Thinking Big About Thinking Small: The Strong Towns Philosophy in Conversation

The Strong Towns movement is a bottom-up revolution to change the way America’s cities and towns think about growth and development. And we see the power of our ideas reflected in the actions of committed change-makers all over the continent—many of them working at the neighborhood or small-town level.

One of those change-makers we’ve spotlighted before is Strong Towns member Elias Crim of Valparaiso, Indiana. Crim is the founder of Solidarity Hall, a group blog and publisher focused on re-imagining community. We’ve published his thoughts in the past on revitalizing a struggling neighborhood without relying on outsiders to come in and impose possibly unwanted change, as well as interviewed members of Solidarity Hall on the Strong Towns podcast.

Don’t let ‘em tear down that building. You can never go back from that.
— Chuck Marohn

Recently, Strong Towns founder and president Chuck Marohn appeared on an episode of the For the Love of Valpo podcast with Crim and Valpariaso mayoral candidate Bill Durnell. And this is one you’re going to want to listen to—even if you don’t know a thing about the town or have never set foot in Indiana.

Their conversation gets deep into an approach to growth and development that would put neighborhoods first, and many of the practical and financial obstacles to adopting that approach, including:

  • Why cities take huge risks on mega-projects but become risk-averse where small investments are concerned.

  • Why government should be a facilitator of neighborhood-based action.

  • How bureaucratic processes get in the way of taking immediate action on small, addressable issues.

  • How financing mechanisms tilt the scale against local, small-scale projects.

And now for something completely (or not so completely) different:

Chuck Marohn was also a recent guest on the Anarchitecture Podcast, which describes its subject matter as “the built environment of a stateless society.” Here at Strong Towns, we’re proud of our political diversity—but we have noted before the overlaps between Strong Towns thinking and some strains of libertarian thinking, at least at the level of federal policy, where the best thing the federal government can do for cities and towns is sometimes get out of the way.

So if you like a bit of Friedrich Hayek with your Jane Jacobs, check out this fascinating conversation hashing out the Strong Towns philosophy and what it means for how a nation of strong cities might look different from the present system, where cities’ destructive decisions are often driven not by local struggles, but by access to state and federal money.

Cover photo via US Department of Defense