We get it. Although you can become a member at any amount, we know you have a lot of worthy causes you could give money to. And even if you're fully on board with what we're trying to do, you may see us as just one more in a constellation of organizations that are more than deserving of your support, time, and money.
And you're right. Many, many people and groups are doing incredible work that is resulting in stronger cities and towns, and they deserve your support too. Maybe the thing that keeps you up at night is your town's fiscal solvency. Maybe it's affordable and plentiful housing. Maybe it's making sure that opportunity exists for the next generation of small businesses and entrepreneurs. Maybe it's that you want a safe and friendly place to raise a family. Maybe your fight is for government that is more responsive to its citizens. Maybe it's for local food self-sufficiency, for pedestrian safety, for environmental conservation, for reinvestment in poor neighborhoods and marginalized communities, for eliminating financial waste. We've probably published articles that relate to the causes you're passionate about. We've probably given shout-outs to the work of committed advocates working on that cause.
But still, we hope you've found something of a philosophical home in Strong Towns. We hope we speak, powerfully, to the world you want to see. And we hope we can keep doing that, for an ever-larger audience, with your support.
I'm going to get a little personal here, because I do find that Strong Towns uniquely speaks to the world I want to see. It's why I approached Chuck Marohn after he gave a talk in my city four years ago and said, "I want to volunteer. Put me to work." It's why I put in many dozens of hours over nearly three years as a regular contributor. And it's why I jumped at the chance to apply for a full-time position working for this one-of-a-kind organization.
Let me offer four reasons that Strong Towns is my activist home.
1. Strong Towns Aims for Bottom-Up Social Change
In a piece we published yesterday, Chuck Marohn posed a provocative question: "What do you do when you need to change everything?"
We believe the answer is counterintuitive, yet informed by centuries of understanding of how social movements work: you focus on the bottom of the societal power structure, not the top. You try to spark change that starts at the personal scale, or the neighborhood one.
All impactful social movements are viral. They take on a life of their own, and then they grow exponentially—precisely because of the lack of a guiding hand from above. Launching a social movement is the only way we will ever achieve a multiplier effect far beyond anything that a handful of full-time staff (and a larger cohort of awesome volunteers) can achieve directly.
And we see it working. Every month, more stories come in of people sharing our message and our content in ways that our staff and volunteers had zero involvement in or prior knowledge of. And this is exactly what we want. We want the Strong Towns movement to be many times bigger than the Strong Towns organization.
2. Strong Towns Offers Ways of Thinking, Not Simple "-ism"s
History is littered with the wreckage of previous generations' "best practices." As a trained urban and regional planner, I try to be cognizant of this lesson every day. My profession, after all, played a pivotal role in the disastrous 20th-century policies of urban renewal and bulldozing intact neighborhoods to build freeways. And we're still working to redeem ourselves in the public consciousness for it.
The people who messed things up last time around thought they were doing the right thing by their communities. They had every good intention in the world. A rational person can't look at the professions that deal with the built environment today—architects, planners, engineers, developers, elected officials—and say, "But they were wrong. This time we're right about everything." A rational person needs to act with humility, with the cognizance that there are big things we don't know that we don't know.
Strong Towns aims to manifest that humility by offering more questions than answers. We're never going to give you a simple list of "best practices" to import wholesale into your city. We're not going to answer questions like "What is the ideal density for a strong town?" when we know that answer varies so wildly from place to place. We're going to talk about patterns that we see, problems that are pervasive, and possible rational responses to those problems. And we're going to give you questions you should ask to better understand your own place's strengths and challenges.
3. Strong Towns Won't Insult Your Intelligence
This is ironic for me to say—I've spent a large chunk of my post-college career as a professional activist. But I hate activist-y writing. You know the kind I'm talking about. The kind that erases nuance in favor of big, declamatory statements. “The American people are sick and tired of (X), and they're hungry for more of (Y) NOW!”
If you hang out on our website, you'll find as many deep-dive essays into the nooks and crannies and contradictions of a topic as you do one-pagers you can print out and hand to your city council person. You'll find conversational, candid accounts of experiments in building strong places gone mostly right, sometimes a little bit wrong.
You'll find that our writers sometimes disagree with each other, and sometimes contradict each other. We like to publish point-counterpoint discussions, or feature them on our podcasts. That lack of tightly focus-grouped language and "message discipline" is a feature, not a bug. We want our members having good conversations about the ideas we put out there, and those ideas are complex. They require introspection. They require humility.
We want you to come away from our content understanding the world around you, and the underlying patterns and assumptions that shape it, better than you used to. And the reason we do this? So that you can go out and be an effective change agent. That's our promise to you.
4. Strong Towns Bridges Political Divides
Is there a place we can still talk to each other?
A lot of people find it unbelievable that there could be a movement in 2018 America that is political in the sense that it deals with government and policy, and yet not at all partisan. And yet here we are: our membership comes from all points along the political spectrum, and we hope to continue to speak to all of those positions with respect and authenticity.
And we don’t achieve this by being blandly centrist. We achieve it by being, if anything, radical. A friend of mine once told me, “I don’t want to be left or right. I’d rather be front.” We hope to challenge every single reader’s preconceived notions at some point or another. If we’re doing that, we’re doing this thing right.
I'm immensely proud of our comments section. It is a thing of wonder. It's rarer than a unicorn on the internet in 2018: a place where people challenge each other gently, respectfully and cogently. A place where everyone in the conversation frequently comes out thinking more clearly about a complex issue, having gone, "Hmm," about something they thought they believed. A place where ideological tropes are rare and, "Yes, and...." answers are common.
Our Slack discussion forums are similar. I come away from the organic conversations that happen there immensely proud of the movement we're building.
We're happy to have you in that movement. If you're not a member, become one today.