Blog Review – Strong Towns


One of many blogs I  follow is Strong Towns. Established in 2008, this is a national non profit organization, promoting a new way of thinking about how towns grow, to be sustainable and resilient communities.  Their posts and articles related to my experiences as a professional planner for a small town, struggling to maintain our quality of life, but seeking re-development opportunities to pay for needed services.

The founder and President is Charles Marohns, a Professional Engineer (PE) licensed in the State of Minnesota and a land use planner with two decades of experience. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering and a Master of Urban and Regional Planning, both from the University of Minnesota.

After a decade working with towns, he couldn’t understand that will these communities grew, they also were going bankrupt. He realized “Our national system of growth and development is fundamentally broken, and it’s put too many American cities (and the people who live in them) on the path to certain decline. ” From this Strong Towns was started.

Their core values are (emphasis added):

“….that the American pattern of development extracts wealth from communities, leaves them with unsustainable long-term liabilities, and results in places that are designed to decline.

We are building the capacity of city leaders, institutions and built environment professionals to challenge the status quo.

And we are inspiring a broad movement of people, from all walks of life, who are actively engaged in making their neighborhoods more resilient and livable.”

They deliver their services by:

Strong Towns Media – articles, podcasts, and videos

Strong Towns Academy – a recent addition, comprehensive resource of nine in-depth courses. I just enrolled in the free introduction course, Strong Towns 101.

Strong Towns Community –  readers and members participate in honest, meaningful discussions regarding the state of their communities

Strong Towns Events – produce gatherings that connect local advocates, send staff members  to speak to communities about our ideas with the sponsorship of local organizations.

Timely Material

Two recent publications are relevant in the COVID-19 era:

First,  Strong Towns: A Bottom-Up Revolution to Rebuild American Prosperity written by Charles Marohns, the founder.  Note: I don’t receive any payments or other benefits from the book reference.

The book reinforces their advocacy for a new way of thinking about how our towns and communities are developed:

“Why our cities are on the cusp of a long, slow decline, and how to approach the challenge in a rational way.

Why inducing growth and development has been the conventional response to urban financial struggles – and why it just doesn’t work.

Why old and blighted areas are often more financially productive than shiny new ones.

The power of little bets to strengthen communities and improve the lives of citizens.

How humble public engagement can create amazing insights.

The surprising ways that strong neighborhoods make us better people.

Their second is a timey –   THE LOCAL LEADER’S TOOLKIT: A STRONG TOWNS RESPONSE TO THE PANDEMIC, a COVID-19 recovery guidance for local governments over three phases –  Immediate (first 60 days), We’re Not Going Back to Normal (3-12 months) and Building a Strong Town (one year and beyond). 

“It seems unlikely that we are going to return to pre-coronavirus America anytime soon. This global pandemic feels like a switch that has released
long-standing tensions within our society, revealing deep dysfunction and fragility in the critical systems we depend on.

Whether it’s food supply, housing, health care, transportation, or just basic
community commerce, local communities are waking up to just how fragile we are.

Community leaders are going to have to address these problems in real time, under stress, with limited outside assistance. And with financial resources stretched, they won’t have the option to simply throw money at these problems.

To prepare the ground for recovery, we are now forced to innovate. We must find ways to do much more with what is likely to be much less. That’s
what local leadership now requires.”

Community Needs

The need for leadership at all levels, but especially in neighborhoods and towns, by those closest to their issues and problems.

Develop a resilient community, as Federal  and state government assistance is not guaranteed. We could be on our own.

This is a bottom up process, where local communities need to take control of how they want to develop, taking incremental action steps for sustainability and resiliency.guaranteed. We could be on our own.

As exposed by COVID-19, the status quo didn’t work.  We will never go back the way is was before the pandemic. Innovation is needed now more than ever.

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