Laura Bliss is CityLab’s west coast bureau chief. She also authors MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles magazine, and beyond.
Boulder, Pasadena, Fargo, and Annapolis are among 16 cities “competing.”
March Madness is upon us, and that means it’s bracket season: basketball, of course, but also beer, hot dogs, Davids (yes, Davids), and… cities! Strong Towns, the planning advocacy group, has launched perhaps the most adorable bracket-style competition around with America’s “Strongest Town.”
Local officials, citizen activists, and nonprofit leaders from across the country were invited to submit answers to questions on transportation systems, their downtowns, their citizen engagement, their financial solvency, and other criteria, which Strong Towns judged. Sixteen towns have now been selected to compete, and public voting is now open on six pairs of matched-up cities (the final two pairs come online Wednesday).
Contenders include San Marcos, Texas, whose entry highlights its National Corndog Day festivities; Hopkins, Minnesota, whose prided pedestrian infrastructure lets kids walk to school “even on the coldest days”; and Safety Harbor, Florida, which is probably hoping voters don’t pay too much attention to its “stroads.”
What do these towns have in common? Many of them are home to some form of higher education, and almost all have historic downtowns. Besides that, writes Strong Town’s Rachel Quednau, the ways citizens got their cities on the bracket revealed a certain collaborative spirit:
We were pleased to see that many people took our suggestion and applied as a team, getting input from city staff, community leaders and their neighbors. This is exactly the type of attitude we need to build strong towns.