The best books for thinking like a Strong Towns advocate

Charles L. Marohn Jr. Author Of Strong Towns: A Bottom-Up Revolution to Rebuild American Prosperity
By Charles L. Marohn Jr.

Who am I?

Everyone should be able to live a meaningful life in a place they love, where their day-to-day efforts participating in society result in the community becoming a more prosperous place over time, for themselves, and for those who come next. I founded Strong Towns to help people recognize that they have this opportunity, that they and their neighbors working together have the capacity to make things better, despite everything else going on. Cities are works in progress. It is not our job to finish ours, but we all have a role to play in making it stronger.


I wrote...

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

By Charles L. Marohn Jr.,

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

What is my book about?

Strong Towns: A Bottom-Up Revolution to Build American Prosperity breaks with modern practice to present a new vision of urban development in the United States. Presenting the foundational ideas of the Strong Towns movement he co-founded, Charles Marohn explains why cities of all sizes continue to struggle to meet their basic needs, and reveals the new paradigm that can solve this longstanding problem.

Inside, you’ll learn why inducing growth and development has been the conventional response to urban financial struggles―and why it just doesn’t work. New development and high-risk investing don’t generate enough wealth to support themselves, and cities continue to struggle. Read this book to find out how cities large and small can focus on bottom-up investments to minimize risk and maximize their ability to strengthen the community financially and improve citizens’ quality of life.

The books I picked & why

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The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

By Nassim Nicholas Taleb,

Book cover of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

Why this book?

I’m listing this book first because it is the most important, by far. An essay on Taleb by Malcolm Gladwell titled Blowing Up introduced me to Taleb’s way of thinking. It was a revelation, connecting many hazy thoughts I had swirling in my head. If you want to understand Strong Towns thinking, start with Black Swan.


Cities and the Wealth of Nations: Principles of Economic Life

By Jane Jacobs,

Book cover of Cities and the Wealth of Nations: Principles of Economic Life

Why this book?

I was introduced to Jane Jacobs as required reading during graduate school. I’m convinced that most urban planners who claim to adore Jacobs have not actually read her, particularly Cities and the Wealth of Nations, which is my favorite. Its thoroughly brutal logic stands in contrast to nearly everything we still do to manage our cities. Jacobs is an insightful genius.


The Original Green: Unlocking the Mystery of True Sustainability

By Stephen A. Mouzon,

Book cover of The Original Green: Unlocking the Mystery of True Sustainability

Why this book?

I had someone laugh at this book for its quirkiness and whimsy. That person is a fool. What Mouzon has produced here is a brilliant compilation of why our ancestors (in the broadest sense of the term) were genius in ways we struggle to even comprehend, let alone appreciate. Steve taught me why it’s not just okay to love a place, but why more places need to become lovable.


Tactical Urbanism: Short-Term Action for Long-Term Change

By Mike Lydon, Anthony Garcia,

Book cover of Tactical Urbanism: Short-Term Action for Long-Term Change

Why this book?

I remember talking to a prominent urban activist about tactical urbanism and being met with derision. “You can’t be serious,” he said. I absolutely am! Small projects as a way to demonstrate ideas and keep things moving ahead is a time-tested approach. I’ve seen millions in feasible studies wasted equivocating on the obvious. We should be spending that money as Lydon and Garcia suggest: testing to see if something works.


The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

By Jonathan Haidt,

Book cover of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

Why this book?

If one book on this list made me truly a happier person, it is this one. Understanding why I mentally process things in one way, and people I love and care about – let alone those I struggle to find common cause with another, helped me see my neighbors, and the broader American culture, in a whole new way. It’s also helped me become better at working to find consensus, an essential skill for those who want to build a Strong Town.


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