Take the Strong Towns Strength Test

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(Source: Arian Horbovetz)

(Source: Arian Horbovetz)

People frequently ask if there is a way to measure a successful Strong Town. We've resisted this push to define strong towns with a simple checklist because we understand that cities are complex, adaptable systems that defy easy or precise measurement.

So instead of developing a lengthy list of standards or creating some sort of certification process, we asked ourselves: Are there simple observations we use to signal that a city is either a strong town or on its way to becoming one? If you went to a place and had a little bit of time, could you scratch the surface and get a sense of how strong and resilient it was?

This exercise led us to develop what we call the Strong Towns Strength Test, in partnership with several Strong Towns members at a national gathering in 2014.

Since then, we have also created step-by-step guides that show you how to easily administer each question on the test, along with examples of towns that can answer "yes" to that question and ideas for how to nudge your own town in this direction. We invite you to check out each question below and ponder how your town would respond.

The Strong Towns Strength Test

A Strong Town should be able to answer “yes” to each of these 10 questions. Click on the underlined questions to read a step-by-step guide for answering that question.

  1. Take a photo of your main street at midday. Does the picture show more people than cars?

  2. If there were a revolution in your town, would people instinctively know where to gather to participate?

  3. Imagine your favorite street in town didn’t exist. Could it be built today if the construction had to follow your local rules?

  4. Is an owner of a single family home able to get permission to add a small rental unit onto their property without any real hassle?

  5. If your largest employer left town, are you confident the city would survive?

  6. Is it safe for children to walk or bike to school and many of their other activities without adult supervision?

  7. Are there neighborhoods where three generations of a family could reasonably find a place to live, all within walking distance of each other? 

  8. If you wanted to eat only locally-produced food for a month, could you?

  9. Before building or accepting new infrastructure, does the local government clearly identify how future generations will afford to maintain it? (Guide coming soon.)

  10. Does the city government spend no more than 10% of its locally-generated revenue on debt service? (Guide coming soon.)

It's rare to find a town that scores a perfect 10 on this test, but many could come close if they made some modest tweaks and changed their perspective. For instance, your answer to Question 4 can be easily changed by eliminating zoning and building rules within your municipal code that prevent such structures from being built. Other challenges like diversifying your local economy and shifting toward more local food production would require a greater investment of time and energy. Nonetheless, we firmly believe that most towns could pass this test, if only they committed themselves to growing stronger and more resilient.

How does your town stack up? Let us know in the comments!

(Top photo source: AHOC)

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