implement a Strong Towns Approach

Toby Dougherty is the City Manager of Hays, Kansas. He offers an incredibly important perspective as a government official who is working with staff, elected officials and the general public to look at his city’s budget using many of the same principles we talk about at Strong Towns. 

Dougherty and his staff are spurring that conversation with visually compelling information that lays out the need for a new approach in a clear and concise manner. 

Dougherty said finding Strong Towns was like having a lightbulb go off. Strong Towns has helped him ask the right questions. He notes the most important place to start is by defining the problems and challenges. By doing so, it becomes clear that the status quo is not an option. He doesn’t pretend to know all the answers, observing that solutions must be found through a community discourse. 

“In the national dialogue we’re having on Strong Towns and on building healthy, resilient, financially strong places; we need more people like Toby Dougherty. He is a guy who should be a national leader, who should be a guy that people listen to and take advice from. Here’s a guy who is spending a lot of time and a lot of mental energy trying to make this stuff work.” -Chuck Marohn, Strong Towns Founder and President


There were a lot of excellent conversations on the podcast this year. This is by no means an exhaustive list. What were some of your favorites?