96 episodes

Join Abby Kinney, Chuck Marohn, and occasional surprise guests to talk in depth about just one big story from the week in the Strong Towns conversation, right when you want it: now.

Upzoned Strong Towns

    • Non-Profit
    • 4.7 • 61 Ratings

Join Abby Kinney, Chuck Marohn, and occasional surprise guests to talk in depth about just one big story from the week in the Strong Towns conversation, right when you want it: now.

    COVID-19 and the Boom in Multigenerational Housing

    COVID-19 and the Boom in Multigenerational Housing

    Among the most heartbreaking stories of 2020 are those coming out of assisted-living and independent-care facilities: stories of the virus spreading like a brush fire among vulnerable elders; stories of isolated seniors unable to receive loved ones as visitors for months at a time; or the recent story about the Minnesota National Guard being called in to serve at nursing homes because so many of the staff were sick. The pandemic should cause us to take a cold, hard look in the mirror at the way we have segmented our society — reminiscent of Euclidean zoning — by age, socioeconomic class, and other criteria. As our friend Gracy Olmstead wrote back in June:

    Yet we often like to see the various parts of our world as separate entities: churches, nuclear families, schools, grocery stores, office buildings, hospitals, assisted living centers and nursing homes, apartments and townhouses all subsist in detached zones...We approach our world like a machine: divorcing ourselves from every other part, pulling apart the various strands in the tapestry.

    Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal ran an article about how the pandemic is giving the “multigenerational home business” a boost. While occupancy rates in assisted-living and independent-care facilities have seen their biggest drop ever, homebuilders say interest in accessory dwelling units has exploded. “Reluctant to send their elderly parents to senior-living facilities,” says the article, “some homeowners are building properties equipped to house extended family.”
    This article, and the rise of multigenerational housing, are the topics on this week’s episode of Upzoned. Host Abby Kinney, an urban planner in Kansas City, and regular cohost Strong Towns president Chuck Marohn talk about how nursing homes and other senior living facilities have been hit hard by the pandemic. They discuss why it’s critical that cities give homeowners and builders the freedom to be flexible with housing, including the flexibility to add or include accessory dwelling units. (In fact, the longterm survival of the suburbs may hinge on this flexibility.) They also discuss why it’s not helpful that the Journal article seemed to frame multigenerational housing as novel and upscale.
    Then in the Downzone, Chuck describes a work trip he took recently to Disney World and recommends a book by Strong Towns content manager John Pattison. And Abby talks about decorating for the holidays, including building a to-scale gingerbread replica of her house that we can’t wait to see pictures of.
     
    Additional Show Notes:
    ”Covid-19 Is Giving the Multigenerational Home Business a Big Boost,” by Katy McLaughlin
    “I just want to see people smile again.” by Chuck Marohn
    Abby Kinney (Twitter)
    Charles Marohn (Twitter)
    Gould Evans Studio for City Design
    Theme Music by Kemet the Phantom (Soundcloud)
     Further content from Strong Towns on ADUs and multigenerational living:“Want a city that works for people of all ages? Take these 3 steps.” by Rachel Quednau
    “The Livability of a Multi-Generational Neighborhood,” by Daniel Herriges
    “The Isolation of Aging in an Auto-Oriented Place,” by Sara Joy Proppe
    “If You're Going to Allow ADUs, Don't Make It So Hard to Build One,” by Daniel Herriges
    “Making Normal Neighborhoods Legal Again,” by Daniel Herriges
    “So You Want to Build an ADU?” by Aubrey Bryon

    • 29 min
    Winds of Change in Kansas City

    Winds of Change in Kansas City

    This year, thanks to a grant from the Enid & Crosby Kemper Foundation and members like you, Strong Towns has taken an in-depth look at the growth of Kansas City, Missouri and the financial ramifications of its development pattern. The series was based on a detailed survey of Kansas City’s fiscal geography—its sources of tax revenue and its major expenses, its street network and historical development patterns—conducted by geoanalytics firm Urban3. The series comprises ten articles in all, as well as several related podcasts. Several articles have now been compiled into a new ebook, which was released today.
    What makes Kansas City such a powerful case study is not that it is an outlier among North American cities. Quite the opposite. Kansas City may no longer have the most freeway miles per capita (they were recently edged out by Nashville), but it is still a powerful object lesson in how the suburban experiment—the conventional approach to building towns and cities since the 1950s—drains wealth, squanders precious financial resources, and makes our communities fragile. And yet, as our senior editor, Daniel Herriges, wrote in the series conclusion, Kansas City also has everything it needs to turn this ill-conceived experiment around.
    But will it?
    In this special episode of Upzoned, we’re turning the tables: Daniel is interviewing regular host Abby Kinney, an urban planner in Kansas City, as well as special guest Kevin Klinkenberg, an urban designer and the executive director of Midtown KC Now. The three of them discuss how COVID-19 has illuminated and intensified Kansas City’s budget woes, the city’s biggest near-term challenges, and why Kansas City must now take care of four times the infrastructure it had 70 years ago...with relatively the same number of people.
    But they also talk about the winds of change blowing in Kansas City—including reasons to hope that a city once known as the “Paris of the Plains” is rediscovering the joys and virtues of the “chaotic but smart” approach to city-building. Yes, Kansas City has been the poster child for the suburban experiment. Yet it could also be a model for how North American cities can change course and start building strong and more financially resilient places again.
    Then in the Downzone, Daniel talks about the work he and his wife are doing to convert their carport into a front porch perfect for mild Sarasota winters. Kevin recommends—as Chuck Marohn and Abby did before him—The Myth of Capitalism, coauthored by Denise Hearn, a recent guest on the Strong Towns podcast. And Abby recommends a recent article by Kevin Klinkenberg in The American Conservative, “After COVID, a Bright Future for American Cities.”
    Additional Show Notes
    Strong Towns Kansas City Series
    “Worse Than Great Recession? Pandemic May Force Kansas City To Change Expensive Ways” (KCUR)
    “Kansas City: Car City, USA,” by Kevin Klinkenberg
    Kevin Klinkenberg (Website)
    Kevin Klinkenberg (Twitter)
    Midtown KC Now (Website)
    Midtown KC Now (Twitter)
    Abby Kinney (Twitter)
    Daniel Herriges (Twitter)
    Gould Evans Studio for City Design
    Theme Music by Kemet the Phantom (Soundcloud)

    • 28 min
    Local and Diverse > Networked and Global

    Local and Diverse > Networked and Global

    The global pandemic has revealed just how fragile our global supply chains are. This is something we’ve talked about a lot at Strong Towns—see here, here, here, here, and here—but of course the disruptions aren’t only being experienced in the United States.
    Damien Cave starts his excellent New York Times article, “What if Local and Diverse is Better than Networked and Global?,” at a farmers’ market in New South Wales, Australia. “We’ve just been shown how fragile and not resilient it all is,” Andrew Cameron, a cattle rancher selling grass-fed meat at the market, said of the broken supply chains. “Our resilience now comes from local producers.”
    Cave’s article is actually a profile of Helena Norberg-Hodge, the founder of Local Futures and an important advocate for localism since the 1970s. Norberg-Hodge has seen firsthand how globalization is decimating more traditional cultures, as in the Indian village of Ladakh. Cave writes: “The path to ‘development’ for Ladakhis meant ending centuries of self-reliance, where they found everything they needed around them, except salt, which they traded for. It also meant accepting policies that favored choices they would not have made on their own.”
    Cave boils down Norberg-Hodge’s ideas to two simple but profound concepts:

    Shorter distances are healthier than longer distances for commerce and human interaction...


    Diversification...is healthier than monoculture, which is what globalization tends to create, whether it’s bananas or mobile phones.

    Her work has earned the respect of everyone from the Dalai Lama and chef Alice Waters, to the British comedian Russell Brand. Activist and bestselling author Bill McKibben had this to say:

    She got the opportunity to see a different world, and she was smart enough to understand that she wasn’t looking at a relic, she was looking at a vision of a working future. And she has kept that vision close over many decades, helping all of us see that the metrics we’re used to—G.D.P., say—are not the only possibilities.

    Localism, and Cave’s article in particular, are the topics on this week’s episode of Upzoned. They are timely subjects too, as host Abby Kinney and regular cohost Chuck Marohn were speaking just a few days after the presidential election...but before the results were fully known. Abby and Chuck discuss why the conventional Left-Right understanding of politics is so inadequate, and why we need another axis, one that runs the spectrum from centralized, top-down power to decentralized, bottom-up energy. They discuss the problems that arise when systems get too big and complex. And they talk about the principle of subsidiarity, which states that problems not only should be addressed—but must be addressed—as locally as possibly.
    Then in the Downzone, Chuck discusses the challenging but rewarding experience of reading How to Be an Anti-Racist in conversation with others. And Abby recommends a recent article by Strong Towns senior editor Daniel Herriges, “We Don’t Live In a World of Cartoon Villains.”
    Additional Show Notes

    “What if Local and Diverse is Better than Networked and Global?” by Damien Cave


    Abby Kinney (Twitter)


    Charles Marohn (Twitter)


    Gould Evans Studio for City Design


    Theme Music by Kemet the Phantom (Soundcloud)


    Additional Strong Towns content on localism and taking local action:

    “It’s All Local Now,” by Charles Marohn


    ”The New Localism” (Podcast)


    “Big, Impersonal Institutions Are Failing Us. Loyalty to Our Communities Might Save Us.” (Podcast)


    “The Dignity of Local Community: A Conversation with Chris Arnade” (Podcast)


    “How Relevant is Localism in an Age of Urgency?”

    • 26 min
    Has the West Made a “Cult” of Home Ownership?

    Has the West Made a “Cult” of Home Ownership?

    Earlier this year, The Economist ran a piece making the case that the West’s “obsession” with home ownership “undermines growth, fairness and public faith in capitalism.” The roots for this go back to a shift in public policy in the 1950s to encourage home ownership over renting. The benefits of home ownership, writes the author, are overblown. What’s more, the “cult of owner-occupation has huge costs. Those who own homes often become NIMBYs who resist development in an effort to protect their investments.”
    This article is the topic of discussion on today’s episode of Upzoned, with host Abby Kinney, an urban planner in Kansas City, and regular cohost Chuck Marohn, the founder and president of Strong Towns. Abby and Chuck discuss whether there really is an infatuation with home ownership in the United States, and what effect that infatuation may be having on the housing crisis and economic inequality. They talk about the role of home ownership in giving residents a stake in creating wealth and stability. And they discuss why it’s important to resist oversimplifying the phenomena of housing unaffordability.
    Then in the Downzone, Chuck talks about finally finishing Union, by Colin Woodard, a great book he started before his accident. And Abby recommends The Myth of Capitalism, co-authored by Denise Hearn, who was also a guest on Monday’s episode of the Strong Towns podcast.
    Additional Show Notes

    “Home ownership is the West’s biggest economic-policy mistake” (The Economist)


    Abby Kinney (Twitter)


    Charles Marohn (Twitter)


    Gould Evans Studio for City Design


    Theme Music by Kemet the Phantom (Soundcloud)


    Further reading from Strong Towns on the housing crisis

    “What Can Hives and Barnacles Teach Us About Solving a Housing Crisis?” by Patrick Condon


    “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Housing Prices” (Podcast)


    “Could This Bottom-Up Method to Address the Housing Crisis Work Where You Live Too?” by Rachel Quednau


    “Want to make housing more affordable? Start by designing neighborhoods, not just buildings.” by Quint Studer


    “We Used to Just Call These Houses,” by Daniel Herriges

    • 27 min
    This $15 Trillion Market Is On the Verge of Collapse

    This $15 Trillion Market Is On the Verge of Collapse

    “Commercial real estate is in trouble,” Katy O’Donnell wrote in Politico earlier this month, “and turbulence in the $15 trillion market is threatening to bleed over into the broader financial system just as the U.S. struggles to emerge from a recession.” She continues:

    The longer the pandemic paralyzes hotels, retailers and office buildings, the more difficult it is for property owners to meet their mortgage payments—raising the specter of widespread downgrades, defaults and eventual foreclosures. As companies like J.C. Penney, Neiman Marcus and Pier 1 file for bankruptcy, retail properties are losing major tenants with no clear plan to replace them, while hotels are running below 50 percent occupancy.

    The United States was way overbuilt before the pandemic decimated brick-and-mortar retail. The U.S. has about 23.5 square feet of retail space per capita, more than five times as much as the U.K. (4.6 square feet per capita), Japan (4.4), The Netherlands (4.1), and France (3.8). (Note: Other sources actually have that figure much higher, and our friend Josh McCarty of Urban3 showed back in 2017 that if we consolidated all U.S. retail space and its parking, it would be visible from space.) We’ve been propping up large-scale retail (malls, strip malls, and big-box stores) for years. But now those supports are crumbling, and it’s not hard to imagine this sector collapsing—with devastating direct impacts and ripple effects throughout the economy.
    That’s the topic on this week’s episode of Upzoned, with host Abby Kinney, an urban planner in Kansas City, and regular cohost Strong Towns president Chuck Marohn. Abby and Chuck  discuss the past—why malls and big-box stores were perfectly adapted to the suburban development pattern—as well as the future, including the possibility that existing big-box stores may become distribution centers for delivery and drive-through services. They also talk about why conventional retail space is so difficult to revive, and which types of retail are more likely to survive than others.
    Then in the Downzone, Chuck recommends The Structure of Political Positions, by Blake Pagenkopf. (Blake will be Chuck’s guest on the November 9th episode of the Strong Towns podcast.) And Abby talks about getting ready for winter, including gearing up for cold weather biking.
    Additional Show Notes

    “The next economic crisis: Empty retail space,” by Katy O’Donnell


    Abby Kinney (Twitter)


    Charles Marohn (Twitter)


    Gould Evans Studio for City Design


    Theme Music by Kemet the Phantom (Soundcloud)


    Further reading from Strong Towns on retail and commercial real estate

    “What Comes Next for Commercial Real Estate,” by Charles Marohn


    “Want more local businesses in your neighborhood? Then legalize ‘Accessory Commercial Units.’” by Ashley Salvador


    “Here's how much of America is occupied by big box stores.”


    “The Real Reason Your Local Mall Is Failing,” by Charles Marohn


    Big Box Stores: America’s Rigged Game for Retail (free ebook)

    • 30 min
    Bonus Episode: The Bottom-Up Revolution

    Bonus Episode: The Bottom-Up Revolution

    Here’s a taste of our newest podcast, The Bottom-Up Revolution, hosted by Rachel Quednau. In this episode, you’ll hear from Alexander Hagler, an entrepreneur and urban gardener based in Milwaukee, WI who founded a store called Center Street Wellness, a space for local makers to sell their handcrafted products focused on mental and physical wellbeing. And you’ll learn about how to support entrepreneurs in your own community—or become one yourself. Find out more about this new podcast and keep up with new episodes here: https://www.strongtowns.org/podcast

    • 26 min

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5
61 Ratings

61 Ratings

TyFo2 ,

I LOVE THIS PODCAST

Personally I think this podcast is top tier urban planning media and I can’t enough :) !

JimTurner ,

Thank you

This is a very good podcast!!!

Kristina Ronne ,

Fantastic and super informative!

Love listening to this podcast and learning about urban planning trends and best practices from across the country. While Abby sounds pretty young she’s super knowledgeable and I’m thrilled to hear her, and her guests’, opinions.

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