100 episodes

A weekly conversation on the Strong Towns movement hosted by Charles Marohn. The podcast blends fiscal prudence with good urban design to highlight how America can financially strengthen its cities, towns and neighborhoods and, in the process, make them better places to live.

You can support the podcast and become a member of Strong Towns at www.StrongTowns.org.

The Strong Towns Podcast Strong Towns

    • Government
    • 4.7 • 236 Ratings

A weekly conversation on the Strong Towns movement hosted by Charles Marohn. The podcast blends fiscal prudence with good urban design to highlight how America can financially strengthen its cities, towns and neighborhoods and, in the process, make them better places to live.

You can support the podcast and become a member of Strong Towns at www.StrongTowns.org.

    Matthew Yglesias: The Case for One Billion Americans (Part 2)

    Matthew Yglesias: The Case for One Billion Americans (Part 2)

    Last week’s episode of the Strong Towns podcast featured the first half of the conversation between Chuck Marohn, founder and president of Strong Towns, and Matt Yglesias, the bestselling author of One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking  Bigger. Yglesias is the host of The Weeds podcast and cofounder of Vox Media. He recently launched the blog and newsletter Slow Boring.
    In Part 1, Yglesias made the case for tripling the U.S. population, discussing how it would make America stronger at the community level and as a whole. Now in Part 2, Marohn and Yglesias talk about why the concept might be especially good for small towns and depopulated Rust Belt cities, how Yglesias addresses concerns about gentrification, and what needs to change about our economics and development pattern in order for “one billion Americans“ to be a prosperity-generating change rather than a prosperity-killing one. They also discuss Yglesias’s recent article on fixing the mass transit crisis.
    Additional Show Notes:

    Slow Boring


    The Weeds Podcast


    One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger, by Matthew Yglesias


    Part 1 of the interview


    “Fixing the mass transit crisis,” by Matthew Yglesias


    Matthew Yglesias (Twitter)


    Charles Marohn (Twitter)


    The Strong Towns Local-Motive Tour

    • 36 min
    Matthew Yglesias: The Case for One Billion Americans (Part 1)

    Matthew Yglesias: The Case for One Billion Americans (Part 1)

    Does the United States have too few people? It’s a provocative question—but one perhaps not asked often enough. And journalist Matthew Yglesias has an even more provocative answer.
    In his new bestselling book, One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger, Yglesias makes the case for tripling the American population. The U.S. is not “full,” he writes in the book’s introduction. “Many of its iconic cities—including not just famous cases of collapse like Detroit but also Philadelphia and Chicago and dozens of smaller cities like Rochester and Erie—actually have fewer residents than they had decades ago. And virtually all of our thriving cities easily have room to grow and accommodate more people.” As things stand now, he says, the United States is “staring down the barrel of inevitable relative decline.” The economies of China and India are growing quickly and threaten America’s position as the world’s leading power. And there are compelling domestic reasons for growing the population too.
    Matthew Yglesias is the special guest on this week’s episode of the Strong Towns podcast. (It’s our first podcast of 2021, and the first of a two-part interview.) Yglesias is the host of The Weeds podcast and cofounder of Vox Media, and he recently launched the new blog and newsletter Slow Boring. In this episode, he talks with Strong Towns founder and president Chuck Marohn about why population growth would make the U.S. stronger—not just at the international level but as a “community of communities.” They also discuss why the idea of one billion Americans is actually a centrist one, why it doesn’t have to be an environmental disaster, and how it can get done.
    Part 2 of the interview will run next week. But we think by the end of this episode you’ll see why Chuck named One Billion Americans one of the best books he read in 2020.
    Additional Show Notes:

    Slow Boring


    The Weeds Podcast


    One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger, by Matthew Yglesias


    Matthew Yglesias (Twitter)


    Charles Marohn (Twitter)


    The Strong Towns Local-Motive Tour

    • 47 min
    John Pattison: From Slow Food to Slow Church

    John Pattison: From Slow Food to Slow Church

    In 1986, the Italian journalist Carlo Petrini organized a protest of the opening of a McDonald’s restaurant near the Spanish Steps in Rome. Holding bowls of penne pasta, the protestors chanted, “We don’t want fast food, we want slow food.”
    By one standard, the protest was unsuccessful: the McDonald’s opened as planned. (It was apparently such a big deal that teenagers “nearly stormed the restaurant, stopping traffic and causing havoc in the streets.”) Yet not all was lost, because out of that demonstration was birthed Slow Food, an international movement that now has 150,000 members worldwide. Slow Food helps save endangered foods and food traditions, promotes local food and drink, and re-educates industrialized eaters on how to enjoy real food again. We’re so far removed from where our food comes from that we literally have to re-learn how to taste.
    Slow Food has also gone on to inspire other Slow movements, including Slow Money and Slow Cities. While these movements differ in subject, scope, and strategy, what they have in common is their opposition to what the sociologist George Ritzer described as McDonaldization, or “the process by which the principles of the fast-food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society.” Ritzer identified four core values of McDonaldization:
    Efficiency
    Predictability
    Calculability (a focus on countable results)
    and Control, which runs through all the others.
    Food, money, and cities aren’t, of course, the only areas of life to have ceded ground to the “cult of speed.” According to Strong Towns content manager John Pattison, the North American church has proven just as susceptible as the rest of culture to the promises of McDonaldization. That’s why for the better part of a decade, John and his friend Chris Smith have been exploring and promoting the concept of “Slow Church.” A Slow Church is a faith community deeply rooted in the pace and place of its neighborhood, a church working with neighbors to weave a fabric of care in their particular place. Together, John and Chris wrote the book Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus.
    In this week’s episode of the Strong Towns podcast—the final episode of 2020—Strong Towns president Chuck Marohn invited John to talk about Slow Church and how the Slow Church and Strong Towns conversations overlap. They discuss what it means to be a “slow church,” the importance of proximity, why human beings are “called to community,” and what a polarized country can learn from the stunning diversity among Jesus’ apostles. They also talk about how churches are working in their neighborhoods, "grocery aisle accountability," and how—led by churches—John’s town has made eating together part of the community fabric.
    Additional Show Notes:
    Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus, by John Pattison and C. Christopher Smith
    “Conversation: A Neighborhood’s Way of Life,” by C. Christopher Smith
    “How Sharing Food Can Strengthen Communities,” by Hilary Dumitrescu
    John Pattison (Twitter)
    Charles Marohn (Twitter)
    Related content from Strong Towns
    “The Bottom-Up Revolution is...Empowering Churches to Connect with Their Neighborhoods” (Podcast)
    “Walk Humbly: How Faith Communities Can Help Build Stronger Towns,” by John Pattison
    “Does God Care How Wide a Road Is?” by John Pattison
    “Living in Communion,” by Charles Marohn
    “Faith Communities Can Help Build Vibrant Neighborhoods,” by Jennifer Griffin
    “How (and Why) to Make Your Church Bike-Friendly,” by Sara Joy Proppe
    “Conversations on Faith: Sikhs and the City,” by Johnny Sanphillippo
    “Conversations on Faith: Mormonism and Strong Towns,” by Spencer Gardner

    • 54 min
    Chris Bernardo: Filling the Gaps to Support Local Businesses

    Chris Bernardo: Filling the Gaps to Support Local Businesses

    It happens all the time: there are certain things entrepreneurs and commercial property owners know they need in their business district to really thrive—a relentless approach to maintenance, a high level of cleanliness, increased public safety, splashes of beauty, physical improvements, etc.—yet their town or city can’t afford to provide them.
    How to fill those gaps? For an increasing number of places, the answer is to form a business improvement district. Business improvement districts are designed to help close the gaps in communities without the tax base to provide the services and improvements essential for economic development.
    Today’s guest on the Strong Towns podcast is an expert on business improvement districts. Chris Bernardo is president and CEO of Commercial District Services, a Jersey City-based firm that manages business improvement districts in New York and Bernardo's native New Jersey. In this episode, Bernardo and Strong Towns president Chuck Marohn talk about why many cities don’t have the resources to keep a place looking good and working well, how that hurts businesses, and why business improvement districts are a powerful and flexible solution. They contrast how cities usually approach maintenance with how Disney theme parks approach maintenance. And they talk about why the business improvement district is a pragmatic and practical model more cities should be utilizing.
    Additional Show Notes
    Commercial District Services
    Chris Bernardo (LinkedIn)
    Chris Bernardo (Twitter)
    Charles Marohn (Twitter)
    Become a Strong Towns member
    Related Strong Towns content on economic development and maintenance
    “If We’re Not Going to Maintain What We Have, Then Why Bother Building Anything New?” by Charles Marohn
    “What we can learn from Disney's Main Street,” by Michael von Hausen
    “Amid COVID-19, Local Governments Are Coming Through for Local Businesses,” by Daniel Herriges
    “How should my town be doing economic recovery right now?” by Rachel Quednau
    “How Paul Stewart Inspired His Neighbors to Revitalize Their Declining Neighborhoods”
    “Chris Gibbons: This Is How You Grow a Local Economy” (Podcast)
    “How Does Your (Economic) Garden Grow?” (Podcast)

    • 48 min
    Just Print the Money

    Just Print the Money

    Back in August, New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) warned of a “doomsday” scenario—including fare hikes and service cuts—if the federal government didn’t come through with $12 billion in aid. Writing about the MTA crisis, Strong Towns founder and president Chuck Marohn said that, if he ran the money printing press, the transit agency would get the money. But he also talked about how preposterous it is that it should ever have gotten to this point. New York City has the most valuable real estate in the nation. Why is the fate of the city, and indeed the whole New York region, being left for non-New Yorkers to decide? How could New Yorkers have let this happen?
    In today’s episode of the Strong Towns podcast, Chuck approaches New York’s financial woes—as well as other crises (insolvent pension funds, student loan debts, crumbling infrastructure, and more)—from a different angle. He discusses why the changes that need to be made to fix our cities won’t come about in a culture whose solution is “Just print the money.”
    He also talks about how money has increasingly become an abstraction, the two elements—liquidity and narrative—needed to prop up a system of a financial abstractions, and what happens when even one of those elements falters. For example, what happens when an increasingly polarized country can’t agree on a narrative to justify printing money to solve problems like the MTA crisis, student loans, etc.? How do we say “Just print the money” to pay the bills coming due for the decades-long suburban experiment, when we can’t agree on competing versions of history, morality, and the place of the United States in the world?
    Chuck ends with a deceptively simple suggestion for how to push back against encroaching abstraction...and begin building stronger towns in the process.
    Additional Shownotes: 

    Charles Marohn (Twitter)


    “New York transit is facing ‘Doomsday’ cuts. Should non-New Yorkers bail it out?” by Charles Marohn


    “Pandemic Fallout: Will New York City Experience Long-term Decline?” (Podcast)


    Check out other recent episodes of the Strong Towns podcast, as well as Upzoned and The Bottom-Up Revolution.

    • 1 hr 1 min
    Stacy Mitchell: Fighting for Small Businesses and Strong Local Economies

    Stacy Mitchell: Fighting for Small Businesses and Strong Local Economies

    COVID-19 has been brutal for small businesses. Back in September, data from Yelp showed that nearly 100,000 businesses had closed for good. That was two-and-a-half months ago...and many experts believe the next few months will be even worse for small businesses.
    A global pandemic was going to be destructive no matter what, but it’s clear now that small businesses were on a weak footing to start with. Why? That’s the topic on this episode of the Strong Towns podcast...and there’s no guest better able to help us make sense of it than Stacy Mitchell.
    Mitchell is the co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and the director of its Independent Business Initiative. She’s the author of Big-Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America’s Independent Businesses, and coauthor of “Amazon’s Stranglehold: How the Company’s Tightening Grip on the Economy Is Stifling Competition, Eroding Jobs, and Threatening Communities.” Her writing has also appeared in The Atlantic, Wall Street Journal, The Nation, Bloomberg, and other major outlets. Mitchell has testified before Congress on the monopoly power of dominant tech platforms. In April, she was the subject of a New York Times profile, “As Amazon Rises, So Does the Opposition.”
    In this episode, Strong Towns president Chuck Marohn welcomes Stacy Mitchell back to the podcast to talk about the concerns she had before the pandemic — corporate consolidation, tech monopolies, how corporate giants were using their size and political clout to muscle out small businesses — and why those concerns are even more acute now. They discuss how small businesses have adapted in extraordinary ways to the challenges of coronavirus, yet still face huge obstacles, including a federal policy response that is printing money for big businesses but has done comparatively little for small businesses. They talk about how Amazon is “fundamentally anti-competitive,” the damage done by Amazon to startups and small businesses, and what it might look like if Congress breaks up the tech behemoth.
    Marohn and Mitchell also discuss why it is distorting to think about Americans primarily as “consumers.” Before we are consumers, we are members of a community, citizens in a democracy, and people trying to build a good life for ourselves and our families.
     
    Additional Show Notes:
    Stacy Mitchell (Twitter)
    Institute for Local Self-Reliance (Website)
    Institute for Local Self-Reliance (Twitter)
    Sign up for the ILSR Hometown Advantage newsletter
    Charles Marohn (Twitter)
    Other Strong Towns content featuring Stacy Mitchell and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance“Amid COVID-19, Local Governments Are Coming Through for Local Businesses,” by Daniel Herriges
    “Why Local Banks Are Crucial to Your Community's Coronavirus Recovery,” by Daniel Herriges
    Ask Strong Towns Webcast: Celebrity Edition (featuring Stacy Mitchell)
    “Stacy Mitchell on the Big-Box Swindle” (Podcast)
    “How a Local Bookstore Can Make Your Town Richer—In More Than One Way,” by Kea Wilson

    • 45 min

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5
236 Ratings

236 Ratings

Malodude ,

The most important podcast of a generation!!!

Stay Strong Chuck!

JoshCrist ,

Empowering, insightful and actionable! 🔥

Whether you’re well established as someone who can translate creative energy into the impact you want to have on the resilience of your local community, or just getting started as a catalyst for change - this is a must-listen podcast for you! Charles does an incredible job leading conversations that cover a huge breadth of topics related to the ins and outs of building a thriving public infrastructure - with leaders who’ve actually walked the path. Highly recommend listening and subscribing!

johnkokoris ,

Amazing resource and ideas

I consider myself very leftwing and I tend to be duped into breathlessly following the national news of the day. This podcast is therefore an extremely refreshing break from the bubble I usually inhabit, as Chuck is a much more conservative voice—without any of the baggage that has come to be associated with that word. Smart, evidence based, respectfully subversive, he does a fantastic job picking topics and guests. His book is a great overview if you’re just getting into the Strong Towns movement. This podcast gets me thinking in a way most others do not, and frequently I have to re-listen because my mind goes to so many interesting places. If you’re like me—getting interested in local issues, responsible/sustainable development, and alternative viewpoints—Chuck is truly a modern day prophet.

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