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I’ve been interested in urban form and the liveability of cities for a long time. Through the Not Just Bikes channel I was introduced to the thought and work of Charles Marohn and Strong Towns.

Their model is so small scale, achievable and credible it is hard not to become frustrated with the status quo in our cities. However, Strong Towns also provide a simple process for moving things along:

  1. Humbly observe where people in the community struggle.
  2. Ask the question: “What is the next smallest thing we can do right now to address that struggle?”
  3. Do that thing. Do it right now.
  4. Repeat.

Confessions of a Recovering Engineer, the follow-up book to Strong Towns, is eye-opening with respect to road engineering and the assumptions and values that are baked in and treated as value-neutral truth. I’ve been aware for years of the hidden values in software algorithms that people treat as neutral when they are merely hidden values. It was somewhat surprising to discover that engineering with respect to roads suffers the same problem.

I had no idea of the extent to which road standards developed as we became too obsessed with the private automobile and making them go fast have come to dominate our building process without even seriously putting the desires of the community in front of the process.

Naming this is always a good start though and I find Charles Marohn’s take sobering, but also hopeful. I very much want to live in a compact walkable place. This is especially true as I get older and more aware of the potential fragility of my health. I want the community I am in to get better, but I start to more selfishly wonder if at my age I would be better to move to somewhere that is already more like what I want. Unfortunately, that might mean leaving the continent.

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