Strong Towns Week: A hat trick by Marohn (autocentrism’s cost, invasive semi-trailers and insidious Wal-Mart).


I’m a member of Strong Towns, and suggest you take advantage of this week’s “greatest hits” output …

This week, we are focusing on exposing new people to the Strong Towns message. That’s why we’re posting some of our best content of all time and asking YOU to share it. We’ve set a big goal — doubling our weekly audience — and we need your help to do it.

Sharing our content is one small but vital step you can take to help build a world of a million people who care about our mission. If this article inspires you, please take a moment to share it with someone else.

… to familiarize yourself with the organization’s mission:

“For the United States to be a prosperous country, it must have strong cities, towns and neighborhoods. Enduring prosperity for our communities cannot be artificially created from the outside but must be built from within, incrementally over time.”

Here are three conceptually linked articles by the organization’s founder.

1. “A simple comparison of traditional & auto-oriented development styles. Guess which is more financially productive.”


In the United States we’ve spent the last sixty years reconfiguring our public spaces to accommodate the automobile. The built-in assumption of this approach, especially when it comes to commercial property, is that the more cars driving by the better. In our haste to modernize, what we’ve overlooked is the lower return on investment we get from this approach, even under ideal conditions. Today we need the humility to acknowledge that our ancestors, who built in the traditional style, may have known what they were doing after all.

2. “No, semis are not a valid reason to build dangerously wide streets.”


… During Big Box Stores Week, I received the proverbial semi-trailer comment. Chuck, I agree that we need to look at street design, but we can only change things so much because we need to accommodate semis.

So logical yet so wrong.

.. Efficiency is one of the core values of our economic system. We don’t care if we’re doing the right thing or not – or, more precisely, our economists assume we are – so long as we do it more and more efficiently. Hauling one big load of merchandise is far more efficient than hauling multiple, smaller loads. Thus whoever can configure their operation to take advantage of this efficiency should win, right?

3. “If cities did the math on these kind of developments, not another one would ever be built.”

THE WALMART TROPHY, by Charles Marohn

Walmart builds cheap buildings in order to sell Americans cheap stuff. Joe Minicozzi has documented brilliantly how, the cheaper the store and the more land it wastes, the lower the taxes. The Walmart land development model has taken the concept of “buying in bulk” and applied it to the land in your city. Their goal — lower every cost — is directly at odds with the financial health of your community …

… Walmart buildings are designed to last 15 to 20 years. Simply the city’s commitment to maintain the necessary infrastructure extends generations beyond that, let alone the cost of policing and other needed services. If cities did the math on these kind of developments, not another one would ever be built.