Durable Growth

StrongTowns: Checking in with the source

Building detail in downtown Petaluma

Building detail in downtown Petaluma

In my last couple of posts (here and here), I gave a North Bay example of the StrongTowns philosophy on the long-term financial realities of infrastructure.  My goal was to encourage North Bay folks, especially those in Petaluma, to attend the upcoming StrongTowns and Urban3 meetings in Santa Rosa.  The encouragement will continue for the next few posts.  Today, I’m going to step partly out of the way. instead encouraging readers to partake directly from StrongTowns.

My first recommendation is the StrongTowns Curbside Chat.  The Curbside Chat was the entry point into StrongTowns for many folks, including me.  Petaluma Urban Chat had decided to do collective reading as a way of building group knowledge.  A member successfully suggested the Curbside Chat as our first book.  When I wrote about the decision, Chuck Marohn of StrongTowns spotted my words on the internet, sent a stack of the Curbside Chat booklets, and agreed to participate in a video chat with the group.

The experience was great.  Indeed it might have been the first confirmation that I was on the right track with this blog.

But that didn’t mean that I found the Curbside Chat booklet to be perfect.  I thought it used too many graphics that represented legitimate truths, but weren’t as rigorously data-based as I could have wished.  I love graphics that vividly illustrate fundamental truths based on fully verifiable data.  But graphs that rely even a little bit on hand-waving make me uncomfortable.  And so I would have wished that the booklet, as it was then, had more good arguments and fewer pretty pictures.

The Curbside Chat as it now exists on the internet meets most of my concerns.  More text-based, this version is closer to being a rigorous proof of the StrongTowns thinking.  Admittedly, some hand-waving is still done, but only because a detailed dollar-by-dollar verification of the philosophy would require more time than the average internet attention span.

The current Curbside Chat, when combined with an objective eye to the land-use patterns and municipal finances around us, makes a compelling story.

The Curbside Chat is presented in six parts, the last two of which are videos.  My suggestion is to consume one part at a time, separated by mindless tasks, such as holiday light removal, so the lessons can gradually seep in.

Even if you’re planning on attending the Santa Rosa events, where the Curbside Chat will form at least a portion of the program, you should still review the Curbside Chat on-line.  Think of it as an opportunity to hear Einstein lecture on relativity or to listen to Beethoven conduct his Fifth Symphony.  Would you go in cold, assuming you could learn everything during the events?  Or would you do advance study, so you were ready to appreciate the nuances?

Not that Marohn is either Einstein or Beethoven.  (Sorry, Chuck.)   But the same principle applies.  Advance study will help with comprehension.

If your time is limited (and when isn’t it?), the Curbside Chat should be your primary focus in preparing for the StrongTowns visit.  However, I can recommend a podcast that might provide an alternative perspective on the StrongTowns message.

In a reminder that StrongTowns isn’t dogma nearly as much as it’s a different way of thinking, Chuck Marohn of StrongTowns joins John Howard Kunstler for one of the Kunstlercast podcasts.  I’ve written about Kunstler previously, generally finding him the designated flamethrower of the urbanist world.

But in the podcast format, Kunstler’s angry sarcasm is mostly under wraps, with he and Marohn discussing a range of topics from the financial bottom lines of many small towns to the effect of the Dakotas oil boom and bust on Marohn’s home state of Minnesota to an abortive attempt by a group of Hassidic Jews to move from Brooklyn to the plains of Kansas to the often ill-conceived efforts by churches to rebuild community.

None of the topics by themselves are paradigm-changing, but they provide a casual look at how folks who grasp the StrongTowns philosophy can view the world from a different angle.

If time is limited, stick with the Curbside Chat.  But if time permits, listen to part of the podcast.  It puts a more human face on the uncomfortable elements of the StrongTowns message.

Next time, I’ll stay with the StrongTowns website, digging a little deeper into the content and pointing toward the stuff that I think has the greatest applicability to the North Bay, always with the goal of encouraging folks to attend the upcoming StrongTowns events in Santa Rosa.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. – Dave Alden (davealden53@comcast.net)

Written by Dave Alden

Dave Alden

Dave Alden is a Registered Civil Engineer. A University of California graduate, he has worked on energy and land-use projects in California, Oregon, and Washington. He was also the president of a minor league baseball team for two seasons. He lives on the west side of Petaluma with his wife and two dogs. The blog that he writes can be found at http://northbaydesignkit.blogspot.com.

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