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The Strong Towns Podcast
62 minutes | Aug 8, 2022
“Bias Writ Large” in the Property Tax Assessment System
Fair property tax systems are crucial to developing a financially strong community, as property taxes represent a large source of public revenue for most local governments. In today’s episode of the Strong Towns Podcast, Chuck Marohn talks with Joe Minicozzi from Urban3 about Buncombe County and the property tax inequities within Western North Carolina that are currently being investigated by the Just Accounting For Health (JAfH) consortium. A few months ago, Minicozzi presented some compelling disparities in the data on the assessment process to the North Carolina Ad Hoc Appraisals Committee—only for his presentation to be cut short by defensive audience members. In this podcast, Minicozzi shares that data he presented to the Ad Hoc Committee and talks about the historical practice of redlining, and how it has contributed to our current, broken property tax system. JAfH is a consortium partnered with Urban3, Strong Towns, the University of North Carolina-Asheville, and the Racial Justice Coalition. The team has been rigorously researching property tax inequities specifically in relation to Western North Carolina, as well as exploring implications of this system across the nation. Along with exposing the arbitrary data within the opaque property tax system, JAfH is answering the question, “How do systemic biases in local property tax policies and practices influence health equity in Western North Carolina?” In this podcast, Minicozzi shows Marohn some slides from his original presentation to the Ad Hoc Committee. To view the slides, check out the accompanying video to this podcast on YouTube. Additional Show Notes Learn more about Just Accounting for Health. Sign up for emails to stay up to date on JAfH findings. Joe Minicozzi (Twitter). Charles Marohn (Twitter).
63 minutes | Aug 1, 2022
One of the Most Dangerous Assumptions We Have Made
Thanks to technology, cars and roads just keep getting safer, right? That’s the message we hear in the news and advertising on a regular basis. But if that were the case, traffic fatalities should be going down as technology progresses. And they’re not. What’s more, according to these standard beliefs subscribed to by much of the public, when driving dramatically decreased during the early months of the pandemic in 2020, we should have seen a drop in traffic deaths, too. Instead, we saw an increase. Beth Osborne, director of Transportation for America, calls this “one of the most dangerous assumptions we have made in the United States”—that deaths as a result of car crashes are just “the cost of doing business” and will naturally go up or down in correlation with the amount of traffic. The truth is that the design of our streets is fundamentally dangerous and fewer cars on the road actually means people will drive more quickly, taking more risks, and leading to more crashes. This is because engineers have built American streets to highway standards, removing all potential obstacles and widening streets to the point of absurdity. Car crashes aren’t the result of mere human error or recklessness, they’re the result of design. That’s why Osborne’s on the Strong Towns Podcast this week, to talk about Transportation for America’s new Dangerous by Design report and to encourage you not to look away or shrug your shoulders about the “cost of doing business” in America. According to Transportation for America’s new report, 18 people a day were struck and killed in 2020. In any other context—terrorist attack, plane crash, mass shooting—these numbers would be horrific. We should take them seriously on our streets, too. The good news is that, if design got us into this mess, design can get us out, too. In this conversation, Osborne and Marohn dig into the issues with street design in America and how we can move toward safer, more financially productive streets everywhere. Additional Show Notes “Beth Osborne: America's Roads are ‘Dangerous by Design’,” a previous Strong Towns Podcast episode featuring Beth Osborne. “Infrastructure Avalanche: How to Make the Best Use of Federal and State Funding,” a 2022 Local-Motive course featuring Beth Osborne. “How Street Design Shapes the Epidemic of Preventable Pedestrian Fatalities,” by Steve Davis, Strong Towns (July 2022). “New Report: America’s Epidemic of Traffic Deaths Is Getting Worse,” by Daniel Herriges, Strong Towns (July 2022). Transportation for America website. Dangerous by Design 2022 report. Beth Osborne (Twitter). Charles Marohn (Twitter).
45 minutes | Jul 18, 2022
The Drip, Drip, Drip of Traffic Deaths
Every hour, four people are killed in a car crash. Over a year, this totals up to about 40,000 people. “It’s an astounding number,” says Strong Towns President Chuck Marohn. In this episode of the Strong Towns Podcast, Chuck talks about his experience serving for nine years in the National Guard. He covers some sensitive topics, relaying what he’s learned from how people respond to military deaths, and what that can tell us about how we respond to traffic deaths. “I bring this up, because I want to talk a little bit about the way we respond to tragedy, the way we respond to hardship,” says Chuck. If 40,000 people suddenly died in a massive car crash, we’d notice. We’d all turn our heads and as a collective of officials and citizens, we would mourn and strive for change so as to prevent that sort of catastrophic event from happening again. The reality is, about 40,000 people die in car crashes every year in the United States. But we don’t respond with the same sense of urgency the way we would respond to a large, very noticeable, tragic accident. Chuck explains why this is, how our society functions, and how it needs to change to solve this ongoing tragedy of needless traffic deaths. We can solve this problem. We can apply bottom-up processes to quickly make our streets safer for everyone. We can end the drip, drip, drip of traffic deaths. Additional Show Notes “Here’s Why We Respond in Force to One Amtrak Crash While Ignoring Thousands of Daily Car Crashes,” by Charles Marohn, Strong Towns (July 2022). Charles Marohn (Twitter).
25 minutes | Jul 11, 2022
An Update on Strong Towns’ Lawsuit Against the Minnesota Board of Engineering Licensure
In today's episode, Chuck Marohn gives an update on where Strong Towns is at in its ongoing lawsuit against the Minnesota Board of Architecture, Engineering, Land Surveying, Landscape Architecture, Geoscience and Interior Design (AELSLAGID).
51 minutes | Jun 20, 2022
Majora Carter: Reclaiming Your Community
Success: however you define it, it’s what many of us strive for. Whether it’s success in one’s career, school, family life, or other dreams, no one wants to experience a perceived failure in life. In the minds of many throughout America, the indicator of success is the action of leaving your neighborhood—for good. A stigma exists in many places that, if you truly have talent and are to accomplish great things, you will not stay in your community. Instead, you’ll go off to find something better. Majora Carter, an urban revitalization strategist, real estate developer, MacArthur Fellow Peabody award winning broadcaster, and owner of the Boogie Down Grind Cafe in the Bronx, wrote a fascinating book called Reclaiming Your Community: You Don’t Have To Move Out of Your Neighborhood to Live in a Better One. “I felt so much connection to the story you were telling about your place, which seems very different than mine,” comments Strong Towns President Chuck Marohn during his interview with Carter on the Strong Towns Podcast. The Cinderella story of leaving your “unfortunate place” for a castle on the hill is one many Americans can relate to. In this week's Strong Towns Podcast, Chuck talks with Carter about themes from her book, such as building wealth in your own community, and Carter’s own life experiences growing up in the Bronx. Additional Show Notes Purchase Majora Carter’s book, Reclaiming Your Community: You Don’t Have To Move Out of Your Neighborhood to Live in a Better One. Majora Carter (website). Connect with Majora Carter on Instagram or Twitter. Charles Marohn (Twitter).
54 minutes | Jun 13, 2022
Nolan Gray: Exposing the Arbitrariness of Zoning Codes
Professional city planner and longtime Strong Towns contributor Nolan Gray comes to The Strong Towns Podcast today to talk about his new book, Arbitrary Lines: How Zoning Broke the American City and How to Fix It. As you may have already gathered from the title, this is a book all about the flawed nature of zoning, and why reforming our zoning codes is such a key part of building stronger, more financially resilient cities and towns. As Strong Towns Podcast host Chuck Marohn notes, if you don’t know anything about zoning, you’re going to get a lot out of this book. And if you’re an expert on zoning, you’re still going to get a lot out of this book. So if you’re looking for an accessible, yet informative exploration of what’s gone wrong with the way we plan cities, look no further. Additional Show Notes Order Arbitrary Lines: How Zoning Broke the American City and How to Fix It here. Nolan Gray (Twitter). Charles Marohn (Twitter).
8 minutes | Jun 10, 2022
End the Parking Mandates and Subsidies That Are Hurting Our Cities
Building community wealth is difficult. There’s a lot of hard work involved, there are tough calls, there is risk. In even the best of circumstances, there’s always a chance your investment (in dollars, time, and energy) won’t work out. But often it does. Ultimately, this is how cities grow, how wealth is accumulated, how communities prosper, and how the chance to pursue a good life is made available to more people. What’s wild is how often cities get in their own way. Case in point: the parking mandates and subsidies that are probably hobbling your city’s strength and resilience right now. This member week, we are sharing insights into our new strategic plan, including our five priority campaigns. The goal of the End Parking Mandates and Subsidies campaign is to end the practices that cause productive land to be used for motor vehicle storage. You can support this campaign by becoming a member of Strong Towns.
8 minutes | Jun 9, 2022
Legalizing Incremental Change—Everywhere—To Meet America’s Housing Needs
A house is many things. It is shelter, a place to live. It is an investment, a store of wealth. It can be a repository of memories and it can be a dream for the future. “The American Dream,” as a home is sometimes called, is part of our national identity, a narrative many Americans like to tell themselves about what it means to lead a good life. Yet can a house really be all of these things? Moreover, should a house be all these things? This member week, we are sharing insights into our new strategic plan, including our five priority campaigns. The goal of the Incremental Housing campaign is to have the next increment of development intensity allowed, by right, in every neighborhood in America. You can support this campaign by becoming a member of Strong Towns.
25 minutes | Jun 8, 2022
Your City’s Accounting Is Unnecessarily Obscure. It’s Time To Pull Back the Veil.
Who do we prepare local budgets for, the citizens of a community or distant Wall Street bond investors? Is it more important that an elected council member know what is going on with a city’s finances, or should our local accounting practices be more responsive to the needs of analysts at ratings agencies? We all expect cities to put together budgets and maintain financial reports so citizens can understand what is going on and community leaders can make good decisions. That is what we expect, but that’s not how local government accounting actually works. This member week, we are sharing insights into our new strategic plan, including our five priority campaigns. The goal of the Transparent Local Accounting campaign is to reveal the financial implications of the Suburban Experiment by increasing the transparency of local accounting practices. You can support this campaign by becoming a member of Strong Towns.
7 minutes | Jun 7, 2022
America *Must* End Highway Expansions, Before It’s Too Late
When we build a highway, we know we have to maintain it. The same applies to a bridge. Every highway or bridge that has ever been built comes with a predictable and easily calculable schedule for maintenance. This isn’t difficult math. So, why do we struggle to maintain our roads and bridges? Why do we continue to suffer with enormous backlogs of basic infrastructure maintenance? Why do we have round after round of tax increases, referendums, and debt expansions to pay for perpetually underfunded transportation systems? Did nobody see this coming? This member week, we are sharing insights into our new strategic plan, including our five priority campaigns. The goal of the End Highway Expansion campaign is to curtail the primary mechanism of local wealth destruction and municipal insolvency—that being the continued expansion of America’s highways and auto-related transportation systems. You can support this campaign by becoming a member of Strong Towns.
7 minutes | Jun 6, 2022
Safe and Productive Streets
A street is not merely a place for cars. In fact, the primary purpose of a street has nothing to do with motor vehicles at all. A street is, and always has been, a platform for growing community wealth and capacity, the framework for building prosperous human habitat. This member week, we are sharing insights into our new strategic plan, including our five priority campaigns. The goal of the Safe and Productive Streets campaign is to shift the priority of local streets from automobile throughput to human safety and wealth creation. You can support this campaign by becoming a member of Strong Towns.
65 minutes | May 23, 2022
Mike McGinn: Making America More Walkable
America Walks is a nationally recognized non-profit organization that aims to create a more walkable America by giving people resources to effectively advocate for change. Join Strong Towns President Chuck Marohn in a conversation with Mike McGinn—executive director at America Walks and once mayor of Seattle—where they talk about the things that make America less walkable and what we can do about it. “We're both struggling with that highway building coalition in our work,” says Chuck. “I think the thing about America Walks today is that I see you’re approaching it from a fresh [and] energized perspective around people walking, and really starting there with getting your feet on the ground, metaphorically and physically in real life.” In this episode of The Strong Towns Podcast, Chuck and McGinn discuss topics such as the federal government passing the largest infrastructure spending bill in the nation's history, why it’s so important for walking that we address highways and how they really affect our communities, and core characteristics of strong cities. Additional Show Notes America Walks website. America Walks (Twitter). Mike McGinn (Twitter). Charles Marohn (Twitter).
56 minutes | May 9, 2022
This Vancouver-Based Artist Is Writing Music…About Building Strong Towns!
People have taken the Strong Towns approach in a lot of fascinating directions, but this might be one of the most fascinating yet: William Chernoff is a young, Vancouver-based musician who has written songs inspired by Strong Towns. During the pandemic, Chernoff also started writing about music, building strong towns, and more. In this conversation, Marohn (a musician himself) and Chernoff discuss the creativity involved in writing and music, the way they’re inspired by others and build upon previous work, and the collaborative nature of art. Chernoff specifically talks about the importance of cultivating financially successful local music scenes, using tools like economic gardening to support mid-level or “Stage 2” music groups—tools Strong Towns also recommends for building up local businesses generally. You don’t want to miss this unique discussion between two people who love music and are passionate about building strong towns! Additional Show Notes Listen to “Chuck’s Strip Mall” on Bandcamp! “Strong Towns music: strong music scenes,” by Will Chernoff, Rhythm Changes (December 2021). “Selections from Strong Towns,” by Will Chernoff, Chernoff Music (June 2021). Will Chernoff (website). Will Chernoff (Twitter). Will Chernoff (Instagram). Charles Marohn (Twitter). Cover image via Will Chernoff.
62 minutes | May 2, 2022
Chuck Marohn Answers Your Questions
It's time for another Q&A session! Today, Chuck Marohn will be responding to your questions on things like how to calculate the actual value of spaces like public parks, whether or not high visibility traffic cameras influence driver behavior, and choosing between unfavorable options in planning processes. If you've got a burning query that you want us to answer, head on over to the Community Section of the Acton Lab, and post it there. Our goal is to address as many questions as we can, and especially the ones that we think are going to help a lot of people out. So, stay tuned for future Q&A sessions! Additional Show Notes Sign up for our weekly digest and other emails. Charles Marohn (Twitter).
70 minutes | Apr 25, 2022
Ryan Crane: Malpractice and Accountability in Engineering—A Surgeon’s Take
In most medical centers, physicians hold routine “morbidity and mortality” conferences, where they analyze cases where patients died or were seriously injured while under medical care. In today’s episode of The Strong Towns Podcast, otolaryngologist and surgeon Ryan Crane discusses how these morbidity and mortality conferences are a chance for medical practitioners to learn, through peer review, where they may have gone wrong in caring for a patient. “Was there anything that we missed? Was there something about the patient that we didn’t identify? Did we fail as surgeons?” Says Dr. Crane, “When I pick a patient to operate on and something goes wrong, or I hurt them, they come back to my office and I have to look them in the face and tell them: This is what happened, and I’m sorry.” Where is that sense of accountability in the engineering profession, when people die in car crashes? The medical field certainly isn’t perfect, but perhaps engineers should take a leaf from the doctor’s book and start asking themselves: When people die on our roads, did we fail, as engineers? Additional Show Notes Want to hear the Strong Towns message live? Check out our Events page to see when we’re coming to a location near you! Explore more key Strong Towns concepts—and our top content about them—over at the Action Lab. Charles Marohn (Twitter) Cover image source: Unsplash.
31 minutes | Mar 17, 2022
An Update and the Strong Towns Strategic Plan
Chuck is taking a little break from podcasting for a few weeks, but in the meantime, here's an update on what's going on behind the scenes at Strong Towns!
39 minutes | Mar 7, 2022
“How Can My Town *Not* Be Wealthy When There’s Been So Much Growth?”
“How can a city not have pots overflowing with money if there has been so much growth? How are apartments subsidizing people who live in single-family neighborhoods?” That’s what the city of Oviedo, Florida, asked when it invited Strong Towns President Chuck Marohn (along with Joe Minicozzi and Cate Ryba of Urban3) to speak at its “Make Oviedo Stronger” event last week. We wanted to share Chuck’s talk with you today on the Strong Towns Podcast, because the core Strong Towns concepts he shared with Oviedo are applicable in so many other cities and towns across the United States—including, most likely, in yours. Additional Show Notes Want to hear the Strong Towns message live? Check out our Events page to see when we’re coming to a location near you! Explore more key Strong Towns concepts—and our top content about them—over at the Action Lab. Charles Marohn (Twitter)
51 minutes | Feb 28, 2022
Annamarie Pluhar: Shared Housing Doesn’t Have to Be Scary
Today on the Strong Towns Podcast, host Chuck Marohn is speaking with special guest Annamarie Pluhar. Pluhar is an expert on co-housing and shared housing, and is the author of the book Sharing Housing: A Guidebook for Finding and Keeping Good Housemates. Despite the fact that practically the entire nation is experiencing a housing crisis, 27% of homes in the U.S. are single occupancy. In other words, one in four adults lives alone, and this is a serious cause of social isolation for many people. Shared housing can be a solution not only for addressing our scarcity of housing, but also for relieving psychological distress for a significant portion of the population. A Strong Town should have many different options for housing. Pluhar shares her expertise on how we can begin including co-housing among those choices, and how the transition to shared housing doesn’t have to be intimidating for individuals. Additional Show Notes Read Annamarie Pluhar’s book, Sharing Housing: A Guidebook for Finding and Keeping Good Housemates Sharing Housing, Inc. website Charles Marohn (Twitter)
49 minutes | Feb 21, 2022
The Latest Update on the Strong Towns Lawsuit
Today on the Strong Towns Podcast, we wanted to give our listeners an update on the lawsuits that Strong Towns is involved in. For those new to Strong Towns, here is a brief overview: Charles Marohn, president of Strong Towns, is an engineer and maintains his license even though he stopped doing engineering work in 2012. Briefly in 2018, his license lapsed. Once he realized this, Marohn promptly renewed it, however, the Minnesota Board of Licensure is claiming that he misrepresented himself to the public during the time when his license had expired. They are now demanding that Marohn sign a stipulation order stating that he deceived the public. In turn, on May 18, 2021, Strong Towns filed a lawsuit against the Minnesota Board of Licensure. The complaint holds that the Board and its individual members have violated the First Amendment free speech rights of Charles Marohn and Strong Towns. The threatened action by the Board of Licensure is about one thing: using the power of the state to discredit Strong Towns, a reform movement. To silence speech. To retaliate against an individual who challenges the power and financial advantages enjoyed by a certain class of licensed professionals. This has become even clearer with some new documentation that casts a disturbing light on the situation. Marohn discusses this in detail in the podcast, and you can download the accompanying PDF here. The original article referenced in the documentation can be read here. Additional Show Notes Read more about the lawsuit here, along with the full complaint that was filed and accompanying exhibits, as well as background articles from Strong Towns on engineering reform and the engineering profession. Charles Marohn (Twitter) To support this podcast and the work of Strong Towns, become a member today.
56 minutes | Feb 14, 2022
Truth in Accounting: Making Cities’ Finances Transparent for All
Last year, our friends over at Urban3 introduced us to a nonpartisan nonprofit called Truth in Accounting, which recently published Financial State of the Cities 2022, an annual report that they do on local governments and the state of their budgets. It’s an incredible piece of work, one that says, “We do not advocate for anything: no tax policy, no spending policy. The only thing we advocate for is good budgeting and accounting.” Their only goal is to get the numbers out there to the public, as they believe strongly that governments are harmed when citizens (and sometimes even elected officials) are in the dark when it comes to financial information. Knowledgeable decisions can’t be made if people don’t know the true financial condition of their government. Sheila Weinberg, a CPA and Founder and CEO of Truth in Accounting, joins Chuck Marohn today on the Strong Towns Podcast to talk about the work her organization is doing to make municipal financial information both transparent and available to everyone. Additional Show Notes Truth in Accounting’s website Financial State of the Cities 2022, by Truth in Accounting (2022) Sheila Weinberg (Twitter) Charles Marohn (Twitter) Cover image source: Truth in Accounting.
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