The Strong Towns Podcast
Jenny Schuetz: Who’s To Blame for High Housing Costs?

Jenny Schuetz: Who’s To Blame for High Housing Costs?

February 24, 2020

The affordable housing crisis is affecting not just people in coastal cities like Boston, New York, San Francisco, L.A., Seattle, and Portland. The crisis is spreading geographically and rippling throughout the economy. In the midst of such a crisis, it’s natural to want to assign blame; it’s also natural to look for a silver bullet solution. But is that even possible with a phenomenon as massive (and massively complex) as the housing crisis? Is development a rigged game, open only to the largest and best-connected firms?

To help us get some answers we talked to Jenny Schuetz, a fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at The Brookings Institution. Schuetz is an expert in urban economics and housing policy, with a focus on housing affordability. 

In this episode of the Strong Towns podcast, Strong Towns president Chuck Marohn talks with Schuetz about her recent article on the factors driving up housing costs. She and Chuck discuss the role of uncertainty—both “time uncertainty” and “success uncertainty”— in the soaring cost of homes, why only the biggest developers can afford to build in some major metros, and why local housing discussions often pit the homeowner class against the renter class.

They also discuss what city officials and local advocates can do to loosen the housing market in their places—including allowing the next increment of growth by right, similar to the recent change in Minneapolis.

This is a masterclass on the housing crisis from one of the nation’s foremost experts.

 

Additional Show Notes:

Tim Carney: “Alienated America” and the Rise of Populism

Tim Carney: “Alienated America” and the Rise of Populism

February 17, 2020

The rise of Donald Trump in the 2016 primaries—and his eventual win in the general—defied expectations and confounded explanations. Nearly every national poll was wrong, and political observers have spent the last four years trying to understand what happened (and how so many of the experts missed it).

In his book Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse, Timothy Carney makes the compelling case that the most common explanations for Trump’s ascendance—the economy, for example—don’t get to the root of things. He demonstrates that the people who resonated with Trump’s message that “the American dream is dead” are those whose communities lacked the social cohesion that binds neighbor to neighbor. While voters cast ballots mostly along party lines in the general election, in the early primaries, Candidate Trump actually struggled in places where the institutions that are “the key to the good life”— faith communities, vibrant civic organizations, etc.—already gave people a strong sense of purpose and belonging. Maybe you’re starting to see why Strong Towns founder and president Chuck Marohn named Alienated America one of the best books he read in 2019, saying “I highly recommend it to anyone trying to understand the cultural ramifications of fragile places.”

Tim Carney is Chuck’s guest on this week’s episode of the Strong Towns podcast. Together, they discuss how populism—on both the right and the left, and in 2016 as well as today—is springing from alienation (we need to belong to something). They talk about community’s physical dimension (proximity, walkability, etc.), why people are healthiest when they belong to “a lot of little platoons,” and why idleness isn’t so much a vice as an affliction. This episode is a must-listen for anyone interested in how frayed social bonds effect not just our national politics but our local life as well.

Show Notes:

Liz Swaine: Bootstrapping Downtown Shreveport

Liz Swaine: Bootstrapping Downtown Shreveport

February 10, 2020

All too often, the national narrative portrays Louisiana as a backwater state. But we here at Strong Towns see things very differently. For example, we think Shreveport, Louisiana doesn’t get the credit it deserves for changing the local conversation around what will make the city stronger. We’ll go even further and say that Shreveport has one of the leading downtowns in the country—though too few people (including too few Shreveporters) are aware of it.

On this week’s edition of the Strong Towns podcast, we explore why we’re so excited about what’s unfolding in Shreveport. In this episode, Strong Towns president Charles Marohn interviews Liz Swaine, the Executive Director of the Shreveport Downtown Development Authority. Marohn and Swaine discuss the incredible renaissance of Shreveport’s downtown and why it’s important that this renaissance has unfolded incrementally. They talk about “demolition by neglect” and a better use for incentive money. And they discuss the proposed Cross Bayou Point plan, an expensive (and decidedly un-incremental) approach to redevelopment—what it is, why it will make Shreveport weaker, and why the campaign to approve it has been genuinely offensive.

In this episode, downtown advocates everywhere will learn how to better work with local officials to spur positive change in their own communities, how to make progress without burning bridges, and how to accept the inevitable defeats.

Highlights:

“It’s really important not to take things personally. You do your best, you fight your hardest, and then you shake hands and live to fight another day. It’s important for you to let those elected officials that you’re either with or against know that you’re with them or against them on this, but on the next issue you may be reversed.”

“We had a situation here several years ago. There was a city councilperson and they were debating a project in a nice council district that’s a lovely place and people like to live there and shop there. There was a business that wanted to come in that was completely incorrect for that area, and the statement was actually made, ‘We can’t do any better than this.’ That made me angry because we can always do better. We can always do better. The minute we start thinking that we can’t do any better than this, that’s our future.”

Show Notes:

 

Should California Bring Back Redevelopment Agencies?

Should California Bring Back Redevelopment Agencies?

December 17, 2019

From the Strong Towns Gathering in Santa Ana, California, is a discussion about whether the state of California should bring back local redevelopment agencies. Mike Madrid and Steven Greenhut join Chuck Marohn to debate the matter.

Go Cultivate with Verdunity

Go Cultivate with Verdunity

December 10, 2019

A brief update from Chuck Marohn followed by an extended Q&A rebroadcast from an appearance on the Go Cultivate podcast by Verdunity.

If the “Strong Towns” book is the WHY, this book is the HOW.

If the “Strong Towns” book is the WHY, this book is the HOW.

November 18, 2019

By coincidence, on October 1, the very day Wiley released the new Strong Towns book, Wiley also published the new book by Quint Studer.

It was coincidental for two reasons:

  1. Because Studer—in addition to being a businessman, entrepreneur, bestselling author, and leadership expert—is also a Strong Towns member, a past contributor to this site, and a passionate community leader working tirelessly to make his own city of Pensacola, Florida a more vibrant and economically resilient place. (Pensacola actually won this year’s Strongest Town Award).
  2. Because if the Strong Towns book is the WHY, Studer’s new book is the HOW.

In today’s episode of the Strong Towns podcast, Strong Towns founder and president Chuck Marohn talks with Quint Studer about The Busy Leader’s Handbook: How to Lead People and Places That Thrive. Whether you are leading a movement or a business, a nonprofit or a government agency, a staff of employees or a team of volunteers—this book is an essential resource. Comprised of 41 short chapters, it’s also written in such a way that it can be read from start to finish, or referenced as-needed.

In this episode, Marohn and Studer discuss the importance of leading with humility (“If you don’t deflate your ego, it gets deflated for you”), why good leaders and good communities are coachable, why Strong Towns need strong small businesses, and how to build teams that are not only satisfied but actively engaged in your organization’s mission.

Don’t miss these other valuable insights from this interview:

14:15 - Why great organizations identify, share and are guided by their values

17:30 - Why local governments need to work extra hard to develop a positive workplace culture

26:00 - Why “transparency is trust”

34:15 - How to run meetings that you and your team don’t hate to attend

39:00 - The workplace challenges unique to local governments

43:10 - Why it’s time to move beyond the strategic plan

49:00 - How the Studer Community Institute is working to “raise the civic IQ” of cities and towns

Quint Studer has been a mentor to us as we've built the Strong Towns movement. We know you'll find his experience and wisdom as indispensable as we do.

Other Links:

 

Students and the Strong Towns Movement

Students and the Strong Towns Movement

November 14, 2019

If you want to get an idea of where the professions that shape our built environment—professions like urban planning, civil engineering, public policy, architecture, and so forth—are going, you could do a lot worse than to talk with current students in those fields.

So we did. Strong Towns Senior Editor Daniel Herriges (a recent policy-school grad himself, with a 2017 Master of Urban and Regional Planning degree) convened a panel of three Strong Towns members who are current students in fields that touch on our conversation:

  • Sarah Brown, Master’s student in City and Regional Planning at UNC Chapel Hill. Recent graduate in Civil Engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

  • Alex Nichols, Master’s student in Public Policy at Duke University.

  • Andrew Halt, traffic and ITS engineer and part-time planning student at Temple University. Recent graduate in Civil Engineering from Notre Dame University.

Very often, it’s the young who take to a paradigm shift most readily. They’ve got the detachment to size up what their field has accomplished over time and where it has fallen short, the impatience to insist that we learn to do better, and, says Brown, “the space to be loud” in ways that those who are employed as public servants can’t always be.

We’ve certainly seen the Strong Towns message resonate powerfully with students and young professionals, who are some of our most eager members and #StrongCitizens. And we fully expect we’ll continue to see the impact of our ideas grow in fantastic ways as these young people move into the mainstream of their professions.

This week, during our biannual member drive, you can help us share the Strong Towns philosophy more widely than ever before. Your support is how we do it, and any amount helps. And this week only, if you join the Strong Towns movement by donating at the $10 per month level or higher, you will get a free copy of Chuck Marohn’s book, Strong Towns: A Bottom-Up Revolution to Rebuild American Prosperity.

Become a member here.

Aligning Mission with Funding, the Strong Towns Way

Aligning Mission with Funding, the Strong Towns Way

November 14, 2019

There is a moment in the history of Strong Towns that has become legend both inside and outside of the organization. For those of you that haven’t heard about it before, it was the most important pivot point in the direction of the movement.

Andrew Burleson—our Board Chair then and now—was standing up staring at a collection of Post-it notes on the wall. He had just walked us through an exercise to sort those notes. On each one was an idea—think of it as a program—of what the organization could do. There was about three dozen Post-its representing the ambitions, dreams and aspirations of those of us sitting in the room.

Our problem was never trying to figure out what to do. Our shared objective was to change the development pattern of North American—no small feat—so there was a nearly infinite list of things that needed to be done, stuff we could do. The difficult question was always deciding what we should do. Most pointedly: What do we say no to? What opportunities do we pass over and what do we focus on?

Andrew’s sort had challenged us with two questions: First, what do we do well? Second, of the things we could do, what would be the most effective in furthering our mission? We collectively haggled over the answers, sorting as we went.

And then, magically, there appeared in front of me one of the greatest moments of clarity I’ve ever experienced, where all the things we did well clustered with the things that mattered, providing powerful guidance for what I needed to do with my life.

Two out of the three things we said we could do ended up on the scrapheap, including doing consulting work for cities (the thing I had done for two decades, knew well, and—no small point—was currently paying the bills and keeping the organization in business).

The Post-its that were left had no easily discernible business model, but a much clearer path to changing the world as we understood it. We decided that we would focus on (1) creating compelling content, (2) distributing that content broadly, and (3) nudging people to take action. We decided to put all our efforts into developing our ideas and then getting them out into the world, with a focus on making them actionable for people.

And that’s what we’ve done.

Become a member of Strong Towns today by going to https://www.strongtowns.org/membership.

What does it mean to be part of a bottom-up revolution?

What does it mean to be part of a bottom-up revolution?

November 11, 2019

Last month, Strong Towns: A Bottom-Up Revolution to Rebuild American Prosperity was published. Since then, I’ve been touring North America to promote the Strong Towns movement and share our ideas with audiences big and bigger. It’s been an astounding six weeks.

And as the person who has been here from the start, the one who wrote the very first article on this site eleven years ago, the one who coined the term “Strong Towns” and first started talking of the work as a “movement for change” (when others scoffed at the notion), today I am very confident of two things:

First, what we’re doing – all of us, together – is working. We’re changing the entire conversation about growth, development, capital investment, cities, and infrastructure. There are few places in this country where these issues are being discussed where our ideas are not influencing the conversation. That’s not because of me, and it’s not because of any of us here working for the organization. It’s because of you; our members, our audience, and this entire movement of people that is out there sharing our message and pushing for change.

Second, this movement is about to break through into a higher level of the cultural discourse. This has happened before as our ideas have spread, and each time it’s an exponential ride up the influence curve. This time, the leap is going to be huge – we can see it starting to happen. The book release buzz has connected us with three cable news networks as well as multiple national media publications, all of which are enthusiastic about discussing our ideas. The platform for spreading our message is about to expand. This is exciting.

Every November, we pause for a week to ask the members of our audience to support the Strong Towns movement by becoming members. The $5, $10, $25 or more a month so many are giving us – or your one-time contribution of any amount – is the most important source of funding we have. Please take a moment right now and sign up to be a member of Strong Towns.

Live in Kansas City: “We’re a suburban community learning we can be urban.”

Live in Kansas City: “We’re a suburban community learning we can be urban.”

November 4, 2019

It’s hard not to be encouraged by what’s happening in Kansas City.

On both the Kansas and Missouri sides, there are indications that the conversation is shifting. The assumptions about development that led Kansas City to become one of most car-centric metropolitan areas in the world (it has more freeway lane miles per capita than any other U.S. city) are now being challenged.

Here are a few hopeful signs:

  • Kansas City, Missouri recently commissioned a groundbreaking fiscal assessment by Joe Minicozzi of Urban3. 

  • Last week, the Kansas City-based architecture and design firm, Gould Evans, co-sponsored an event with Minicozzi and our own Chuck Marohn, where they discussed what Urban3’s findings mean for fiscally responsible development in Kansas City.

  • Kansas City, Missouri is creating a new comprehensive plan. This is an opportunity to make the next twenty or thirty years of development radically different than the last seventy (which have been mostly disastrous). Kevin Klinkenberg—a Kansas City-based urban designer, planner, and architect—wrote just last month on our site about what a “Strong Towns master plan” might look like.

Today’s episode of the Strong Towns podcast goes deep on what is happening in Kansas City. Recorded in front of a live audience in Kansas City, Strong Towns president Chuck Marohn talks with Joe Minicozzi, principal at Urban3, Kevin Klinkenberg of K2 Urban Design, and Dennis Strait, principal and board member at Gould Evans. The four of them discuss not only what makes Kansas City an anomaly (including that pesky state boundary and the resulting clash of cultures) but also how its built pattern is representative of cities around the Midwest...and indeed around the country.

Also discussed:

10:00 - The “border war” between Kansas and Missouri, now thankfully in a truce, as both states raced to the bottom to lure big business with tax subsidies and development incentives

12:30 - The pressure among cities to “keep up with the Joneses” — in this case, through big, splashy projects (convention centers, downtown sports stadiums, etc.) — and how Kansas City is learning a better way

16:10 - Whether or not there’s any recognition of the damage done by 60 years of edge development, and how it is limiting cities from pursuing new opportunities

22:45 - Perception vs. reality on the “parking problem”

33:40 - Kansas City, Missouri’s streetcar “starter line” — and whether it is a vanity project or an important culture shift that’s bringing more cohesion to an urban area

43:00 - The challenges and opportunities of the comprehensive planning process in Kansas City, Missouri

55:30 - Important lessons that other cities can learn from Kansas City

Kansas City is justifiably well-known for many things—great barbecue and great jazz, for example. Maybe a few years from from now it will also be famous for pioneering a way for cities out of suburban-style development and into a stronger future.