Discussing the Strong Towns Approach

John Pattison
John Pattison
  • Updated

There’s no right way to discuss what Strong Towns does, and we can’t wait to hear about your unique conversation. Here are a few suggestions to help your group run smoothly and effectively, and to keep it fun over time.

Introduce Yourselves

We recommend starting each meeting—and for in-person groups, your first meeting in particular—with a get-to-know-you activity for the new people in the room. For example: ask people’s names, something they love about your town, and why they’re interested in the Strong Towns approach. Get creative! Online groups can start a thread for introductions or welcome newcomers as they join.

Empower Your Attendees

Especially for in-person meet-ups, it can really help to clarify that while you initiated the conversation, the group belongs to everyone, and anyone who’s in helping lead the group, even on a temporary basis, should let you know.

While Strong Towns knows that specific individuals will naturally take the initiative in each group, we highly encourage you to share resources and responsibility by forming a leadership team or rotating leadership duties, with one person designated to initiate group communications at all times. Your group will be stronger with more perspectives and energy at the helm. If no leaders self-identify, make a note to yourself to follow up with the group later to encourage volunteer leaders to let you know of their interest.

Talk to Every Experience Level

Don’t assume that everyone will be as fluent in Strong Towns or the built environment as you are, or that everyone will recognize acronyms like ASCE or ADU. Create an environment where newcomers feel welcome and comfortable asking questions; celebrate new strong citizens who are stepping up, and recognize how uniquely vital they are to making our communities stronger.

Ask More Questions

When it comes to healthy conversation, starting with a spirit of curiosity can make all the difference. Here are a few questions to consider asking the group to keep your first meeting (or the early days of your discussion channel) positive and productive:

  • What’s an example of something you already see your town doing (or that it’s done in the past) to make yourselves more financially resilient?
  • What’s an example of an effort you’ve participated in with your neighbors to accomplish a community goal—financial or otherwise?
  • Why is increasing financial resilience important for your town? If we got rid of our expensive long-term liabilities, like unnecessary stroads and poorly implemented infrastructure, what would we gain?

Keep It Respectful

Chances are, many of the members of your group will be very passionate about your region—and they may not all be passionate about the same things. Here are a few tips and guidelines to make sure your conversation is respectful, productive, and fun. Feel free to distribute them to your group for discussion, designate a moderator, or otherwise be creative about ways to keep the conversation going:

1. Non-Partisan Doesn’t Mean Non-Passionate

Thank people for bringing up the things that are most important to them, even if you don’t share their views or don’t share their passion for the idea.

2. Focus on Your Commonalities

Strong Towns is all about doing the math, and regardless of what’s important to each of us politically, we can all agree when finances just don’t make sense.

3. Consider Your Vocabulary and Framework

If you’re a planner, acknowledge that not everyone in the room knows the same professional language as you do. If you’re a bike advocate, not everyone thinks of how the world looks from behind a set of handlebars. Address these differences out loud and make it your responsibility to be generous and invite people into your perspective and experience.

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions

Keep this in mind, especially when a member of the group uses language, stats, or concepts that you don’t know. Again, it’s the whole group’s responsibility to create an atmosphere of welcome and collaboration, and it’s everyone’s job to clarify and advance the conversation.

5. Go Back to the Strong Towns Mission

When in doubt, go back to the Strong Towns mission and approach. Remind yourselves about what appeals to you about the approach and why you’re here.

Here's the Strong Towns mission:

 

Strong Towns is an international movement dedicated to making communities across the United States and Canada financially strong and resilient.

 

And here's what we mean by the Strong Towns approach:

 

The Strong Towns approach is a radically new way of thinking about the way we build our world. We believe that in order to truly thrive, our cities and towns must:

      • Stop valuing efficiency and start valuing resilience.
      • Stop betting our futures on huge, irreversible projects, and start taking small, incremental steps and iterating based on what we learn.
      • Stop fearing change and start embracing a process of continuous adaptation.
      • Stop building our world based on abstract theories, and start building it based on how our places actually work and what our neighbors actually need today.
      • Stop obsessing about future growth and start obsessing about our current finances.

But most importantly, we believe that Strong Citizens from all walks of life can and must participate in a Strong Towns approach—from citizens to leaders, professionals to neighbors, and everyone in between. And that means we need you.


NEXT: How to build momentum and keep it fun!

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