How do we make rural areas more adapted to the Strong Towns approach?

 Jason asks, 

Hi there,

I've just discovered Strong Towns through the Not Just Bikes YouTube page, and I'm really appreciating the analysis! I grew up in suburbs Toronto, so many parts of this analysis resonate -- the good and the bad. I've just recently moved to Vermont, though, and this is a very different context. Vermont seems to have a lot of 'strong towns,' and/but there is a *ton* of driving, both within them and between them. Does Strong Towns have any analysis for implementing the same style of thinking in rural areas, or between towns? Or are there other folks who are doing this kind of thinking?? It seems like Vermont is actually so well set up to have a much more multi-modal transport plan, but there's such a strong sense that 'everyone needs a car here,' 'because it's rural.'

Thank you!



1 comment

  • Comment author
    Norm Van Eeden Petersman
    • Official comment

    Hi Jason, Great question! We recently devoted an hour's session to this question on Office Hours ( and the focus of that session was on the needs of communities with smaller populations. 
    Your question asks more about the ways in which we can address the needs of truly rural areas between towns and settlements. The Strong Towns analysis of these areas/regions would focus on the need to be very discrete about the public funds that are committed to services like water, sewer, fire coverage, police coverage, school bussing, etc. in these areas because the tax base from which to derive the income necessary to cover expenses will be quite thin. 
    Instinctively, most rural areas know that they need to be very prudent and we see this in terms of septic field requirements, self-sufficient water service, and volunteer-operated fire coverage. The trouble creeps in when suburban-styled communities with very low population densities try to have full-service lifestyles at great cost to the community. 
    Driving is well-suited to rural areas and a necessity across all seasons but that doesn't mean that the development pattern of small towns should be exclusively oriented to the vehicular needs of those who enter the town if it comes at the expense of the quality of life experienced by those who live in the town. 
    The pattern of development needs to be oriented around the scale and pace of people if you wish to have a great community - whether in large urban centres or in small rural towns and villages. The distinctive trait of many traditional towns and villages across North America is the way that land was well-used, obligatory setbacks were minimal, and you can find an identifiable cluster of services and wealth-producing land uses. 
    In terms of making rural areas more multi-modal, there are a lot of low-lift initiatives that can be undertaken to provide transportation choices. Abandoned rail lines can be converted to trails (although we would urge communities to embrace the eventual possibility of a trail-to-rail conversion when the opportunity for train service returns - a prospect that many communities shortsightedly foreclose on by ruining the right of way) and rural routes can have separated bike paths that run along them with a modest investment in gravel and maintenance after the initial work of setting up the path is completed in connection with a road restoration project. 
    I'd love to hear your thoughts on other ways that rural communities in Vermont and elsewhere can embrace what it means to be a place of strong communities with strong connections!

Please sign in to leave a comment.