Strong Towns Week: “Traditional Development Patterns were, for thousands of years, synonymous with human progress.”


I received an e-mail from Strong Towns (we’re paying members):

“In a divided America, we believe the Strong Towns message is more needed than ever. So this week, we’re shaking things up a little. We’re going to shower you with some of our best content from the past several years — revamped and ready for sharing. Unless you’ve read every article we’ve ever written since 2008 (in which case, props to you!), we guarantee you’re going to discover something new and interesting this week.”

This week as time permits, I’ll be sharing some of these articles. Besides, today’s essay is a good excuse to study a juxtaposition of images: the drawing above, and the 1905 postcard below.

ROMANCING THE STONE AGE, by Charles Marohn (Strong Towns)

America’s pre-Depression development pattern relied on exploitation of workers, poor living conditions and exclusion of women and minorities. How is the Strong Towns approach, which advocates for traditional development patterns, different?

… There are two differences between the Traditional Development Pattern and the Suburban Experiment that we find significant and critical. First, in the traditional approach, development happens incrementally over time. Things start small and then mature in phases. Conversely, for the suburban approach, we tend to work in large steps with grand designs. Economies of scale is a modern ethic that, combined with our perceived affluence, supersedes the more bootstrapping mindset of incrementalism.

The second difference is closely related. With the traditional approach, all development is on a continuum of improvement. It starts incremental and it is always seeking the energy to move to the next level of advancement. With our post-War Suburban Experiment, we build everything to a finished state. No additional improvement is anticipated or even desired.

That shift in mindset is really important. When your ethic is to build things to a finished state, the tendency is to demand the highest quality you can hope to experience. This means that even cities that are struggling financially are often weighed down by regulation and bureaucracy that ensures “quality construction.” Lost is the notion of bootstrapping — doing what you can with what you have available — and with it, the notion of widespread upward mobility.