The Strong Towns Podcast
The Strong Towns Podcast
About The Strong Towns Podcast
We advocate for a model of development that allows our cities, towns and neighborhoods to grow financially strong and resilient.
In 1906, a powerful earthquake in San Francisco, California, damaged a good portion of the city, causing havoc and distress as 28,188 buildings were destroyed, and over 3,000 people were killed. Curiously, after this tragic disaster, things began to grow again, but this time the built environment came back stronger. Seth Zeren, a founding member of Strong Towns, wrote about this phenomenon last month, and this week on the Strong Towns Podcast, Chuck Marohn and Zeren chat about complexity, and if complex systems can grow stronger through destruction. ADDITIONAL SHOW NOTES “Do Things Need to Burn for New Things to Grow?” by Seth Zeren, Strong Towns (Feb, 2023). Subscribe to Seth Zeren’s Substack, Build the Next Right Thing. Chuck Marohn (Twitter).
We believe everyone can build a Strong Town, but all too often, political differences divide communities, and instead of working together to build stronger neighborhoods from a bottom-up approach, we get caught up in contentious, top-down ideas and conversations. One such political divide has developed around the concept of the 15-minute city: a term used to describe traditional neighborhoods. While to urbanists it describes a walkable place, to critics, it’s a potential infringement on personal freedoms. In this episode of the Strong Towns Podcast, Chuck Marohn dives into the controversies surrounding the 15-minute city. ADDITIONAL SHOW NOTES Charles Marohn (Twitter).
The property tax system is broken all across the nation. In Detroit, residents face an issue of inconsistent assessments, where two homes that are similar in condition and sitting on similar-sized lots have widely different assessment scores. Recently, the team at Regrid, an industry-leading property data and location intelligence company, put together an Assessment Gauge map that may prove to be a useful tool for homeowners, assessors, or nonprofits in bringing a much-needed balance to overassessments. Today on the Strong Towns Podcast, Chuck Marohn welcomes back Alex Alsup, vice president of research and development at Regrid, to talk about assessments and property tax in Detroit, how the Strong Towns approach worked for Alsup and his team, and an overview of the assessment process. Read more about the Assessment Gauge in the article “Check Your Temperature- You Might Have an Assessment Fever.” To learn more about Regrid or get access to their parcel data, click here. ADDITIONAL SHOW NOTES Regrid (website). Charles Marohn (Twitter).
Today on the Strong Towns Podcast, Chuck Marohn welcomes back Jeff Speck, city planner and author, to talk about a brand-new version of his book, Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time. It’s the 10th anniversary for the book, and a lot has changed in the U.S. since the original was published. While the content from the first edition is still relevant today, this updated version holds over 100 pages of new information useful to those actively working to make their cities stronger. Listen to Chuck and Speck talk in depth about some of those book additions, including (but not limited to) COVID’s impact on cities, the reckless driver narrative, and a simple truth about street trees. ADDITIONAL SHOW NOTES Get the new edition of Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time. Jeff Speck (Twitter). Charles Marohn (Twitter).
Anyone should be able to speak up and question whether current engineering practices truly benefit our communities. That’s especially true for licensed professionals who have a special duty to the public to be heard. And when they do speak up, their statements should not make them a target for licensing boards. Members of the Minnesota board of engineering licensure are supposed to uphold the integrity of their institution, but instead they have abused their power, overstepping their authority in order to slander a leading reformer—someone who was not even practicing engineering—by issuing a state order against Strong Towns founder and president, Charles Marohn. We’re fighting to have the board’s decision overturned. In this Strong Towns Podcast, listen to the latest update on the appeal for this case and the oral arguments made in front of the Minnesota Court of Appeals. For more information on this case, visit www.strongtowns.org/supportreform. ADDITIONAL SHOW NOTES Learn more about our fight for engineering reform. Charles Marohn (Twitter).
How far up the chain of command does a problem need to go before someone can make a decision on it? According to the concept of subsidiarity, it matters less what decision is made and more who makes the decision—in other words, a decision should be made at the lowest level that it can competently be made. Mike Hathorne, principal of community planning and design at Commun1ty.one and Strong Towns member, works with cities to create decision-making processes that can impact how our places function. Today, he joins Chuck Marohn on the Strong Towns Podcast to discuss subsidiarity in a practical sense. For further listening on this topic, check out the episode “What Customer Service Should Mean for a City,” where Chuck talks about his personal experience with subsidiarity and how it forms in our places. ADDITIONAL SHOW NOTES “Subsidiarity,” by Mike Hathorne, Commun1ity.one (August 2018). Commun1ty.one’s website. Mike Hathorne (Twitter). Charles Marohn (Twitter).
Today’s Strong Towns Podcast guest, Ben Hunt, wrote on Epsilon Theory that “Bitcoin has been an authentic expression of identity, a positive identity of autonomy, entrepreneurialism, and resistance to the Nudging State and the Nudging Oligarchy.” Today, join Chuck Marohn as he invites Hunt onto the podcast to discuss his insights on Bitcoin, the story of investing, and how it connects to all of us. ADDITIONAL SHOW NOTES “In Praise of Bitcoin,” by Ben Hunt, Epsilon Theory (April 2021). Read more Epsilon Theory here. Ben Hunt (Twitter). Charles Marohn (Twitter).
This week on the Strong Towns Podcast, Chuck Marohn chats with Sam Quinones, author and journalist, about his most recent book: The Least of Us: True Tales of America and Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth. Along with doing a deep dive on particular sections of the book, Quinones tells how we went from city hall reporter to writing books about addiction. ADDITIONAL SHOW NOTES Sam Quinones’s website. Order your copy of The Least of Us: True Tales of America and Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth. Sam Quinones (Twitter). Charles Marohn (Twitter).
Our annual Black Friday Parking event is coming up, so get your cameras ready! Black Friday Parking is a nationwide event drawing attention to the harmful nature of minimum parking requirements. Parking minimums create a barrier for new local businesses and fill up our cities with empty parking spaces that don’t add value to our places. Every year on Black Friday, one of the biggest shopping days of the year, people all across North America snap photos of the (hardly full) parking lots in their communities to demonstrate how unnecessary these massive lots are. Participants upload those photos to social media with the hashtag #blackfridayparking. For more information, visit strongtowns.org/blackfridayparking.
A prominent question that keeps coming up since the beginning of the Jackson, Mississippi, water crisis is, “How did we get to this point?” If you’ve been tuning in to the Strong Towns Podcast, you’ll know that Chuck has talked about the water crisis in Jackson a couple of times working to answer this question. He’s gone in depth about the financial fragility of our water systems, how they work, and why we even have them. After hearing Chuck’s analysis, some Strong Towns members felt there was not enough emphasis on the impact systemic racism has had on the situation. In this podcast, Chuck talks with Amanda Lanata, Strong Towns member and former Jackson resident, on the racial complexities in Jackson and how race is linked to the water crisis. ADDITIONAL SHOW NOTES “The Jackson Water Crisis Is Not a Fluke. Your City Could Be Next,” hosted by Charles Marohn, Strong Towns Podcast (September 2022). “Water System Crises and Solutions,” hosted by Charles Marohn, Strong Towns Podcast (November 2022). Don’t forget to participate this Friday in Strong Towns’ annual #BlackFridayParking event! Charles Marohn (Twitter). Cover image source: Unsplash.
The final installment of this week’s special Member Week Strong Towns Podcast features a discussion between Chuck Marohn and Strong Towns’ new director of community action, Edward Erfurt. Longtime listeners may remember Edward as a guest from past episodes, but today he’s here as a full-fledged member of the Strong Towns staff. We’re excited to share a behind-the-scenes look at the program Edward is overseeing: the Strong Towns Community Action Lab. This 24-month program is the most comprehensive resource Strong Towns offers, putting participating communities on a trajectory toward enduring prosperity. We’re able to take on new initiatives like the Community Action Lab thanks to the support of our members. If you haven’t joined yet, please consider doing so today. Become a Strong Towns member and know that your contribution is going toward the strengthening of communities all across North America.
Membership is 40% of Strong Towns’ revenue—we couldn’t do this work without you. As the Strong Towns movement has grown, we’ve started to take on larger projects and have looked at ways that we can support those initiatives. Instrumental in orchestrating this has been Grace Whately, the Strong Towns development associate. One of the larger projects that Grace and the rest of the team have been working on is the launch of the Crash Analysis Studio, which will create an alternative framework for analyzing car crashes. Today, Chuck and Grace go behind the scenes and chat about how this project came about, and the steps that went into making this idea a reality. The Crash Analysis Studio and the other projects we’re working on to help advocates push for safer streets and more financially resilient communities are only possible thanks to the support of our members. If you want to be a part of this movement that’s changing the development pattern of North America, then join in and become a Strong Towns member today.
As a part of our special Member Week series, Chuck Marohn and Strong Towns Community Builder John Pattison talk about the Local Conversations program. They discuss how the first Local Conversations came to be, what’s changed, and how the Strong Towns organization is coming alongside these groups in new ways. With so many Local Conversations spread out around North America, the Strong Towns movement will become unignorable. When that happens, it will be thanks to the support of our members. Strong Towns’ efforts to help start and support Local Conversations is only possible because of our members, whose contributions are expanding the movement. Will you help us grow the movement today?
On today's special Member Week episode, Chuck talks with Strong Towns Communications Associate Lauren Fisher about Strong Towns’ approach to communication. They chat about the big ideas we’re working toward and how to squish them down into little emails and tweets. And how difficult it is to do that amidst a big, loud, national political power struggle. After listening, consider becoming a member of the Strong Towns movement at strongtowns.org/membership. And if you are already a member, know that you have chosen a path toward a strong future that might involve a poll booth, but offers power and hope beyond it.
Welcome to Member Week, where we’re celebrating our members and all that they do to support this movement. This week, the Strong Towns podcast will be a little different. Tune in every day to listen as Chuck Marohn talks with Strong Towns staff about this movement and what our members are doing to make their places stronger. In today’s episode, Chuck talks about the new Strong Towns strategic plan in action and what that will look like in 2023. Whereas we—as a small, fledgling organization—were once focused on just growing the movement, we’re now at a point where we can start mobilizing the movement. And that’s pretty exciting. Still, we can’t do it without you. Our strategy relies on members. It takes a million local heroes to change the multitrillion-dollar development machine, and we need your support. Take a moment this Member Week to make a donation to Strong Towns: become a member.
In a September episode of the Strong Towns Podcast, Chuck talked about the water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi. He spoke on the technicalities of American water systems, what failed in Jackson, and how Jackson ended up in a crisis. Now, in this week’s episode, Chuck dives a little deeper into water systems and why we even have them (hint: it’s not just about safe drinking water). He takes listeners back to the 1800s and describes how historical events affected the standard for today’s water systems—shining a light on current aging water systems, like Jackson’s, and how we should be thinking about water systems going forward. ADDITIONAL SHOW NOTES “The Jackson Water Crisis Is Not a Fluke. Your City Could Be Next,” hosted by Charles Marohn, Strong Towns Podcast (September 2022.) Charles Marohn (Twitter).
We began building the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s, and we completed the majority of it by the end of the 1960s. The goal of creating this massive transportation system was to connect far away places— and it’s met that purpose. Yet, even though the job is done, we continue to build and invest in the interstate highway system, despite that highway investments are a waste of resources and damage the fiscal growth of our cities. In this Strong Towns Podcast, Strong Towns Founder and President Chuck Marohn chats with Tony Dutzik, associate director and senior policy analyst with Frontier Group, about their recent ”Highway Boondoggles” report. (And, in case you’re wondering, a highway boondoggle is a wasteful or pointless highway project that gives the appearance of having value but which drains scarce resources, making it harder to respond to current and future transportation needs.) ADDITIONAL SHOW NOTES “Highway Boondoggles,” Frontier Group (September 2022). Learn more about wasteful highway expansion projects. Charles Marohn (Twitter). Cover image source: Flickr.
Sometimes, our local governments can get caught up in an ineffective mindset while managing cities, where they take on the role of a customer service representative. While it comes from a place of wanting to be helpful, it’s not always the best approach our cities should be taking. In this episode of the Strong Towns Podcast, host Chuck Marohn discusses subsidiarity versus the customer service mindset we tend to see in city halls. Subsidiarity holds that it matters less what decision is made and more who makes the decision—in other words, a decision should be made at the lowest level that it can competently be made. When a city is making decisions that should be made at the block level, it can create a bigger mess than intended. To dive into and explain this concept further, Chuck relates his personal experience within his neighborhood, one that has not always been picture perfect. ADDITIONAL SHOW NOTES Charles Marohn (Twitter). Cover image source: Flickr.
This September, Strong Towns President Chuck Marohn was invited to speak at the Hawaii Congress of Planning Officials Conference on the Island of Kauai. While he was there, Chuck went on a walking tour and witnessed the results of the post-WWII rise of suburban development. While he loved his visit to the island and feels incredibly grateful to the wonderful hospitality of the people there, he couldn’t help but feel a sense of sorrow for how their community has been damaged by the Suburban Experiment. He notes how much worse, and more bizarrely, the suburban development pattern presents itself on a smaller island space compared to in the contiguous United States. He spoke with local engineers who relayed the difficulties of upkeeping the suburban-style infrastructure in a tropical climate. The situation in Hawaii further confirms that we should be building our communities from the bottom up, able to adapt to our own unique spaces versus building all at once. ADDITIONAL SHOW NOTES Learn more about the Suburban Experiment, how and why it happened, and how to approach the challenges it presents using a Strong Towns framework. All this and more in our free Academy course, “Strong Towns 101.” Attend a Strong Towns event near you. Charles Marohn (Twitter).
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