Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Putting My Money Where My Pen Is

Buffalo, site of 2014 CNU Congress
Local update: The first of three StrongTowns/Urban3 public meetings was held last evening in Santa Rosa.  The room was nearly filled for Chuck Marohn’s current version of the StrongTowns Curbside Chat.  Thanks go to all from the North Bay folks who made the effort to attend, especially those who responded to the urgings of this blog.

Seats are still available for the remaining two meetings, at which Urban3 will elucidate lessons from the Santa Rosa property tax data, followed by StrongTowns and Urban3 jointly talking about next steps.  RSVPs may still be made through the link provided on this page.

After this week this complete, we’ll have the task of putting to use the newly gained knowledge.

Today, I’ll return to a topic that I’d hoped to cover during the final week of 2015, before the upcoming StrongTowns/Urban3 meetings snatched my attention away.

As Chuck Marohn noted last evening, the best thing anyone can do to promote sustainable municipal finances through urbanism is to talk with friends and neighbors.  The second best thing is to participate financially, through memberships or donations, with the organizations doing advocacy.

I believe in doing both, especially when the organizations provide content that I regularly quote in this space.

So on New Year’s Eve, I began new memberships, renewed old memberships, or made donations to the following organizations.

StrongTowns: It would have been awkward to start this list anywhere other than with StrongTowns.  I may not agree with every detail of the StrongTowns philosophy (as noted here), but I’m convinced that they are largely on the right track.  They’re also building a solid community of proponents.  For new converts to urbanism, I’d suggest starting with StrongTowns, while also maintaining the intellectual freedom to differ on occasional points.

Congress for the New Urbanism: It was tough to downgrade the CNU to second spot on this list.  They were the first organization to which I felt an urbanist affinity.  And my travels to the annual CNU Congresses have become a highlight of my urbanist life, a position it will retain for awhile with the 2016 and 2017 destinations of Detroit and Seattle, the first a city that I want to see after the fall and the latter a former home and still favored place.

But StrongTowns provides a more embracing community of followers, which should be an essential element of an urbanist organization.  I enjoy the breadth of folks who attend a CNU Congress, but have more in common with the StrongTowns members.

Those who listened to the end of the Chuck Marohn/James Kunstler podcast I recently linked heard a conversation about CNU.  I think it was Marohn who suggested that CNU is now in the midst of an existential crisis.  Having been founded to put urbanism back in the city planning toolkit, having succeeded at that goal, and now realizing that the next step is making urbanism the dominant paradigm, CNU is facing the question of whether they’re the right organization for this next step.  I hope they survive.  The urbanist world would be less vibrant without CNU.

SPUR: SPUR is an urban planning organization with deep roots in San Francisco.  Some of their research has impacted the North Bay, such as their study of transit connectivity, but their focus has remained primarily San Francisco.  However, with studies showing that the financial strength of outlying communities depend on the strength of the cities at their core, supporting SPUR seemed important to a North Bay urbanist.  Also, SPUR recently opening an Oakland office showed that they were moving toward a more regional perspective.

Greenbelt Alliance: When I recently wrote that there are multiple goals that urbanism can pursue, one that didn’t make the top of my list but is nonetheless important is green space preservation.  (And like the other goals of urbanism, it also finds that density is a reasonable path to that goal, with more dense development patterns requiring less encroachment into open space.)

The Greenbelt Alliance is the leading Bay Area voice for green space preservation.  Having also made common cause with the regional director for Greenbelt Alliance on several issues, giving a year-end donation to the Greenbelt Alliance was an obvious step.

Smart Growth America: I’ll conclude with Smart Growth America, which tackles a number of urbanist issues from transportation to downtown revitalization.  I have less personal involvement or commitment with SGA than with the other organizations, but their causes are my causes, so they have my financial support.

I haven’t written this with the goal of encouraging you to follow in my membership and donation footsteps.  But if your heart aligns with mine in favoring urbanism as a route to solve multiple modern-day issues from climate change to municipal finances, perhaps you should identify and support the organizations that best align with your vision.

Next time, I’ll write about riverside public art in Petaluma.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (

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