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

Friends of mine know that I love talking and complaining about American urban development philosophy. Strong Towns is a non-profit that has written about the fragility and risks of the dominate structural growth philosophy underlying many American cities and towns. Unfortunately, the blog isn't super well structured—in my opinion—and has many ideas that are difficult to distill into a cohesive argument. The exact meanings and implications of their philosophies are fairly complex, though. Overall, they’re advocating for cities and towns to be run profitably, where growth does not obfuscate long term liabilities, and where wealth is generated and retained.

For years, I’ve felt that the American experiment of city and suburban development felt broken, but I wasn’t sure why. Strong Towns (the book) is in the single best summary of how cities used to be built, how they’re built now, and what breaks. It tells the story of American development, focusing on the suburban expansionary post-WW2 period, and how we've failed ourselves. At times, it's bleak: what if Detroit and Ferguson are not unique, but just early? It’s full of really interesting insights, such as how towns can best invest capital, where wealth is made/lost (it’s not where you’d think), and what’s in store for the future of many American cities. I’d recommend this book above other urban planning books to people new to this due to how accessible and easy to read it is.

If you're into city planning, development, and thoughtful growth, I highly recommend this book.


These are entirely subjective, and roughly try to capture my personal enjoyment and usefulness, and how likely I'd recommend it to others. Don't read too much into this unless you love my judgement. Rough guidelines:

A: Top quartile. Changed the way I think about something.

B: Worthwhile. I took away something useful.

C: Didn't hit, wouldn't directly recommend. Likely won't revisit.

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