We crossed a symbolic threshold here last week. Over the past twelve months, StrongTowns.org has had one million unique visitors. For some context, if you first found us two years ago -- October 2015 -- you were part of a 12-month trailing unique audience of just 275,000. And that was blowing my mind. One million is astounding.
I look beyond our raw traffic at our engagement levels and it gives me confidence in the movement we're building. We're not using clickbait headlines or cheap, partisan buzzwords to inflate our stats. Strong Towns is a deep and growing movement of people who want to change the conversation about growth, development and public investment. You all are spending more time on our site, delving deeper and -- most importantly -- sharing our message with others more frequently than ever. You're following us in record numbers on Facebook and Twitter and over 1,100 of you are having meaningful conversations on our Slack discussion forum. It's starting to have a huge impact (see: Strong Towns Success Stories).
All this from an organization with only three full-time and two part-time staff with a budget this year of slightly over $300,000. My friends, we're just getting started.
Last week I had the honor of giving a lecture at Yale University and, the next day, leading a panel discussion at New York University. Again, if you had told me nine years ago when I started writing here that I would be invited to speak at Yale and NYU -- along with MIT, Boston University and a couple of times at my alma mater, the University of Minnesota -- I would not have believed it possible.
One other astounding thing happened last week. On Monday, the website Planetizen published their list of The 100 Most Influential Urbanists and generously listed me at number ten. My initial reaction was embarrassment, but many of you have appealed to me to express some pride in the designation. There is little question that recency bias and the fact that this was an online ballot elevated my results beyond what they should have been, yet it's an overwhelming honor to even be listed.
I think it's important, as well, to acknowledge that it's more the Strong Towns movement that has gained influence than any single person. I don't know as we're top ten (yet) but reaching a million unique people, and engaging thousands every day, is something few advocacy groups are able to do in this space. We're doing pretty well here at Strong Towns.
As I went through Planetizen's list I found so many people who have had a direct and personal impact on my life. As a way of showing gratitude for their generosity, I thought I would give you some insight on how each of them has helped me along the way:
- Andres Duany, #5: To say that the work of Andres Duany has had a profound impact on my life puts me in a category with over half the people reading this right now. I ranked him #1 in my voting, ahead of even Jane Jacobs (heretical, I know). It's not just his work, though, but the fact that he has taken the time to encourage—and really challenge—me and others in the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) to step up. Many times he has stopped what he was doing to share a thought or idea with me. Once, we sat on the picnic table at his office for half an hour talking about my work and it profoundly changed how I thought about it. I've been at meetings with him where he got angry and challenged his peers to do better (he was right; few others would have been so bold) and I've seen him do the opposite by gently encouraging someone to step up and add their voice to a conversation. Andres is a true genius. No matter what I accomplish in my life, it will be a dim shadow to the bright light that is Andres Duany.
- Richard Florida, #11: I've been a fan of Richard Florida for a long time—The Rise of the Creative Class and The Great Reset are my two favorites—and finally got to meet him earlier this year when he was a guest on the Strong Towns Podcast. He was a very personable guy in a nice video chat we had off air and, in our broadcast, went out of his way to say some very nice things about Strong Towns.
- Donald Shoup, #13: When we booked Donald Shoup on the podcast I thought, "No way!" The guy is larger-than-life, yet not only did we have a great conversation, he also went out of his way to say some very kind and generous things about Strong Towns. He's known as the parking guy, but if you follow him for any length of time, you'll get past that professorial veneer and find a guy who is as witty as he is broadly insightful. He definitely deserves the high ranking.
- Janette Sadik-Khan, #16: I met Janette Sadik-Khan at CNU in Detroit last year where she was the star. I got to interview her for the podcast. She had handlers and people and I was worried she was going to be a stuffy diva when she showed up, yet nothing could have been further from the truth. We really clicked. She has a warm, friendly personality mixed with a no-nonsense kind of approach. She took extra time with me and even signed a book for my daughters. Very generous. I'm happy to see her doing well.
- Jeff Speck, #21: It's interesting because, of all the people on this list, I would not have guessed before I met him that Jeff Speck would become a good friend. I blame me for that but, regardless, playing pool with him at a dive bar in North Carolina is a road warrior highlight (he dominated each game, of course). Jeff has used his tremendous reach and influence to introduce me to people, coach me on my own writing and promote my work. His book, Walkable City, is the first book I was ever cited in—again, pretty astounding—and the podcast we did on it is one of our most popular ever.
- Peter Calthorpe, #22: I've never personally met Peter Calthorpe, but I wanted to include him here so I can make a confession. When I started my own consulting company during grad school (2001) I copied his Calthorpe and Associates logo design for my company, Community Growth Institute. I thought it was elegant and distinguished—everything a grad student who hired a couple classmates to write staff reports on deck variances in small, rural towns was not. I closed it all down when I made the leap to Strong Towns full time (2011) and the logo died with it.
- James Howard Kunstler, #29: This year I got a call out of the blue from Jim Kunstler asking for help with an MS Word formatting problem. I took that as a huge compliment; I would never ask someone for help like that unless they worked with me or we were good friends. I think Jim and I are good friends at this point. I certainly enjoy speaking with him and sharing insights. I've had him on the podcast more than anyone else, but I've also spent a lot of time just chatting with him. I know he comes across as prickly at times -- like many people with unique insights, he doesn't suffer fools well -- but I've found him to be a sincerely kind man. He certainly has been kind to me. Getting to know Jim was unexpected, but it's been one of the highlights of my time writing Strong Towns.
- Jarrett Walker, #57: I first met Jarrett Walker at CNU in Dallas in 2015 when he was a guest on the podcast. The day was such a blur—interview after interview -- and when it was his turn, I forgot his name, then the name of his company and we had to start over twice before I got it right. I felt like an idiot, yet he carried the interview well and was kind about it all. I've had him on subsequently—he was fantastic—and we've chatted a couple of times. I have a lot of misgivings about transit systems and transit advocates yet never felt confident voicing them because I don't encounter transit except when I travel; not often enough to have a depth of real world experience. Jarrett gave voice to my concerns and, in the process, taught me a ton about how transit systems really work. There is nobody close to his level of expertise on the topic.
- Joe Minicozzi, #61: What do I say? Joe Minicozzi is my best friend and closest professional collaborator. He has completed more of my intellectual sentences than anyone else. I love working with him. I love just hanging out with him. There is no better person on this list. Without Joe, I'm wandering aimlessly in the wilderness. If I'm #10 on this list, he is #9.
- Mitch Silver, #64: Mitch Silver and I first met in St. Louis at an APA event where we were both invited to speak. My cynicism with the APA had me not looking forward to his talk (he was the president at the time) and I have never been more profoundly wrong about anything. What a brilliant mind and powerful presence. Right there, at that moment, I was ready to sign up for whatever army Mitch was leading. I still would. Mitch brought me out to Los Angeles to speak in his APA session later that year (gave up his own time for Joe and me to share our work) and later brought me to Raleigh to give a Strong Towns lecture to senior APA officials. He's been a mentor offering continual encouragement and support. I feel deeply in his debt, an obligation I can only repay by earnestly continuing this work.
- Mike Lydon, #75: I met Mike Lydon at a CNU NextGen event in New Orleans. We stayed at Andres Duany's house along with about a dozen others and, when the beds and couches ran out, the two of us were relegated to the hardwood kitchen floor. We sat up and chatted late into the night and I was profoundly impressed with him. On the plane home that weekend, he wrote the first outline for what would become Tactical Urbanism, perhaps the most important urbanism concept of the last decade. I've become good friends with Mike and it gives me a lot of joy watching him experience so much success. He's one of those good guys you can't help but cheer for. And as a bonus, his work is changing everything.
- Kaid Benfield, #79: Without Kaid Benfield, I'm not sure what Strong Towns is today. It certainly is not reaching a million people in 2017. I think it is fair to say that Kaid discovered Strong Towns. He was the first one to take the time to delve into my writing and to share it with his huge national audience. He had a lot of advice for me— which I tried to follow— and, on more than one occasion, went out of his way to invest his free time in growing our friendship. He always took the time to help me when I asked, and sometimes even when I didn't. I owe Kaid a lot. I try to honor him by seeking out new writers and sharing their stuff with our audience.
- R. John Anderson, #80: I'm so happy to see John Anderson on this list. Since we first met, John has taken a deep interest in me and my work. It was confusing to me at first, but then I realized that he was just a kind and generous guy. He cultivates a persona that is the opposite—kind of the old curmudgeon—but it's hard for him to hide his genuinely warm character. He is the New Urbanist practitioner I most admire and his recent work with the Incremental Development Alliance is more like a calling. There is nothing that would make this country better off than thousands of R. John Anderson acolytes out there doing small development projects. And it might happen! If it does, he should be in the top ten on this list, which is where I voted for him.
- Jason Roberts, #95: I also put Jason Roberts in my top ten. Along with Mike Lydon, his work is the most profoundly important being done today. And while I realize that Planetizen tried to broaden the list to include people with non-traditional credentials, nobody comes from a more refreshing background than Jason (web design, music, tinkering). The success of The Better Block has been profound but, having gotten a glimpse of what Jason and his team are working on, they are just getting started. I've gotten the opportunity to spend a fair amount of time with Jason—enough to become good friends—and I've learned a ton. Nobody is more generous with their time and ideas. He drove hours to speak at our Strong Towns Summit earlier this year and his presentation was a highlight of the event. If this list is updated a decade from now, Jason Roberts easily finishes in the top ten.
Thank you to everyone who voted for me in Planetizen's survey. And thank you to everyone who has shared our work or signed up to be a member and helped us a reach a million readers. Let's keep this going.