10 Reasons Why Strong Towns Enhance Community Health

We’re in the midst of a quiet revolution in thinking about public health. Over the past few decades, health and planning professionals alike have begun to understand the countless interconnected ways in which our built environment affects health outcomes. These outcomes range from obesity to public safety to the effects of air pollution, and include more intangible aspects of community well-being such as local economic self-sufficiency, social connectedness, and access to support services. All of these things are profoundly shaped by how we build our cities and towns, and whether we’re doing so in a way that helps us connect or drives us apart.

At Strong Towns, we’re committed to doing our part to shape this conversation about public health, and to do so in a way that reflects our mission: to support a model of development that allows America's cities, towns and neighborhoods to become financially strong and resilient.

Financial strength isn’t something that exists in a vacuum: it’s intimately tied to a holistic vision of what makes a community a productive place that can create and retain real value (not just monetary wealth) over the long term, and through economic and cultural shocks. We’ve assembled some of our best content related to public health and community well-being in order to highlight these connections.

If you like these resources and find them helpful, support the Strong Towns movement by becoming a member. Your support, at any amount, helps us produce more content like this, so we can continue to push the conversation forward about building strong places.

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1. A strong town knows where to #SlowTheCars.

High-speed traffic in places where people are going to be walking is a recipe for tragedy. We have been on the front lines of the push for reform in the engineering profession, ever since our founder, Charles Marohn (himself a licensed civil engineer) wrote his famous Confessions of a Recovering Engineer in 2010. Central to our understanding are the following principles:

2. A strong town is not car-dependent.

Cars are not evil. They are a useful tool that has revolutionized humans’ ability to get around and connect with each other. But they should be a tool, not a mandatory prosthetic device.

3. A strong town is walkable.

Walkability has profound benefits for not just the fiscal productivity of our cities, but the health, safety, and happiness of their resid-ents.

We don’t just make the case for walkability either. Over the years, we’ve delved into some of the nitty-gritty aspects of what actually makes walkability work in practice, providing tools for designers and policy makers. A couple examples:

4. A strong town is better for kids.

In a strong town, the neighborhood is the primary level at which we invest in and care for our cities and towns: we focus on doing the little things. And a return to neighborhood-centered life has outsized benefits for children.

5. A strong town is better for seniors.

We have worked to shine a spotlight on the isolating consequences of auto-oriented development for another vulnerable population: America’s growing number of senior citizens. As driving becomes more onerous for the aging Boomer generation, we face a greater need for places where they can continue to live full and rewarding lives.

6. A strong town makes it easier for those who need support and community to find it.

America’s postwar suburban experiment has had profoundly isolating effects: in auto-oriented communities, we go through more of life than ever without having spontaneous interactions with our neighbors, or even with fellow citizens from different walks of life. Those in need may not only have fewer people they can reach out to for help, but also be more physically isolated from necessary resources.

7. A strong town supports local entrepreneurs.

Small-scale entrepreneurship used to be an important avenue of upward economic mobility. The suburban development pattern has weakened our communities’ ability to support bootstrapping and to keep money in their local economies.

A small corner grocery story (Source:  Dave Souza )

A small corner grocery story (Source: Dave Souza)

8. A strong town supports local food systems.

To address the challenges of access to healthy, affordable food, we need to think beyond the big-box supermarket. Food-centric approaches to community planning can help make your town more prosperous and more healthy.

  • This two-part deep dive by Max Azzarello looks at a misguided effort by New Brunswick, NJ to lure (and subsidize) a large grocer—and outlines a real alternative, one that would have provided better food access to low-income residents by focusing on the city’s small grocers and bodegas.

  • Food-centered urban design can keep money in the local economy and in residents’ pockets.

9. A strong town is fiscally sound for the long haul.

Most of America’s towns and cities are functionally insolvent, or on the road to it. The hangover of decades of debt-driven growth and accrued maintenance liabilities is increasingly starving our local governments of the resources they need to meet citizens’ actual needs today.

Map of net return on public investment per property in Lafayette, Louisiana, by Strong Towns and Urban3.

10. The Strong Towns approach is the best antidote to the problems of the Growth Ponzi Scheme.

We can respond rationally to the slow-rolling crisis of failing infrastructure and an insolvent development pattern which has left people less healthy, less happy, less safe, and more isolated. But we need to think differently. We need to think small, bottom-up, and nimble. Strong Towns doesn’t have prescriptive solutions, but we offer rational responses to cities and towns ready to do things a better way.

(Top photo by d-olwen-dee)