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Asked a question 9 months ago

Chapters 1 & 2 of the Strong Towns book slay two sacred cows of the American suburb: 1) You can have it all without tradeoffs and 2) You don’t have to accept change if you don’t want to. Humans have a strong capacity for self-delusion in the face of uncomfortable news. How do we communicate the need for both managing tradeoffs and embracing neighborhood evolution in a winsome manner?

Where am I?

In Strong Towns you can ask and answer questions and share your experience with others!

Get people a copy of my book, because that's what I'm trying to communicate. Or just refer them to www.strongtowns.org42 and hopefully we can hook them into the conversation. I'm only half joking -- communicating the tradeoffs is what we're trying to do. It's what we're set up to do.

I think your question is more getting at systems and structures (correct me if I'm wrong on that), in which case I think subsidiarity becomes a critical part of the answer. When people re shielded from the impact of their own decisions, they don't have to wrestle with them as much as if they have to deal with the full impact.

Here's a great video on subsidiarity, taken from an article I wrote not long ago27.

And here is what I wrote about subsidiarity in the book Strong Towns: A Bottom-Up Revolution to Rebuild American Prosperity33:

Central to the concept of subsidiarity is the act of offering assistance, as opposed to mandating a direction. A collection of neighbors may not be able to reach a decision on backyard chickens; perhaps they are all antagonistic and have difficulty talking to each other. A modern approach would have the city step in, take over the decision-making process, and make a definitive ruling on whether backyard chickens are allowed and under what circumstances.

In contrast, the practice of subsidiarity would call on the city to, at most, assist these quarreling neighbors with reaching a decision. They have the capacity to decide and so they must decide; that decision can’t be made for them. Maybe a city staff member goes out and talks to everyone, or maybe the city convenes a meeting with a third-party. It might be easier and more expedient for the city to rule but taking from these neighbors the responsibility to make the decision robs them not only of their agency, but their capacity to be a collaborator in the project of building a successful city.