May 12, 2020

Covid Journal, May 11, 2020

By admin

It YOUR Town Ready For Transition?

Strong Towns is an amazing, awe-inspiring resource devoted to improving life in towns. They focus on all kinds of issues, from cycling, to improving public transit to even offering certificates in regional management expertise.

Their most recent article ‘Ten Tasks for Cities Responding to the Pandemic‘ is another homerun, so to speak.

It all comes under the main theme of ‘normal is not forward’. The past 8 weeks or so have been excessively disruptive, to say the least, and we need to rapidly alter our way of thinking – and spending – if we’re going to survive past a few months of post-Covid life.

Here are their key ideas:

  1. Waive Home Occupation Restrictions. With shelter-in-place orders, suddenly all neighborhoods are mixed-use, with commercial activity happening even in places zoned exclusively residential. Allow this obvious fact to be a catalyst for legalizing the recovery.

  2. Legalize Neighborhood Essential Services. In a pandemic, obtaining daily essentials shouldn’t require everyone to travel to the same big box store. Along with legalizing home occupations, allowing neighborhood-scale commercial activities — things like small grocery stores, pharmacies, hair salons, and other quintessentially neighborhood-focused businesses — to open in residential neighborhoods creates room for innovators to respond to the crisis.

  3. Kickstart Entrepreneurs. Many commercial buildings are going to be stuck in a type of financialized purgatory, one where they can’t fill vacant space at current lease rates but they also can’t lower the rent due to financing agreements. Particularly in strategic locations (ones that fill streetscape gaps and connect places), use pop-up commercial spaces to seed the next generation of entrepreneurs.

  4. Legalize Housing Adaptations. Your community is going to have people searching for affordable housing. Your community is also going to have people needing more income to avoid foreclosure and stay in their home. Match these two quickly by legalizing accessory dwelling units and duplex conversions.

  5. Make Quick and Lean Investments in Walking and Biking. The quickest way to free up private capital within the community is to make it possible for individuals and families to not have to own and operate a motor vehicle. A family that can shift from two vehicles to one saves thousands each year, money they can redirect to more urgent needs. Have city staff utilize the Strong Towns 4-Step Approach to Making Capital Investments to identify and address the most urgent barriers to walking and biking.

  6. End Parking Requirements. Don’t burden the recovery with requiring any additional parking. With an approach based on building strong neighborhoods, more parking is not only unnecessary, it’s an impediment to future success.

  7. Start Growing Food. People are already responding to potential food shortages by starting to grow their own food. At a minimum, stay out of their way by removing restrictions on gardening, greenhouses, chickens, and other small-scale food production activities. Be proactive by allocating unused public land for community farming. Empower volunteers in the community to organize and lead these activities.

  8. Thicken Civic Infrastructure. Private-Public Partnerships should not be reserved for only commercial transactions. There are many amazing non-profit organizations — some secular and some religious — serving the needs of people within the community. Allow them to lead in the areas where they are experts. Use city resources to coordinate, connect, and promote these efforts.

  9. Begin Reorienting Bureaucracies. Most cities have a large number of staff whose job is oriented around pursuing or facilitating growth projects. This personnel should be redirected to working on the Strong Towns 4-Step Approach to Making Capital Investments. Start creating a culture that rewards acts of service/support to groups or individuals within a neighborhood and away from rewards for simply completing transactions or even for finding outside sources of capital for new projects.

  10. Change How You Measure Success. We measure what we value and we improve what we measure. As an indicator of progress, most cities track and publicly report on transactions, such as the number of permits issued. Transactions are not well correlated to successful outcomes. Create a community dashboard to publicly track and report on your desired outcomes. Use it as a North Star to guide and interpret collective action. (The Studer Community Institute has developed a model you can customize. It’s online at

What are some other ideas that you or people around you are talking about? We need new rules and we need them quickly. Again, the last few months have been a great opportunity for some to ‘pause’ to think about how we can improve our way of life while so many others have had to suffer job losses, rent payments they can’t afford, domestic abuse, fears of the future and a myriad other issues. We owe it to each other to make sure we ALL come out of this with a better sense of direction.

And remember … normal isn’t forward.