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Strong Towns: A Bottom-Up Revolution to Rebuild American Prosperity

4.32  ·  Rating details ·  293 ratings  ·  56 reviews
A new way forward for sustainable quality of life in cities of all sizes

Strong Towns: A Bottom-Up Revolution to Build American Prosperity is a book of forward-thinking ideas that breaks with modern wisdom to present a new vision of urban development in the United States. Presenting the foundational ideas of the Strong Towns movement he co-founded, Charles Marohn explains w
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published October 1st 2019 by Wiley
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Anne Bogel
Jan 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
My husband Will surprised me with a new urban planning book for Christmas, and I enjoyed reading this over our holiday break. The author, a Minnesotan who's been an urban planner for several decades, argues that our cities are on the verge of a long, slow decline, and that any solution needs to begin with a bottom-up approach. Marohn pushes for change beginning at the most local level—not by implementing billion-dollar regional plans, but instead carrying out whatever the "next smallest thing" i ...more
Oct 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: urban-design
I've been a fascinated follower of the Strong Towns blog for years, and count Chuck Marohn as one of my favorite contemporary thinkers. Not only are his insights novel and prescient, but he comes from a place of down-to-earth morality and honesty that couches his arguments in a place of authentic integrity.

He fiercely refuses to allow his concepts to fall into facile, pre-conceived partisan categories and yet is unflinchingly direct in indicting the many injustices that have been perpetrated vi
Max Tang
Jul 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
As I went through the book, my impressions of it vacillated between good and mediocre. On one hand, I was disappointed about the depth of ideas and the rigor of supporting materials. On the other hand, I did enjoy its conversational style - and at times I did have a vivid sense of a dialogue with the author. But at the end of the day, Charles Marohn probably did not set out to write a Teutonic treatise. He probably intended something simple and more relatable. And that was exactly how the book t ...more
Grant Wingo
Jan 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I’ve been a follower of Strong Towns for a few years now and I always feel inspired after reading Chuck’s writing. The Strong Towns message says that “to truly thrive, 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
Nov 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Such a great book.
George Mossessian
May 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
The first few chapters are frustratingly facile, with all the hallmarks of sloppy rhetoric: unlabeled heuristic graphs, unsupported assertions, a lack of citations, sweeping appeals to “our ancestors” and “tradition.”

But when it gets into case studies it really begins to shine. The writing cleans up, a number of useful concepts are introduced, and the included references to organizations and studies start to get interesting and relevant to me if I ever want to participate in activism in a place
May 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
Strong Towns has a similar conclusion as other modern planning books… urban development patterns prior to World War II were far superior to the sprawling development patterns in the U.S. that followed WWII and we need to return to the dense, walkable communities that we used to build. The book has a different focus than most planning books, however, in that the author’s main argument is that our current sprawling development pattern has set our cities on the path to financial insolvency and most ...more
Jan 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: up
I would recommend this book to anyone with a modicum of interest in human development patterns, economics, geography, or local politics. Its modest size means it isn't a large commitment for those who might doubt their interest in non-fiction. While I've rated this book a five, I must note up front that I do take some issue with the structure; I just feel the rest is enough to make up for that concern.

On a content basis, this book and the message it delivers is incredibly important. We are facin
Ted Tansley
Jan 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Will have to get a hard copy on this. Really eye opening look at how our current way of life isn't stable for the long term and that to change, we need to change our perceptions of what makes a strong town.
Nicholas Zerangue
Mar 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
Brilliant and needed in our time. While being just an introduction to this type of thinking, Strong Towns is a well put together concise read on the most important things that local civil leaders need to focus on. Strong towns are built on sound decisions made everyday by individuals with skin in the game and long time horizons. Play the infinite game!
May 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant book not just on urbanism, but systems thinking (and you'll find this is hardly a coincidence)
May 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Thoroughly enjoyed this book and the ideas for making financially responsible towns and great neighborhoods.
Jan 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
This has one central point, but makes its case for that argument quite well. I also liked it for selfish reasons because I enjoy anything that takes issue with suburban sprawl.
Jeffrey Howard
Feb 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: economics, community
Michele Martinez, a former city council member of Santa Ana, California, introduces the book: "Chuck helped me understand the roots of today's public sector fiscal crisis, how we regulate real estate development in favor of auto-oriented sprawl instead of building communities that focus on mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods that emphasize social, economic, and environmental sustainability." She offers a strong testimonial for municipal staff and elected officials who wonder whether they'll be abl ...more
Cole McCarren
Dec 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An absolutely terrific, brief account of the Strong Towns message. Been a fan of the blog and podcast for a while now, but this book finally distills the message in the proper book format. Planning on buying a second copy to lend out to friends (since Chuck signed my first one!) - this bipartisan, common sense, driven-by-math approach to community building needs to be heard desperately by so many of our decision makers. Conservatives and liberals alike will be surprised with what they find in th ...more
The other John
I was trying to think of a metaphor to describe the topic of this book. The one that popped in my head was, "Turn the car around, we're going the wrong way." Which is ironic since Mr. Mahron decries car culture in this book. Strong Towns makes the case that America has screwed up. For thousands of years humanity has worked out systems of living together, putting together functional cities, towns, and villages by trial and error. After World War II, the United States, awash with wealth and techno ...more
Ryan Tolusso
Jul 29, 2020 rated it it was ok
Did not finish.

I wanted to like this book. I even agree with most of it! To be fair, the central insight - that planned neighbourhoods aren't able to pay for themselves, with disastrous consequences - is very good. It seems unintuitive to think that affluent-seeming suburbs are really a pyramid scheme, but according to this book, their financing structure is totally unsustainable.

Once this point is made, things begin to go off the rails a bit. The central message is repeated in several different
Al Doyle
I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in new urbanism or the general subject of why cities work!

In fact, I highly recommend (and hope), and encourage more people to read about how planning and politics affect our urban environments. It's where many (a majority) of us live, work and play. So it's a pretty darned important subject.

Preach over.
Bob Croft
Oct 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Interesting work; resonates with much of what I read. The author argues that prosperity is a bottom up proposition, not created from on high, and thus the prosperity of our towns and cities is more significant than (at least our view of) our society as a whole. Problem is, our cities seem destined to become Detroit.
Traditional cities grew incrementally: a few modest structures at a road junction or a river crossing (think a bar, general store, and house of ill repute - all the necessities). Sho
Michael Lewyn
Dec 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The core idea of this book is that urban sprawl is economically unsustainable: that is, that by building miles and miles of sewer lines and roads to accommodate low-density development, local governments profit in the short run, but lose money in the long run as maintaining excess infrastructure becomes more and more expensive. Marohn points out that even low-income urban neighborhoods are more profitable for a city than their suburban counterparts, because more houses per acre means more proper ...more
Russell Fox
I've been enthusiastic for everything Chuck Marohn's Strong Towns movement has been pushing, arguing for, and blogging about for years, and the publication of this book just adds to that enthusiasm. It's not a perfect book by any means; no publication that essentially began as a large number of thematically but not narratively connected blog posts could ever manage to be a truly comprehensive argument, and this book certainly doesn't. In particular, I'm bothered by Marohn's lack of engagement wi ...more
Aug 12, 2020 added it
Every mayor and city council member should read this book twice.

For thousands of years, humans had perfected the incremental building and growth of the places we inhabit. In the decades after WWII, all of that knowledge and wisdom was flushed down the drain in favor of automobile-focused development. this new experiment has proven to be devastating for our towns and cities. Detroit was the first American city to try this experiment and other cities will soon follow in its wake.

Today, the infra
Jared Ostyn
Feb 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: urbanism
Strong Towns is thought-provokingly excellent.

Through his framework of iteration, fiscal conservatism, and blunt pragmatism Marohn gains connection with both those that came before and his contemporary community, driving home the point that our cities have never been solely about moving from A to B, and compartmentalizing one piece from another. Our cities have always been our homes, playgrounds, sanctuaries, gyms, markets, and social clubs. Often all at the same time. And should that be thrown
Jul 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
As I have seen banks get built on every corner, mattress stores continually popping up, and strip malls built that stand largely vacant, I have really questioned the ‘build it and they will come’ approach to growing the small town I live in.

After reading this book, my intuition has been explained in an easy to grasp approach and I understand even better the pitfalls that await my town in 5-10 years. I appreciate even more why the ‘grow for the sake of growth’ mentality handcuffs future generati
May 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: city-development
I have been following Strong Towns online with keen interest for the past few years. I went to hear Chuck Marohn speak when he came through town on this book tour. What he said there convinced me to buy this book, and share it with others after reading it.

Chuck has sounded the alarm on a growing crisis in America that is effecting each of us significantly, almost no matter where we live. At a time when everything that seems wrong in a world overshadowed by a pandemic, economic outfall, and the
Morgan Evans
Jul 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
Definitely a must read book for 2020. If you want to learn more about your own local community this is a great book to get you thinking. Marohn starts off with an American history about how our suburbs and cities have changed since the WWII boom and how they may not be able to sustain that continuous growth forever, just look at Detroit. The first half of the book explained where and how local governments funnel their finances normally and the second half of the book were the author's gentle sug ...more
Bridger Putnam
Apr 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Everyone who wants to be involved in civics, whether that be voting, running for office, sitting in on neighborhood association meetings, or even ranting on Nextdoor should read this. Chuck approaches urban development and the solvency of our towns and cities with sobering lens, that we need to focus on small changes and maintenance rather than increasing city's liabilities with large new infrastructure projects. Especially relevant today, when many people view infrastructure investment as a goo ...more
Maggie Cleary
Oct 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020-shelf
Summary: Charles Marohn writes about how towns and cities can best function (hint: they should be run by businesses). He provides some history and insights as to what cities can do in order to grow with our changing society.

Ok, so my broad takeaway from this book was that towns (and cities, etc.) which are the backbone of America (agree) should essentially be run by businesses (agree). Moreover, local business supports local business and that is good for the community at large (I knew this alre
Beth McGee
Jan 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: work-related
Strong Towns was a terrific book that flips traditional Planning philosophy on its head and speaks to the many ways we kid ourselves about the way our towns are structured when we don't drill down to real data on investment and return/benefit to the community.

I was intrigued by many of the ideas presented and I will think differently when considering Comprehensive Planning and local laws going forward.

I gave it four stars because it was hard to listen to the narrator. I wasn't a fan, but the c
Jun 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: cities
The Strong Towns movement is truly a revolution, and one that is of the utmost importance for the long-term success of our cities, towns, and places. This book dissects the traditional development pattern and highlights the major flaws, which are crippling our cities. It presents a different approach to managing and building our cities, one that relies on building wealth within existing communities, not building endless new ones. As a transportation engineer, the messages in this book hit close ...more
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