Strong Towns interview with Chuck Marohn

On Friday, 09/07/2012, I took a trip to North Adams, MA to meet up with Chuck Marohn. I had corresponded with Chuck online for a while, but had not met him in person before. While there, I had the honor of being interviewed by him for the Strong Towns podcast.

Chuck is the founder of the organization Strong Towns, in Brainerd, MN. The purpose of Strong Towns is to educate people about why so many towns in the United States are failing and what we can do to make them stronger and more resilient, and to connect people who are working toward this goal. In his work at Strong Towns, Chuck has expressed some fascinating insights on issues like transportation, land use, taxation, and financiing at the municipal level.

Strong Towns is an excellent organization. I encourage you to learn more about it and get involved. My only complaint about it is the lack of sophistication with which its participants treat cycling. It could definitely use an infusion of empowered cyclists to redirect that conversation.

 
 
 

About the author

I was born in 1977. I am principally a math teacher and have been teaching since the age of 17. I have a B.E. in computer engineering from SUNY Stony Brook (2000) and a Ph.D. in mathematics from Umass Amherst (2008). In the Society for Creative Anachronism, I am Lord Eli of Bergental, member of The Order of the Fountain. I first learned to ride a bike, in the common sense, at age 7. Due to a visual disability I cannot acquire a driver's license. I once thought of this limitation as a severe one. I made some trips by foot, bike, and bus, and relied on friends and family members with cars to give me rides for some other trips. For the most part, however, the difficulty I had in traveling prevented me from living what most people would consider a full life. I learned to DRIVE a bike at age 27, and it radically transformed my life. Suddenly, I could go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted, in a reliable, flexible, carefree manner. It felt as if I was no longer disabled. Now I travel almost entirely by bicycle. I have found that good cycling habits provide me with more freedom and flexibility than I could ever achieve through driving a motor vehicle. I have cycled in ten states and the District of Columbia, on a wide variety of roads under a wide variety of conditions. I have made trips of up to 200 miles.

More posts by | Visit the site of Eli Damon

 

1 Comment

  • Someone in another forum asked for more information about Strong Towns, particularly, how to get more involved, and what the relationship is between Strong Towns and popular attitudes toward cycling and cycling advocacy. Here is my response.

    Strong towns is about spreading the word about what we’ve been doing wrong for the past several decades, and facilitating the sharing of ideas among change makers about how to make communities healthier and more resilient. The main topics they focus on are municipal taxation and financing and design of streets and buildings, and they do have a lot of very insightful things to say on those topics. Bicycles are not a major focus for them, even in regard to street design. (I am trying to change that.) Chuck’s interest in bike lanes seems to be mainly about what to do with excess road width rather than how best to accommodate cycling, although he is implicitly assuming that bike lanes are good for cycling.

    When it comes to bicycles, they do tend to buy into paint-and-path. (I’m trying to change that too.) I know there are a few participants who are deep into paint-and-path. I don’t think that most are really focused on bicycles either way. I think that Chuck accepts paint-and-path by default because he isn’t familiar with anything else, but he seems very logical and open-minded, so I bet he would give the science fair consideration if we could get his attention on the subject. Not everyone in the Strong Towns community agrees on everything, but they are usually polite in their disagreement. I really want to get him to a CyclingSavvy class, and he is interested, but there’s none nearby to him and his schedule is pretty tight.

    There are some good materials you can use as an introduction.There are a few good videos at http://www.strongtowns.org/videos and http://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2012/10/19/video-from-the-michigan-municipal-league.html . There is the audio podcast of mostly commentaries and interviews at http://www.strongtowns.org/strong-towns-podcast/, and the video podcast of short on-site critiques of streets and buildings at http://www.strongtowns.org/sid-tv . There printed book, “Thoughts on Building Strong Towns: Volume 1″, by Charles L. Marohn, that is a selection of articles from the blog. Many of the articles on the blog (http://www.strongtowns.org/journal) are less penetrable by outsiders, but the ones in the book are the more polished ones. There is a private social networking site at http://strongtowns.net , although there is a subscription fee for using it. Chuck gives talks, called “Curbside Chats”, around the country, so if there is one near you (http://www.strongtowns.org/chat-schedule/), I recommend going. If you are willing to put the work in, you can even organize one yourself.