Strong Towns on the Iron Range

Coleraine's historic Carnegie Library. (Aaron J. Brown)

Coleraine’s historic Carnegie Library. (Aaron J. Brown)

Since Monday, it’s been “Strong Towns” week on the Mesabi Iron Range. Chuck Marohn and his team have held special discussions about planning more durable, sustainable communities across the Iron Range.

Readers here might be interested in a couple things I did in support of Chuck’s tour.

I previewed the Strong Towns events in my Sunday column about Iron Range community planning, a frequent topic here at MinnesotaBrown.

I wrote a guest post for the Strong Towns blog on Tuesday. The piece looks at one Iron Range town, Coleraine, and my ideas for how a town like that can reimagine itself for new purpose without breaking the bank.

Here’s a taste from the full piece:

The way Coleraine is platted it’s got nowhere to build out. It’s penned in by neighboring Bovey and Trout Lake. It can only grow inwardly. And the town seems to know it, for the roads all seem to curve back toward the center, almost like a European town. You never get this sense driving over the highway. It’s easy to miss, too.

Historian Pam Brunfelt calls the Iron Range an “Industrial Frontier.” But when all the frontiers have been conquered, and industrial growth stagnates, what is left? The new frontier is not at the edge of towns like Coleraine, it’s right on top.

Then yesterday, Chuck posted an episode of the Strong Towns podcast featuring a conversation between me and him. It was a good chat. Chuck titled it “Aaron Brown: Straight Talk About the Iron Range,” which makes it sound kinda edgy and cool.

The podcast starts with a lighthearted example of our Minnesota accents, and ends with a good exploration of my philosophy about this blog and my life’s work so far. Longtime readers here might enjoy this.

Strong Towns concludes its Iron Range tour today in Virginia.



  1. David Gray says

    I love the classic look of those old Carnegie libraries.

  2. Gray Camp says

    Listened to your podcast yesterday afternoon. It was fairly entertaining. You guys didn’t exactly elaborate on your ongoing difference of opinion on broadband, but I’d assume Chuck has no interest in the government paying for it, and you think it is so important that you don’t care how it gets paid for?

  3. I suppose you could say that. What I really meant was that I used to be a big proponent of publicly owned broadband networks or co-ops, but now I’m more open to direct subsidy to private companies if that’s what gets the job done. I see it as we pay for the service anyway, it’s just a question of whether it’s a tax or a higher bill.

  4. Ranger47 says

    There’s a huge difference Aaron. With a tax, I end up paying for service I don’t needed or want…AND pay for YOUR service. A classic Bernie Sanders proposal.

    Putting it on your bill, you pay and I don’t get a bill. The Trump way. The fair way.

  5. Ranger, you must really be irritated with the taxes you pay for all the MN highways you don’t need to drive on and never will.

  6. Ranger47 says

    You nailed it kissa. You & I agree, toll roads are the obvious fair answer to addressing maintenance of our highways.

  7. Now I know for sure that you are just trolling for your own amusement, Ranger.

  8. Ranger47 says

    No trolling kissa.

    Drive from Fort Lauderdale, Fl to Key West. What happens? Every so often a picture is taken of your car, the driver(you) and your license plate. A week later, bill in the mail to pay for using the road. How common sense is that. Pay for what you use. An added plus, no toll booths, no union employees asking for a pay increase for sitting on their butt complaining how hot it is.

  9. Ranger47 says

    And you kissa didn’t have to pay a dime for me using the road. Now, if you wish to donate to me, to help me out…please send me $7.42.

  10. You have to be the first and only person I’ve ever heard say loves the toll booth experience.

    You assume that paying a highway toll means you aren’t still paying taxes (saving money out of your own pocket) on that highway one way or another, for toll collection, maintenance, improvements, lane additions, etc. That highway could be privately owned and several highways are owned by foreign companies or it could be one of many types of public-private deals. For one, government, state or federal, could own the highway but contract out the tolling to private company or vice versa. There are a myriad of other issues in public vs private highways to consider, do private owners get tax incentives, are toll roads just a short-term cost benefit to budget crunched state governments (some studies indicate not cost effective for state and taxpayers in long-term), do shareholder profits of private owned highway override the needs of the public driving the highway and on and on.

  11. Ranger47 says

    No toll booths kissa, no slowing down.
    I guessed you probably wouldn’t like the Florida idea….they have only good, hard working legal immigrants, no illegals, lots of warm sunshine, but I knew the showstopper for you would be….they have no income tax!

    No mention of your willingness to pay your fair share for my cost to use the road. Where’s my $7.42?

    Sent from my iPhone

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