This week we're going to do something new and focus all of our resources on one specific part of the country, that being Minnesota's Iron Range. Along with Jason Schaefer, I'm going to be spending the entire week on the Iron Range giving Curbside Chats, hosting walking tours, making presentations and meeting with as many people as possible. The on-the-ground work is going to be supplemented by our efforts here in our media stream. We're going to have articles and podcasts focusing on Strong Towns issues through the prism of the Iron Range.
This effort is what we've been calling the Curbside Chat+. The concept is to focus intently on a region bringing all our efforts and resources to bear to saturate the conversation with the Strong Towns message. Our hope is to move the needle dramatically in a short period of time, changing the trajectory of an entire region towards a stronger, more resilient future.
We've spent the last few weeks getting things ready, making contacts, lining up events and getting our message out there in a preliminary way. Following this big week, we're going to work over the coming months to reinforce the message, support those who step up and connect people on the Range to the broader Strong Towns community of change makers. This is a big deal.
We're very grateful to the Blandin Foundation -- our original sponsor from way back 2011 whose initial financial support made everything we do possible -- for supporting another step forward for the Strong Towns movement. We're also thankful for the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) for their courage in partnering to make this happen.
What is the Iron Range?
The Iron Range is a region in Northern Minnesota so named because of its high concentration of mineral deposits. Even though I've lived my life on the edge of the Range -- the mascot for the next town over is the Ranger -- it's felt like a world apart.
For many decades long before my time, the economy was dominated by mining. Mining companies founded and ran most of the cities. Nearly every family had someone who worked directly in the mines and the few that didn't were directly impact by those that did. Dominantly Scandinavian in ethnicity, there was a lot of community pride -- and wealth -- as evidenced by the grand high schools, impressive public buildings and other community investments still found in those cities.
As the mining industry changed and became more mechanized, and as the easily extracted iron ore dwindled, the area economy has faced some fairly predictable challenges. Cities have emptied making them harder to maintain. The boom/bust cycle has repeated many times, creating a difficult environment for capital investment. The region has seemed to struggle with whether or not it is a mining community with some other stuff, or whether it is going to be something else with some mining thrown in. There is more at stake in that question than the economy.
In my lifetime, I've seen us Minnesotans do our best to help Iron Range communities in the same way we've tried to help other struggling places: massive infrastructure projects, huge subsidies to unaccountable outside corporations and big glamour projects that were to be a catalyst for growth. The entire Strong Towns narrative is wrapped around the folly of such an approach so I won't belabor that here. Needless to say, there are a lot of good people here with some reasonable apprehension about the future. There are also some fascinating people working to shape that future; we're going to highlight a few of them this week.
Why are we focusing on the Iron Range?
The simple answer is that the leadership of the Blandin Foundation has made this happen, with the support of the IRRRB. We've been searching for an area to pilot the Curbside Chat+ program and they were the most interested. We're very grateful, especially me, to be on familiar terrain this week.
The more complex answer is that this is the type of place uniquely ready for the Strong Towns message. For decades, everyone working in an official capacity on the Range has been trying to diversify the economy. In our conversations with people, they are almost fed up with the term "diversify" because, while it sounds good in theory, it's amounted to a lot of money spent, not enough to show for it and a lot of fear and frustration. We can help change that.
There are so many great things happening on the Iron Range. We're going to highlight them. And the place is just dripping with opportunity. We're going to highlight that too. I firmly believe that the Iron Range has everything it needs to be successful and prosperous. We don't come with answers but with a fresh set of questions designed to expand the dialog already happening on the future of the Range.
How does this fit with our strategic plan?
Our Strategic Plan identifies three things that we are doing to build a movement of a million people who care. They are: (1) produce great content, (2) distribute it broadly and (3) nudge people to take action. This is the first time we've combined, in a very systematic way, all three of these into one effort.
The Strong Towns message, particularly the Curbside Chat, is really powerful. We've produced some exciting content to localize that message. We have been working to distribute it in the weeks prior and now, with Jason and I on the ground, are going to be using every means we have to distribute it broadly and saturate this market. We're looking to bring people into our dialog and then, in the coming months, support them as they share our message with others and do what they can to make their places stronger. This is a really exciting project that we hope becomes a model for how we can engage other places around the country.
What can I do to help?
We're going to be bringing a lot of new people to the Strong Towns conversation this week. If you want to help us, engage them. Be part of their dialog. Connect them to the broader conversation here. We have such an incredibly thoughtful audience and now over 1,200 members working to build Strong Towns. Let's take this week and see if we can nudge some communities on the Iron Range a little closer to becoming Strong Towns.
And then let's find a way to do this again and again across the country.