The Strong Towns Podcast
Ben Hunt: We’re Not Going to Fix This from the Top Down

Ben Hunt: We’re Not Going to Fix This from the Top Down

October 26, 2020

What do we call a society that—from Wall Street to Main Street, from Washington, D.C. to your local city council chambers—seems to have been uprooted from facts and time-tested fundamentals, and is being driven instead by whatever stories can be sold as truth? Ben Hunt calls it “Fiat World,” a world declared into existence.

A former hedge fund manager, in 2013 Ben Hunt created Epsilon Theory, a newsletter and website that has become essential reading for more than 100,000 professional investors and allocators across 180 countries. He’s also our very special guest on this week’s episode of the Strong Towns podcast.

Ben tells Strong Towns president Chuck Marohn that massive debt and dislocation, social media, and the 24-hour news cycle (among other forces) have helped shape a world in which everything is presented by declaration. We have to be in this world, Ben says, but “we don’t have to give them our heart. We can maintain a distance of mind, an autonomy of mind, so that we see clearly what’s happening...We’re not going to be the suckers at the table.”

Ben and Chuck discuss some of the new rules—in the economy, media, and beyond—that must be understood, challenged, and changed. They talk about why capital markets and housing markets are too important to be left to the investors.

They talk too about the “zombification” of cities, in which towns and cities are all unwittingly doing the same self-destructive things. Ben and Chuck discuss why this won’t be fixed from the top down and how local leaders can make the right decisions in a Fiat World. We also get an update from Ben on how Epsilon Theory readers have helped distribute N95 and N95-equivalent masks to healthcare professionals and emergency responders through a kind of “underground” PPE pipeline.

Listen to this wide-ranging conversation and you’ll start to see why, back in May, Chuck recommended Ben Hunt and Epsilon Theory to help make sense of our new reality. Chuck wrote: “No matter how badly we want to believe it—and even I, at times, want to believe it—seeing beyond the narrative, realizing its inherent falsehoods, is the most important and empowering first step we can take.”

Additional Show Notes

Bonus Episode: The Bottom-Up Revolution

Bonus Episode: The Bottom-Up Revolution

October 22, 2020

Here’s a taste of our newest podcast, The Bottom-Up Revolution, hosted by Rachel Quednau. In this episode, you’ll hear from Alexander Hagler, an entrepreneur and urban gardener based in Milwaukee, WI who founded a store called Center Street Wellness, a space for local makers to sell their handcrafted products focused on mental and physical wellbeing. And you’ll learn about how to support entrepreneurs in your own community—or become one yourself. Find out more about this new podcast and keep up with new episodes here: https://www.strongtowns.org/podcast

What Are We Waiting For?

What Are We Waiting For?

October 19, 2020

What is keeping us from doing the things we need to do right now? Why do we outsource the response to urgent problems to the federal government and other distant entities—responses that may never come, or may come with solutions that don’t actually fit our communities?

Consider California governor Gavin Newsom, standing amidst the wreckage of a wildfire in September, saying the United States needs “get our act together on climate change.” The climate crisis, he said, “needs to enliven all of us in this nation…” Or think of Kansas City, Missouri, standing by, apparently, for a federal response to the multigenerational effects of redlining in Kansas City neighborhoods.

Well, what are you waiting for?

The Strong Towns podcast returns this week with a look at why we shouldn’t wait for top-down solutions to problems that can be addressed—at least in part—closer to home. (There are ways California and Kansas City can take action right now to address the important issues of climate change and redlining.) Strong Towns founder Chuck Marohn discusses the dysfunction of the current political moment. He also reminds us that—no matter who wins the presidential election on November 3—there’s much we can (and must) do ourselves.

At the end of the day, Chuck says, we do an injustice to our economy, our culture, our future, our present, our neighbors and ourselves, if we are paralyzed into inaction. No one is coming to save us…and if they do, it may not be the help we need.

In a postscript to the episode, Chuck explains why the podcast has been on hiatus and why there’s a lot to look forward to in the weeks and months ahead.

Additional Show Notes

Help Shape the Future of the Strong Towns Podcasts

Help Shape the Future of the Strong Towns Podcasts

July 30, 2020
We'd be deeply grateful for your feedback on this podcast—what sort of episodes you like best, how you access the show, etc.
 
Fill out our survey at strongtowns.org/survey and you can be entered in a drawing to win a free signed copy of Strong Towns: A Bottom-Up Revolution to Rebuild American Prosperity
 
Thanks!
KAXE’s Dig Deep on George Floyd, Coronavirus, and More

KAXE’s Dig Deep on George Floyd, Coronavirus, and More

June 16, 2020

Two Minnesotans -- Aaron Brown and Chuck Marohn -- are regular commentators on KAXE community radio out of Grand Rapids, Minnesota, and have regular conversations where they dig deep into the issues of the day. The Dig Deep program is hosted by KAXE's Heidi Holton and can be heard on-air as well as by download at KAXE.org.

Strip Mall

Strip Mall

June 1, 2020

What a new strip mall reveals about the massive disconnect between what's "good" for the macro-economy and what's actually good for a local community.

 

Reminder: The subscription bundle for the Strong Towns Academy is only available through Friday, June 5, 2020. This is your chance to get all nine courses at 83% off the a la carte price. These courses unpack the Strong Towns approach to everything from transportation and housing, to economic development and public engagement, and more. Get more information here: https://academy.strongtowns.org/p/subscription-bundle

A Good Life in a Prosperous Place

A Good Life in a Prosperous Place

May 22, 2020

On the final day of the member drive, Chuck discusses what success means for the Strong Towns movement. Sign up to become a member at strongtowns.org/membership.

Smart Cities: “Are we creating solutions looking for problems?”

Smart Cities: “Are we creating solutions looking for problems?”

May 21, 2020
In this special crossover edition of the Upzoned podcast, we're looking at the "smart cities" movement in general...and the ill-fated Toronto waterfront project in particular.
 
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A controversial project in Toronto that would have transformed “a slice of Toronto’s waterfront into a high-tech utopia” has been shut down by Sidewalk Labs (a subsidiary of Alphabet) due to "unprecedented economic uncertainty."

“At one point,” writes Andrew J. Hawkins in The Verge, “Sidewalk Labs’ plan was to spend $1.3 billion on mass timber housing, heated and illuminated sidewalks, public Wi-Fi, and, of course, a host of cameras and other sensors to monitor traffic and street life.”
The project had raised a variety of concerns, not least from privacy advocates, who objected to the intrusion of technology into their everyday lives. Chris Teale, a reporter at Smart Cities Dive, said the Quayside project “spawned what many called a ‘techlash’ against big tech companies asserting themselves in such a ways, and has led to a belief that future projects must be less focused on sensors and data analytics and instead look to partner better with everyone.”
Each week, our Upzoned podcast takes one story in the news that touches the Strong Towns conversation and we “upzone” it. This week we’re looking at the smart cities movement in general—and the Quayside project in particular. Host Abby Kinney, an urban planner in Kansas City, is joined by regular co-host Chuck Marohn (president of Strong Towns) as well as by our senior editor Daniel Herriges, who has been closely following the Quayside story for years. Abby, Chuck, and Daniel discuss the allure of high-tech cities, why a lot of smart city initiatives seem designed not to serve people but rather make us better consumers, and the consequences of creating systems with built-in fragility.
Then in the Downzone, Abby talks about the role Strong Towns has played in how Gould Evans and other leaders are building a stronger and more financially resilient Kansas City. This is Member Week at Strong Towns. If Strong Towns has helped you think about your city in ways that are truly smart, consider becoming a member today. Let’s grow this movement together: https://www.strongtowns.org/membership
 

Additional Show Notes

What do you do?

What do you do?

May 20, 2020

How do you actually implement a Strong Towns approach? The latest ebook from Strong Towns is The Local Leader's Toolkit: A Strong Towns Response to the Pandemic, a free guide for local leaders looking for a recovery plan for their community.

This week is the Strong Towns Member Drive. Support the Strong Towns movement by going to www.strongtowns.org/membership.

Better Bike Infrastructure, Better Budgets

Better Bike Infrastructure, Better Budgets

May 19, 2020

In this special crossover edition of our It's the Little Things podcast, Strong Towns community builder Jacob Moses talks with Karl Fundenberger about his ten years of bike advocacy in Topeka. 

As a bike advocate in his hometown of Topeka, Kansas, Strong Towns member Karl Fundenberger has long advocated for little bets to boost the bikeability of Topeka. Yet, as bike advocates across North America commonly experience, city officials often considered these investments notable yet unrelated to the City’s long-term prosperity. 

That changed, however, when Karl discovered, through Strong Towns, how streets designed to keep people on bikes safe actually boosts community wealth. Designing streets that discourage deadly speeds—a noble mission in itself—suddenly included a financial tilt, capturing the attention of the City’s budget-conscious officials. 

Bike Topeka advocates for complete streets, a community connected via safe walking paths and biking routes, getting to know our neighbors through fun events, and moving Topeka back toward a traditional development pattern that is centuries old. - Bike Topeka

Today, Karl and his peers run the bike advocacy organization Bike Topeka where—through group rides, book clubs, and peer support—encourage people to ride their bikes while advocating for a development pattern in which cyclists and cities’ budgets alike thrive. 

In this episode, Karl reflects on the ten years since he joined Topeka’s bike community and shares how the Strong Towns movement has influenced his advocacy.

Show notes:

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