Durable Growth

StrongTowns: Digging deeper into the information trove

Downtown Petaluma

Downtown Petaluma

Background: With the only exception being a time-out for New Year’s resolutions, my last four posts (one, two, three, and four) have been about encouraging attendance at a series of upcoming meetings on financially sustainable development in the North Bay.  It’s a pitch that will continue today.

But instead of repeating the logistical information for the meetings one more time, I’ve created a page with the key data.  (Please note the meeting times have changed since earlier communication and are now 6:00pm.)  Please share the page with others, encourage attendance, and check with me if there are questions.

Back to the sales pitch.

StrongTowns and Urban3 will be presenting at the meetings.  However, perhaps unfairly, my focus has been primarily on StrongTowns.  I love the data crunching done by Urban3, but I still look to StrongTowns for my urbanist thinking.  In part, it’s because StrongTowns is a non-profit advocacy group while Urban3 is a consultant.  In part, it’s because I’m a StrongTowns member.  But mostly, it’s because StrongTowns has a wealth of pertinent and motivating material on their website, from StrongTowns staff and StrongTowns members.

Sometime around my 45th birthday, I found myself thinking differently when gift-giving occasions approached.  When folks asked what I wanted, I still had ideas about books, music, or clothes to suggest, but what I really wanted was time.

Not more years at the end of my life, although I wouldn’t turn those down, but more hours in the day.

Time enough, after the daily commitments to work and family were covered, to partake of the ever-growing wealth of information that was so beguiling.  Time enough to ensure that I was as well-prepared as possible when I chose to espouse a cause.  Time enough to become the best-educated advocate I could be.

Digging through the StrongTowns website reminds me why I feel that way.  Everywhere I look are blog posts and articles that I want to read.  The site is filled with materials, sometimes theoretical musings and sometimes fact-based analyses, that complement the StrongTowns philosophy about what makes financially sustainable cities.

So today I’ll be lazy.  Rather than doing my own thinking, I’ll share five posts that engaged me during my most recent foray into the StrongTowns website.  I was attracted to the posts for different reasons, some because they mirrored issues in my own community, some because they asked questions that I’d once asked and since found answers, and some because the intellectual musings felt insightful to me.

Here we go.

Michael and Jennifer Smith write about the water system in their town of Rockford, Illinois.  They explain how it will be thirty years before the water pipes have passed their useful life today have all been replaced, by which time an even greater number of miles of pipe will need replacement.  It’s a story that can be told about most U.S. cities, including my town, but hearing a familiar story told about a town 2,000 miles away creates a sense of community with those who argue for the StrongTowns thinking.

Chuck Marohn of StrongTowns, using Mankato in his home state of Minnesota as an example, highlights the fallacies that often underlie transportation planning decisions.  Those in my town may note similarities to the on-going discussion about the Rainier Connector.

Tony Dutzik makes the same point on a grander scale, noting that for all the funding now flowing toward transit, the great preponderance of funding still goes to freeway projects.  He notes the somewhere Robert Moses is smiling, an image guaranteed to raise hackles on many, including me.

Daniel Day from San Antonio asks why buses often stop on the street rather that at the entrances to malls.  It was a question that once puzzled me until a grizzled transit vet explained the facts of transit life.  I shared my acquired wisdom as a comment to the post.

Lastly, I return again to Marohn for his musings on the nature of change, musings that include defending the role of cancer as an occasional unfortunate byproduct of essential change and quoting Charles Darwin on the process by which new ways of thinking are slowly accepted. They’re the kind of musings that I sometimes, perhaps self-indulgently, offer in this blog, so I enjoyed reading as Marohn wandered down a similar path.

Although the posts collectively provide insightful information in considering the future of cities, they also show a community of aligned souls, willing to devote time and effort to the cause of a better future.  Both facets are inspiring.

In my next post, I’ll recall a criticism of StrongTowns that was made to me a couple of years back and to which I never responded adequately.  Perhaps being a couple of years wiser, I’ll take another run at refuting.

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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