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September 1, 2021  

American Cities, Through European Eyes (and Vice Versa)

September 1, 2021

Strong Towns president Chuck Marohn is back on the Upzoned podcast after returning from a family vacation to Italy that included visits to Rome and Venice, among other classic sites. Part of the impetus for the trip, Chuck tells host Abby Kinney, was his desire to show his teenage daughters some of the things that make the traditional development pattern (still the default in many European towns and cities) so superior to the suburban development pattern that holds sway in North America.

By coincidence—kind of—the article Chuck and Abby discuss on this week’s episode of the podcast is about the converse: the experience of a European newly transplanted in America. Guillaume Rischard moved to New York City barely a month ago. As a former member of the Luxembourg city’s mobility commission, Rischard writes in Streetsblog, “I have…spent a lot of time looking at how infrastructure moves New Yorkers around.” There are things about New York Rischard wishes more European cities would emulate. But Rischard is kind of shocked by other aspects of the transportation system. Like how much capacity is reserved for moving car traffic…in a city where 80% of the people don’t own cars. Or why street parking is so inexpensive. Or why biking in the city is dangerous, which means the people on bikes aren’t families—as in Europe—but “young daredevil men like me.”

Abby and Chuck talk about why the common cultural knowledge about how to build great places endures in Europe but is fading here. They discuss the importance of making places for people vs. making places for automobiles. (This is a major theme of Chuck’s new book, out next week.) They also talk about how seeing one’s own place—whether you’re in Europe or North America—through the eyes of outsiders can help you see what’s working, what’s not, and how it can be fixed.

Then in the Downzone, Chuck describes a kayak tour that showed his family parts of Venice that even many Venetians may not have seen. And Abby weighs whether it’s finally time to read the Harry Potter series.

Additional Show Notes