This blog is part of an online learning platform which includes the Pathways to New Community Paradigms Wiki and a number of other Internet based resources to explore what is termed here 'new community paradigms' which are a transformational change brought about by members of a community.

It is intended to offer resources and explore ideas with the potential of purposefully directing the momentum needed for communities to create their own new community paradigms.

It seeks to help those interested in becoming active participants in the governance of their local communities rather than merely passive consumers of government service output. This blog seeks to assist individuals wanting to redefine their role in producing a more direct democratic form of governance by participating both in defining the political body and establishing the policies that will have an impact their community so that new paradigms for their community can be chosen rather than imposed.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Strong Towns: The making of Place as Economic and Social Engine

Addressing issues of economic growth by a community for the benefit of all members of that community through equitable community budgeting must take in consideration one additional factor and that is financial sustainability.  This can take two different approaches, one which can be defined as a relatively more top down urban planning approach, as opposed to what is defined here as a more bottom up community planning approach.

These terms are often used interchangeably but I want to emphasize the community in community planning to a far greater degree than the more professionally oriented sense that urban planning conveys.  Professional involvement is essential regardless of the approach taken but community planning aligns with the concept of new community paradigms.

Budgets, I asserted in the last post are not a function of communities, they are a function of institutions such as City Hall. It is important for the community to understand the budget but the budget is the map not the territory. It is more imperative to recognize the importance of Place as Economic and Social Engine (wiki page).

Dan Gilmartin, Executive Director and CEO of the Michigan Municipal League makes the case for the Economics of Place for his and all communities quoting Fred Kent at the Project for Public Spaces, “Turning a place from one that you can’t wait to get through into one that you never want to leave.”

What is Place? | Economics of Place
Experts from around the world—in academic, business, and public sectors alike—have shown that strategically investing in communities is a critical element to long-term economic development and quality of life in the 21st century...
To be successful communities must effectively develop and leverage their key human, natural, cultural and structural assets and nurture them through enacting effective public policy.
One organization working to promote this approach is featured in the Place as Economic and Social Engine (wiki page) is Strong Towns.

Home - Strong Towns
The mission of Strong Towns is to support a model for growth that allows America's towns to become financially strong and resilient. The American approach to growth is causing economic stagnation and decline along with land use practices that force a dependency on public subsidies. The inefficiencies of the current approach have left American towns financially insolvent, unable to pay even the maintenance costs of their basic infrastructure. A new approach that accounts for the full cost of growth is needed to make our towns strong again.
It is the position of Strong Towns that to get a higher return on our public investments requires an understanding of what it takes to build great towns and neighborhoods. We have explored the concept of Placemaking before with the blog posts Placemaking, for communities the canvas becomes the art, Bicycles Build Communities, and Finding the soul of your community and the reason to create your own community paradigms for which the perspective was more of Placemaking being the result of good community planning.

Strong Towns in contrast establishes Placemaking as a basis for good economic planning by a community. The principles of Placemakingas put forward by Strong Towns can be found here Placemaking Principles - Strong Towns.

The Executive Director of Strong Towns is Charles aks Chuck L. Marohn Jr., Professional Engineer with an AICP (American Institute of Certified Planners) designation but more relevant to this effort he is a Confessed Recovering Engineer and the primary voice behind Strong Towns.

If you spend time on the Strong Towns blog you will soon find out that Chuck has a big problem with communities being so dependent that they cannot achieve financial sustainability. Chuck does not want to see communities addicted to dependency on automobiles, on cheap energy, on transfer payments between governments or on debt.  He sees the entire ongoing pattern of American suburban development since the end of World War II as an immense Growth Ponzi Scheme as a runaway experiment and nobody seems able to stop flipping the third big switch of the generator (Igor: Not the third switch!)

Taking 30 plus years of established economic policy and saying that it doesn’t work fits in well with an effort calling for new community paradigms. He has a complete series on the topic that can be read by following these links which are from the original Growth Ponzi Scheme post.

Day 1: The Mechanisms of Growth - Trading near-term cash for long-term obligations.

Day 2: Case studies that show how our places do not create, but destroy, our wealth.

Day 3: The Ponzi scheme revealed - How new development is used to pay for old development.

Day 4: How we've sustained the unsustainable by going "all in" on the suburban pattern of development.

Day 5: Responses that are rational and responses that are irrational.

Chuck also has a problem with people not appreciating the difference between streets and roads. I will let Chuck explain the difference himself through the TEDx video below.

One of the online resources that will be featured more fully in the future on these pages is Complete Streets which has its own perspective on an ideal complete streets policy. We have been concentrating so far on the communities themselves. In the future we will be considering the connections between communities in terms of cooperation, collaboration and competition. It is enough here to say that Chuck has his own perspective on Complete Streets as an organization and as a policy goal.

For Chuck, to use his own words, (t)he idea of a Complete Street is compelling in almost every way, but when the engineering profession begins to adopt it wholesale, we need to pause and look at the outcomes. Remember the Confessed Recovering Engineer perspective, so Chuck's tactic involves the Co-opting of Complete Streets, an approach with which this effort is very comfortable as the need to overcome an intractable incumbent power base is sure to arise in some circumstances.

Chuck is more than willing to hold a Strong Towns Curbside Chat with any community that is willing to listen and plans on being out in Southern California around April of 2012. In the meantime you can read up on the Curbside Chat Book-LO.pdf.

Other ways of connecting with the Strong Towns movement is on Facebook which provides anyone interested access to an education and advocacy organization committed to creating durable, fiscally sustainable and desirable communities. The Strong Towns Network provides a forum to those who want to participate and contribute at a more involved level, basically the difference between groupies versus adherents. There is a link to the Strong Towns Network at the right hand column of this blog.

Hopefully, this post provides a good introduction of the Strong Towns approach. We will be returning both to Strong Towns and to the Place as Economic and Social Engine wiki page to explore some of the other resources available more in depth.

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