nurturing resilient communities
across Washington State
What is Strong WA?
Strong Towns of Washington State (Strong WA) is a coalition of people nurturing resilient communities across the state, inspired by the ideals of Strong Towns.
We believe that the strength of our state is entirely dependent on the strength of every city and town in our state.
While those of us in Strong WA will primarily focus on nurturing our own cities and towns, we will also come together to fix state-wide policies that inhibit the strength and resiliency of our cities and towns.
Our efforts to change state policy will be most effective if we come together from across the state as a groundswell of local leaders from a full diversity of cities and towns across the state with a clear vision of the changes we need.
Together, we will reach out to our legislative representatives, listen and learn about the challenges facing our communities, and collaboratively create a local financial model that enables financially resilient cities and towns across the State of Washington.
Since May 2020, we've been bringing together innovative leaders like you to grow this coalition into a state-wide movement.
Our coalition strives to be non-partisan, primarily seeking to enable fiscal sustainability for all our cities and towns.
Will you join us? Fill out the form below...
What is a "Strong Town"?
"Strong towns" are generally:
built incrementally, not all at once.
accessible for all, by foot, wheelchair, bike, transit, car, and truck.
where one is able to meet their routine needs locally, without driving.
where social connections are strong.
where bottom-up civic and economic participation is enabled and encouraged.
To achieve this, a strong town must:
be financially solvent to ensure long-term prosperity and resilience.
stop betting its future on huge irreversible projects, and start taking small, incremental steps and iterating based on what we learn.
stop fearing change, and start embracing a process of continuous adaptation.
stop building our world based on abstract theories, and start building it based on how our places actually work and what our neighbors actually need today.
stop obsessing about future growth, and start obsessing about our future financial obligations.
Neighborhoods of strong towns are:
not exempt from change.
should not experience sudden, radical change.
scaled for humans.
Strong towns cannot happen without strong citizens.
People of strong towns are:
people who care.
part of the solution.
not customers of the government, but rather are cooperative participants in creating a better place.
Local governments of strong towns should:
be a platform for strong citizens to collaboratively build a prosperous place.
not be for local implementation of higher-level policy.
leverage its land as the base resource from which community prosperity is built and sustained.
build transportation systems as a means of creating prosperity in a community, not an end unto itself.
The thumbnail photo above left is at Palafox Pl and E Intendencia St in Pensacola, FL--winner of the 2019 Strongest Town Contest.
Why are our cities and towns financially fragile?
The costs of maintaining our modern development patterns exceeds the revenue they create. As described by Strong Towns, "The way we build our cities now squanders precious resources that should be used to make our communities more prosperous.
"We are trading short-term growth for long-term liabilities,
and it's slowly bankrupting us."
and it's slowly bankrupting us."
We all inherited the development pattern invented by Americans in the last century. Most consider it normal, the way things are done, despite how radical an experiment it is. It’s only human to justify the pain and instability this new approach has caused, to focus on the symptoms, because an alternative is too difficult to imagine."
How can we fix this? Learn more about the Strong Towns approach...
How can the state nurture financial resiliency of all our communities?
What state policies prevent our communities from being stronger and more financially resilient? We'd love for you to share your ideas with our group. Spencer Gardner (planning director for the City of Spokane) has written a 3-article series on this topic:
As Gardner and Marohn explain in those articles, we expect the state to establish a system that brings cities toward solutions by tuning the economic incentives to be aligned with the well-being of communities and their people, rather than establishing more top-down mandates that attempt (and generally fail) to solve the complex problems facing our communities.
Here are some specific ways that we might apply this concept...
As Strong Towns founder Charles Marohn notes in their Curbside Chat, "The primary determinant of the future prosperity for cities will be the ability of local leaders to transform their communities."
However, limits on property taxes force cities and towns in WA to compete with each other for sales tax revenue, while also removing economic incentives to nurture "strong towns." These distorted state policies prompt local elected officials to lure big-but-fragile projects rather than nurture financially productive communities with human-scale streets. How so?
Cities and towns compete for high-revenue retailers that will:
pull customers to drive from beyond their borders to make big purchases, competing for revenue with neighboring cities,
increase out-of-area vehicular traffic,
inhibit viability of local businesses, and
dilute opportunities for neighbors to connect.
Cities and towns receive no greater revenue by cultivating productive buildings and development patterns due to the 1% Levy Increase Limit, which also suppresses revenue well below inflation.
...and then, as a last gasp to balance the budget and avoid choosing between abandoning critical services and infrastructure...
Cities and towns routinely beg their citizens to approve more taxes, designating a set of projects or services which they anticipate a majority of their voters will support.
The state needs to stop forcing our cities and towns into financially fragility.
We need the WA legislature to structure local revenue that nurtures long-term productive resiliency while nurturing productive places for people.
What kind of local revenue model would do this? Here's what we're thinking...
Redistribute sales tax revenue. Instead of sales tax benefiting the place that collects the tax, distribute it to the places where people reside, based on the population of each community. This stops inter-local competition for sales tax dollars and encourages cities to create great places for people to live. (Local option sales taxes would need to be carefully addressed so that cities with these can fulfill existing obligations funded by this revenue. )
Remove the 1% Levy Increase Limit for cities and towns. This would create an incentive for cities and towns to support the development of productive places that people value most, as cities would be financially rewarded for making their town more valuable.
Reduce taxes on land improvements, back-filling the gap with a tax on land value. This encourages land owners to make the best use of their land.
(Want more details? Ask email@example.com.)
These are just a few ideas illustrating how changes in state policy could help our fragile cities become stronger. What's your idea?
The thumbnail photo at the left of this section's header is a view of Kirkland's Rose Hill, looking east along NE 85th St near I-405, in an area that is being planned for a major interchange rebuild including direct ramps to high-occupancy/toll lanes and a BRT (bus rapid transit) station. Current land uses have been oriented toward generating sales tax revenue rather, but it is expected to shift in coming years to become a more valuable place for people.
How can I support Strong WA?
To spread our organization across Washington State, we need your help to:
share your local challenges with us,
share your ideas with us, and
share StrongWA.org with others across our state.
With your help, we to build an coordinated organization of ears, eyes, and hands across the state that will:
listen and learn about the challenges facing our cities and towns,
collaboratively create a financial model that enables financially resilient cities and towns, and
reach out to our legislative representatives as needed to achieve our goals.
(This effort needs to be coordinated--please let us know if you would like to help.)
Furthermore, we need people who would like to help:
illustrate our vision more clearly with graphics, photos, and videos
research and discuss policy ideas
analyze data, including in geographic information systems (GIS)
write articles and posts for blogs and social media
Would you like to help? Here's how to get involved...
Who's the instigator?
Rodney Rutherford has followed Strong Towns throughout his many years as a community organizer, incrementally strengthening neighborhoods along the way.
In the mid-2000s while living in Seattle, Rodney was struck by the frustrations of commuters stuck in traffic and volunteered on projects that would ensure easier mobility for all, most notably serving with the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board until he moved to Kirkland in 2008.
In 2010, Rodney served on his neighborhood association board for eight of these years. Seeking to strengthen social ties in the neighborhood, Rodney established The Neighbor Project in 2012, a donation-based self-serve espresso cart in his neighborhood. Since then, Rodney has volunteered at that same site as a weekly host at the Safe Parking Program, providing homeless women and families a safe place to sleep in their cars. This experience inspired him to raise awareness of housing models that can better meet the changing needs of his community. Inspired by this, he co-founded Liveable Kirkland to collaboratively envision places for everyone in his community, while also advancing the sustainability and quality of Kirkland's neighborhoods. He also represented neighborhoods on Kirkland’s Housing Strategy Plan Advisory Group in 2017, and influenced the update of neighborhood plans in 2018. He's served on Kirkland's Planning Commission since October 2019.
Professionally, Rodney has worked at Google Kirkland as a systems engineer since 2007, and now leads a small team of engineers. Outside work, Rodney loves to learn about the systems that shape our communities.
Rodney has resided in Kirkland’s Rose Hill with his wife and two kids since 2008, and has always lived within four miles of Lake Washington.
Where did the photos on this page come from?
The background image is the Yakima River. The river symbolizes how we are all connected throughout the state. The water of the river powers our state, irrigates our crops, shapes our land, inspires our people, and connects our communities, from the mountains to the Pacific Ocean.
(in order of appearance, with sources linked)
The first thumbnail is intended as a generic nowhere photo of unsustainable development...but it's actually in New Mexico. (source: Wikimedia Commons)
The second thumbnail is George Washington as he appears on the one dollar bill.
The third thumbnail is looking east from above I-405 along NE 85th St in Kirkland, WA. This is less than a block from my home, and is the primary source of my inspiration for the ideas next to the thumbnail, with an abundance of strip malls, car dealerships, and abundant opportunities for redevelopment to become a more of a people-oriented place.
The fourth thumbnail is the instigator himself, posing for a selfie in front of the Washington State Capitol building in Olympia, WA.