Is Strong Towns the same as Sprawl Repair?


If Strong Towns is not Sprawl Repair, then what is it?

That’s the question one of you asked us on Twitter. And in this monologue podcast, Strong Towns Founder and President Chuck Marohn answers it.

Sprawl Repair, sometimes also called Suburban Retrofit, is a concept that Marohn describes as “brilliant, but silly.” The “brilliant” part is the recognition that it takes real genius to adapt these incredibly difficult sites. Taking suburban homes, big box stores, and office parks—places that were never designed to be renovated after they’d completed their original life cycle—and renovating them to go back into productive use takes tons of creativity. (The Sprawl Repair Manual by Galina Tachieva and Retrofitting Suburbia by Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson are examples of the brilliant.)

But there’s a lot on the “silly” side of the equation, too. Because while they may work in a handful of places where the desire and the economics come together, these strategies don’t scale to the broad swath of America that is financially insolvent, nor to the millions of homes that are in neighborhoods designed to decline.

Even sillier is the belief—widely held among some advocates—that sprawl repair can be something more than a boutique approach for niche places. And while suburban retrofit advocates are brilliant at coming up with solutions for those unique situations, Marohn contends that they are not up to the bigger challenges of fixing our broken development pattern, which is the problem Strong Towns is trying to solve.

This podcast delves into the problems of sprawl—what it really means, and what hidden forces underlie it. And then it proposes a unique set of Strong Towns approaches, some of which include Sprawl Repair, but some which go far beyond it.

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Top photo from MyBiggestFan on Flickr, used through a Creative Commons license.