Strong Towns is a movement confronting the decline that’s baked into the American development pattern and offering a way forward that creates more successful, prosperous communities.
If you're new to this space, welcome. Here are 5 steps to help get yourself acquainted with our message and our movement. I guarantee that any one of these items will get you thinking about your city in a totally new way.
1. Explore the Curbside Chat.
Start your journey with the Curbside Chat. It's our core message, summarized in a series of videos and articles. The Curbside Chat clearly lays out the problem with the American pattern of development, and why a different approach is both necessary and, indeed, the only way forward if we want to build productive, prosperous communities. Explore the series below.
For thousands of years, humans built settlements scaled to people who walked. In a generation, Americans transformed an entire continent around a new transportation technology. We often fail to appreciate how we are testing this approach as we go. Quite simply: it's a massive experiment.
America’s cultural belief is that growing cities experience not only opportunity and prosperity today, but also success far into the future. There is a built-in assumption that new growth pays for itself today and generates enough wealth to sustain itself generation after generation This is a flawed assumption.
New growth creates an illusion of wealth. Local governments experiencing growth look and feel successful; they have high revenues and very little immediate costs associated with them. Long term though, as the liabilities start to come due, they learn that a free road isn't really free.
The biggest problem we face in this country is not a lack of growth. What we lack in America is productive growth—growth that builds wealth generation after generation. Productive growth makes a place better with age. It's full of cycles, endings and beginnings, rather than being a linear journey toward decline.
We like our places to emerge fully formed and then we expect them to never change, but that's not how life works. Cities need to be able to change and adapt, to start small and mature incrementally over time. We can't wait around for a big developer or a mega-project to fix our cities. The kind of development we need today happens from the bottom up.
The traditional development pattern has tremendous financial upside and limited financial downside. In contrast, our new, experimental approach is incredibly fragile with limited financial upside and a downside that can literally go negative. We can learn from the past in order to stop making the mistakes that will condemn our future.
2. Learn about the Growth Ponzi Scheme.
Once you've whet your appetite with the Curbside Chat, you'll probably be a little fired up. But what if we told you that all the unproductive growth you see when you look around your town is only the tip of the iceberg—and underground, things are even worse? The Growth Ponzi Scheme series give you a chance to dig deeper into why our nation's infrastructure crisis is so urgent—and not in the ways you may think. Don't have time to read the whole thing? Here's a short summary essay.
The underpinnings of the current financial crisis lie in a living arrangement—the American pattern of development—that does not financially support itself.
If you want a simple explanation for why our economy is stalled and cannot be restarted, it is this: Our places do not create wealth, they destroy wealth.
Our development pattern is not productive enough to sustain itself.
Our national economy is "all in" on the suburban experiment. We cannot sustain the trajectory we are on, but we've gone too far down the path to turn back.
How did we build such an amazing place before the home mortgage interest deduction? How did we accomplish this before zoning? What created this place before we had state and federal subsidies of local water and sewer systems?
3. Take the Strong Towns Strength Test.
Want to figure out what your town is doing well and where it needs to improve in order to be a strong town? Take the Strong Towns Strength Test. It's 10 questions that will not only make you think about the way your community is built, but also show you how to build it better.
4. Find out the real reason your city has no money.
Prepare to have your mind blown by just how screwed up the typical American city's land use is and what massive impacts that has on our local budgets. Read this short but powerful article to get the full story. Then check out Part 2: Poor Neighborhoods Make the Best Investments.
5. Keep going with all our best content.
If you've gotten this far down the list, thanks! We're glad you're digging deep in the Strong Towns message. You can find all our top articles from the last several years right here:
Why all these new storefronts are sitting vacant.
Local governments can’t take on more and more promises without generating enough wealth to meet those obligations—not without a reckoning. We need a radical revolution in how we plan, manage, and inhabit our cities, counties, and neighborhoods. We need a Strong Towns approach.
Incremental approaches are often cheaper, faster, or have less risk than sudden approaches. Let’s explore different types of incrementalism.
The closing of the mall’s anchor store exposes how fragile the community’s business model is, providing an opening to shift approach.
What does it take to be a small-scale developer in a struggling part of town? To put your money where your mouth is and participate in incremental neighborhood revitalization? One of our staffers knows firsthand.
Automated vehicle technology will do nothing to make our streets better places to be.
"Developers in my city are only building luxury housing. They're not building anything that ordinary people can afford." If you’ve said this lately, or heard someone else say it, here are five possible reasons why.
As a cycling advocate, I avoid talking about the times when riding a bike in the city is scary, because I don’t want to deter would-be new riders from giving it a try. There’s only one problem with pretending I’m never afraid: it isn’t true.
Gentrification and concentrated poverty are two sides of the same coin. We’ve engineered our cities so that neighborhoods get either too much investment or too little: the trickle or the fire hose.
3 dollars and cents arguments that definitively prove the need for people-oriented, walk-friendly places.
Many people leave the city and head for the suburbs once they have children. I did the opposite.
(Top photo source: Daniel Case)