Will we invent our way out of Strong Towns?

I’ll be real with the readers, I have a very cliche desk job. I show up, sit (or stand), work, browse the internet and then go home. It isn’t very stimulating and so, I find myself with a lot of time to think. I’ve thought a lot about Strong Towns and the future of our message and with that, I’ve thought of the potential hurdles in our path toward world domination.

As in every market there are things that cause disruption. 3D printing is sending waves across manufacturing, the internet simultaneously killed and birthed several markets, and the automobile, as we all know, changed the American transportation market forever.

These were all disruptive technologies that will or have left an impact on our everyday life, but what about the Strong Towns “market”—the message that our current system of building will leave us flat broke? Is there a disruption on the horizon that could potentially put us out of business?

Before I continue, I'll preface by saying this article is a theoretical exercise meant to get us thinking and spur discussion, not an absolute proclamation about the future.

What if there is an event horizon that kills our message and leaves us obsolete in the modern conversation about city building and infrastructure?

So what if there is an event horizon that kills our message and leaves us obsolete in the modern conversation about city building and infrastructure? Below are some ideas that have been bouncing around in my noggin.

1. Strong Towns chief cornerstone is decay

Our message is that infrastructure can’t and won’t last forever and when the bill comes due, we’re not going to have the copper in the coffers to rebuild it. We all know this to be true and we’re starting to see the very real consequences of it.

But what if that stops being the case? What if the cement of the future heals itself and roads self repair, massively increasing their shelf-life? The Curbside Chat deals with the idea that we’re running out of money and we simply can’t maintain what we’ve built. But what if we can maintain it? After all, there were old roads, sewer lines and water lines that were made of wood.

You could apply this same question to most infrastructure out there, water lines, gas lines, sewers, etc… Some miracle technologies like graphene and carbon nanotubes are already in production and are close to being ubiquitous as a construction or manufacturing material along with seemingly daily discoveries of new materials.

2.  Essentials, goods and the necessary movement of people

Image from  Wikimedia

Image from Wikimedia

We’re reaching a day and age where energy might be able to be generated and stored right on site. Imagine a house going up that needs no power lines because solar and batteries are so efficient that the whole house is self contained, generating and storing the power on site. As far as goods are concerned, Amazon is quickly showing us what a future of drone-delivered goods will look like. And even though self-driving cars may not revolutionize transportation as some believe, they could do wonders for the transportation of goods.

As I mentioned above, 3D printing is causing some very large market disturbance. How long until 3D printing is commonplace in the American home? Could it cause a drop in deliverable goods and lessen the strain on infrastructure?

It’s not just goods either; it’s people as well. Working remotely has exploded with the internet and the shuttering of the traditional office model. And though it may not revolutionize transportation all together, the self driving car could push people even further away from the core of the city.

3. Communication and interaction

If you keep your pulse on the video game world, you’ll know that Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are really, really hot right now. You can even get a Google Cardboard that can turn your smartphone into a type of virtual reality. The demo allows you to tour the Versailles Palace… from your phone, people.

As this technology progresses and is integrated with our communication, will we need to travel as much? Do we need to “get together” over the holiday or will “beaming in” through Skype and VR be enough to turn people off? Though I believe that traveling will always be necessary and desired, will the whittling away of traditional norms via technology make our infrastructure last even longer?  

I mentioned remote working above, but could something like this catapult it to a level of ubiquity never before experienced? Will commuting be a thing of the past?

Final Thought

There are intangible aspects to Strong Towns that will remain and may even get stronger, but the question of the physical infrastructure that we’ve built and will build is what boggles the mind. Can we crack the code to unlimited building? More importantly, do we want to? Is the worst of disconnected building yet to come? 

We should be prepared for a world with rapid expansion and make sure our message is rock solid, not just from an infrastructure point of view, but from a community building view as well.

Leave your thoughts below.

(Top photo from Wikimedia)