Announcing Strong Towns

Over the last two years, I have been privilegedStrong-Towns-header to work with Chuck Marohn and Ben Oleson of the Community Growth Institute (CGI) on a number of projects, including planning and analysis of the prospective realignment of State Highway 371 in central Minnesota. This week, Chuck, Ben and I are pleased to announce the launch of Strong Towns, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization established to make American places viable through improved land use. My role with Strong Towns will be independent of my management of current and future Donjek projects.

Here's how we at Strong Towns describe what's wrong in short (and ironic) form:

Our desire for independence has made us dependent. On automobiles. On cheap energy. On transfer payments between governments. On debt.

Our expectation of plenty, and our expectation to pay only a portion of the full cost of growth, has led to a scarcity of resources. Our approach to land use now constrains us, growing our financial commitments at an alarming rate. It threatens real American prosperity with long-term economic stagnation and decline.

We can do better.

My experience in core cities and suburban areas, and the years of collective experience Chuck and Ben bring from outstate Minnesota, have led us to strikingly similar conclusions. Much real estate in small towns, big cities and suburbs has been developed in a form reflecting fading realities: Exclusive reliance on large cars for transportation; cheap energy; relatively free access to public and private debt. Today, forces ranging from climate change to fiscal stress and an aging population call for us to think harder about how to build durable, successful places.

In the coming months, we will be working to further our vision of giving individuals tools to make their places Strong Towns, by changing the way we approach development and redevelopment, land use and policy. I hope you'll chime in with your ideas by commenting on the Strong Towns Blog and on Facebook, following Strong Towns on Twitter, or by calling Strong Towns at (888) 454-5226.

In the meantime, count on continued Donjek projects and regular posts at the Cents of Place.

@Strib: Reconnecting Minneapolis’ Seven Corners and West Bank


Like many urban and rural places, Minneapolis and St. Paul each have plenty of underutilized land area.

One of Minneapolis’ most striking examples is the Washington Avenue “trench,” a 1960s-era highway that today splits the Seven Corners area, the University of Minnesota’s West Bank, and the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood. Current plans call for construction of light rail transit service through the middle of the trench, a station beneath the 19th Avenue bridge, and a pedestrian/transit mall on Washington Avenue just across the river. In tandem, these plans translate to an opportunity for fundamental rethinking of how the trench inhibits the health of the places around it.

I have posted a piece about these issues at the Star Tribune (link to that post), and I have included here at the Cents of Place, additional images created by University of Minnesota graduate students of architecture working with adjunct professor Mic Johnson, also of Ellerbe Becket. My thanks to Mic for his permission to include these images.

The view east along Washington Avenue, with the LRT station area in foreground.

The view westward along Washington Avenue.

A bird's eye view of the redevelopment scenario for Washington Avenue right of way.