The Strong Towns Podcast
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:

You’re Not Alone

You’re Not Alone

May 18, 2020

The global pandemic is laying bare all the fragility that has built up over decades within our society. These are scary times filled with uncertainty. It’s unclear what next month will bring, let alone next year.

Strong Towns is a bottom-up revolution to rebuild American prosperity. Thousands of people across North America are using the Strong Towns approach to make their cities stronger and more financially resilient. You’re not alone.

Become a member of Strong Towns at strongtowns.org/membership.

James Howard Kunstler: Living in the Long Emergency

James Howard Kunstler: Living in the Long Emergency

May 11, 2020

If you’re like us, there are a few trusted guides you’ve looked to for help making sense of a world turned suddenly upside down. One of our guides has been James Howard Kunstler.

The author of essential books like The Long Emergency, The Geography of Nowhere, and the World Made By Hand novels, Kunstler has for years been eerily prescient in his ability to imagine and interpret the future. Strong Towns president Chuck Marohn described The Long Emergency as “the most coherent narrative explanation I’ve read of the converging crises our society is living through, particularly when it comes to the triple threats of energy, economy and environment.” It's one of 15 books on the Strong Towns Essential Reading List, and somehow feels even more relevant today than when it was first published in 2005.

Kunstler’s new book — Living in the Long Emergency: Global Crisis, the Failure of the Futurists, and the Early Adapters Who Are Showing Us the Way Forward — is once again spookily timed. We received requests from listeners that we interview him about the new book and the COVID-19 crisis...the very thing we were eager to do. So we’re especially happy to welcome Jim Kunstler back in this week’s episode of the Strong Towns podcast.

In this fascinating and wide-ranging discussion, Chuck and Jim look at the impact of the crisis on the automotive and airline industries, our food systems, and more. They discuss the social upheaval being caused by COVID-19, including the understandable anger from people who see the federal government bailing out Wall Street while their own jobs disappear. They talk too about the problems not only with the argument that COVID-19 will launch a suburban renaissance — “All the signs are that suburbia is not only going to fail, but it’s going to fail pretty quickly and pretty harshly” — but also with some urbanists’ reflexive defense of cities.

But this conversation is not just doom-and-gloom, Chuck and Jim also discuss how Living in the Long Emergency provides a ray of hope in dark days. Just in time, the book helps us understand what’s going on....and also how to create a healthy, vibrant, and enjoyable future.

Additional Show Notes

This Is What Happens When Markets Are Too Efficient

This Is What Happens When Markets Are Too Efficient

May 4, 2020

A couple weeks ago, the price of oil dipped below zero (negative $37.63, to be exact). This was unprecedented. Decreased demand due to COVID-19, the Russia-Saudi Arabia oil war, and near-full storage capacity—together, they briefly forced producers to pay others to take oil off their hands.

At the same time, we started hearing reports of food producers dumping milk, plowing under lettuce, and smashing eggs—even as shoppers complained that their grocery stores couldn’t seem to keep milk and eggs in stock. Idaho farmers dumped potatoes they couldn’t sell...until an ad hoc “potato rescue team” was formed to load potatoes into the back of pickups and get them to food-insecure neighbors. Meanwhile, 61,000 egg-laying chickens were euthanized in Minnesota because of shifting demand.

What do negative oil prices and mountains of discarded potatoes have in common? They both demonstrate how incongruous our markets have become, how divorced they are from reality, and how fragile. It’s a moment, says Strong Towns president Chuck Marohn, reminiscent of The Grapes of Wrath.

In this episode of the Strong Towns podcast, Chuck looks at the oil and food systems in detail. In addition to explaining why it’s possible to have a negative price for oil, Chuck examines the consequences of markets with feedback loops that are too long, why pumping more money into a top-down system won’t help, and how markets can be too efficient. When a feedback loop is too long, the pain and the response are distant, so we keep pumping when we should have received the signal to stop a long time ago. The absurdities of the market have led to sobering questions with real-world consequences: Which businesses should we save? Which businesses should we let fail? And even: Will we run out of food?

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We recently launched the Strong Towns Academy. For a limited time only, we are offering a subscription package where you can get all eight of our upcoming courses for just $499. These courses qualify for continuing education credits too. We have a limited number of slots available (and half those slots are already gone), so now is the best time to register:

https://strong-towns.teachable.com/p/subscription-bundle

Chris Gibbons: This Is How You Grow a Local Economy

Chris Gibbons: This Is How You Grow a Local Economy

April 27, 2020

Almost exactly one year ago, we chose Chuck Marohn’s 2013 interview with Chris Gibbons as one of the Strong Towns podcast’s eleven “greatest hits.” Why this episode from among several hundred choices? Not only because it’s a compelling listen, but because Gibbons’s approach to economic development — Economic Gardening — has become such a core concept for us. It’s like we said last year:

[Economic Gardening is] an approach to growing a city’s job base and economic prosperity that doesn’t involve a dollar of subsidy to a large, outside corporation—and produces better results than those subsidy programs, too.

Economic Gardening predates the Strong Towns movement by 20 years, but you can think of it as the economic-development analogue to our Neighborhoods First approach to public infrastructure: a program that seeks to make small, high-returning investments instead of big silver-bullet gambles, by capitalizing on a community’s existing assets and latent potential.

Or like Strong Towns founder Chuck Marohn said in this new interview with Gibbons: “I tell everyone I can, if you’re not pursuing an Economic Gardening strategy, you’re missing out.”

The approach too many communities take to economic development is what Phil Burgess refers to as economic hunting — or recruiting companies from other towns. As we’ve written about extensively, this often involves a race-to-the-bottom strategy that pits one city against another to see which can offer the biggest tax incentives. As Gibbons describes in this podcast, it's a strategy that also doesn’t necessarily create genuinely new jobs. 

An economic gardening approach, on the other hand, focuses on growing local companies. It’s hard to argue with the results, including a 9:1 return on every dollar of funding in Florida, the country’s first statewide Economic Gardening network.

In this episode of the Strong Towns podcast, Marohn and Gibbons explore how cities can grow an economy using a truly entrepreneurial approach. They discuss the difference between an entrepreneur and an investor, the two systems at work in every company (mechanical and biological), the importance of human temperament as a consideration when building teams,  and why every town and city needs to get on the “innovation train.” They also game out several scenarios familiar to towns and cities looking to build their economies.

Chris Gibbons is the founder of the National Center for Economic Gardening (NCEG), and the former Director of Business/Industry Affairs for the City of Little, Colorado. He’s also the author of Economic Gardening, an ebook you can get free from NCEG.

If your town or city is not pursuing an Economic Gardening strategy, you're missing out. We hope this conversation with Chris Gibbons will help till the soil for change where you live.

Additional Show Notes