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.
The Strong Towns approach ultimately requires a reorientation of emphasis and a renewed understanding of what it takes to build a town or a neighborhood.
The current approach to growth emphasizes investments in new infrastructure to serve or induce new development. This approach uses public dollars inefficiently, destructively subsidizes one type of development over another and leaves massive maintenance liabilities to future generations.
A Strong Town approach emphasizes obtaining a higher return on existing infrastructure investments. We can no longer simply disregard old investments in favor of new, but instead we need to focus on making better use of that which we are already committed to publicly maintain.
Building a Strong Town is a complex, long-term endeavor. Much as a successful family balances their short-term spending needs with their long-term savings and financial commitments, so too must a Strong Town work towards long-term, balanced objectives,
A Strong Town...
1. Must be near-term financially solvent.
Can your town meet its near-term financial obligations? Is your town deferring needed maintenance, bypassing key investments or dramatically raising revenue in order to balance its budget? Is your town seeking new growth as a way to pay for current financial imbalances?
2. Must have the tax base and resources to cover long-term financial commitments.
Have the public investments that have been made in your town's infrastructure resulted in private-sector investments that can financially sustain the maintenance of that infrastructure? Is your town reliant on government transfer payments or extreme amounts of debt to pay for maintenance of basic infrastructure systems? Does your town have a capital improvements plan that accounts for the maintenance and replacement of all infrastructure systems?
3. Must have sufficient age diversity so that population will be added at a rate greater than population is being lost.
Is your town positioned to sustain its population a generation into the future, especially if it is planning to borrow for major infrastructure with a long payback cycle? When looking a generation to the future, is your town positioned to grow leaders from within the community or will tomorrow's leaders need to be imported? Is your population too young to sustain efforts to support the elderly? Is your population too old to have broad support for educating children and funding parks?
4. Must have sufficient economic diversity and vibrancy so that businesses are being added at a rate greater than or equal to the rate they are being lost.
Is your community dependent on one business or industry for the bulk of employment opportunities? Are there opportunities, locations, access to capital and a local support system for entrepreneurs that want to start businesses? Does your town actively engage in succession-planning, where successful local businesses can be passed from generation to generation? Does your town misuse tax subsidies to drive inefficient development patterns or fund non-viable endeavors? Does your town allow for creative destruction, where non-competitive businesses are allowed to fail in a competitive, free market.
5. Must have the courage and leadership to plan for long-term viability.
Does your town have a long-term plan for success? Do the leaders in your community understand that plan and embrace it? Are short-term decisions made through the prism of the long-term viability of the community? Are the members of the town engaged in a broad and comprehensive way in the planning of the community?
To make your town a Strong Town, begin today by reorienting to meet these five benchmarks. For some concepts for how to build a Strong Town, be sure and read our Placemaking Principles.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has"
Margaret Mead, Anthropologist
(used with permission)
"If you don't like the news .... go out and make some of your own !!"
Wes "Scoop" Nisker, Newscaster
Government is a slow and tedious process. While it often includes citizen and neighborhood involvement, non-governmental, private organizations have created movements and interesting groups which can create positive change in our cities and towns.
I am fascinated by the way groups are created and how they influence public decision making. This blog merely recognizes them and forwards the description of these groups from their own websites.