The vacant lot. The slumlorded building with the roof caving in. In so many of our communities, even the most beloved neighborhoods are battling at least a little blight—and in some of our towns, whole blocks are succumbing to the most vicious forms of decline. And worst of all, it’s not a new problem; there are countless historical examples of crumbling communities getting so far gone that it feels like there’s no choice but to fire up the bulldozers, tear the whole thing down urban-renewal-style, and build some big silver-bullet project in its place.
Here at Strong Towns, we know that’s about the worst thing our places can do. Because by their nature, megaprojects that are out of scale with the place they’re serving are really fragile; it’s a little like putting all your chips on red on the roulette wheel. But paradoxically, many cities seem to see the blight-raze-rebuild cycle as the path of least resistance—in no small part because they haven’t been shown a good alternative.
That’s where Mobile, Alabama comes in.
A recent article from Fast Company shows how the Southern town took a novel approach to their notorious blight problem—or, more accurately, what they thought was a notorious blight problem. Because as it turns out, when the mayor actually humbled himself to take a walk in his city’s neighborhoods and see where people were really struggling (a.k.a. the Strong Towns approach to community engagement), he found that with just a bit more #ChaoticButSmart observation and one significant but light-lift policy shift, he could probably end blight in his place—no bulldozers required. And, before you ask, no: the answer wasn’t more code enforcement… at least not the way your city probably does code enforcement.
On this episode of Upzoned, Chuck and Kea explore exactly what Mobile did to turn their place around, and why it’s so hard—but so necessary—to celebrate quiet victories like theirs. Then in the Downzone, Chuck and Kea give their summer reading recommendations, from Chris Arnade’s brand new hardcover Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America, to Jonah Goldberg’s Suicide of the West, to Madeline Miller’s Circe. Oh, and they also reveal what the Strong Towns team saw on their annual staff retreat trip to the movies—guess which one of them went in for Rocketman and who thought Godzilla: King of the Monsters was more their speed?