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Cheers to the Strong Town of Holland, Michigan!

Cheers to the Strong Town of Holland, Michigan!

Photo courtesy of Discover Holland.


Holland, Michigan edged Fargo out of the Strongest Town Contest, a March Madness bracket-style competition hosted by Strong Towns, an education and advocacy organization committed to creating durable, fiscally sustainable and desirable communities.

Representatives of cities from all over the country entered the contest with descriptions of their transportation systems, incremental improvement projects, how residents are involved in local decision making, how their town has adapted to a challenge, and the strength of their central downtown district. Fargo was selected as one of the Sweet Sixteen towns and competed in the first round with Holland.

After a very close race, Holland came out on top to advance to the Elite Eight with 50.3% of votes and Fargo with 49.7% of votes. Read about each town here: Fargo, ND vs. Holland, MI.

So what makes a town strong? According to Strong Towns:

  • Strong cities, towns and neighborhoods cannot happen without strong citizens (people who care).
  • Local government is a platform for strong citizens to collaboratively build a prosperous place.
  • Financial solvency is a prerequisite for long term prosperity.
  • Land is the base resource from which community prosperity is built and sustained. It must not be squandered.
  • A transportation system is a means of creating prosperity in a community, not an end unto itself.
  • Job creation and economic growth are the results of a healthy local economy, not substitutes for one.

How did Fargo stack up?


Improved transportation, active community, strong downtown, and strategic planning

  • Fargo’s public bus system, Matbus, has tripled its ridership since 2004. The area’s 22,000 college students ride for free with a college ID.
  • Fargo also is becoming an increasingly more bikeable city. Fargo added 40 miles of dedicated, on street bike lanes since 2010, including North Dakota’s first raised, protected bike lane. Fargo’s Great Rides Bike Share doubled the national record of bike share programs with over 142,000 rides in 7 months with 100 bikes.
  • Public events like Streets Alive encourage people to get outside and be active. Fargo held its first annual Frostival, a winter festival where the community embraces the cool of winter with outdoor games and family friendly activities.
  • Properties in Fargo’s downtown Renaissance Zone that were valued at $190M in 2002 are now valued at over $600M. Many incremental improvement projects have been undertaken, such as corridor improvements (1-way to 2-way street conversions) and utilizing mixed-use buildings, helping to triple the number of residents downtown.
  • Fargo has also adopted the GO2030 comprehensive plan to set major goals for the Fargo Metro area by the year 2030.
  • Fargo is resilient to flooding in the Red River Valley. Communities come together to take action through sandbagging efforts, diversion planning and other flood protection measures.


Complete streets, multi-modal friendly, successful youth programs, and strategic planning

  • With a population of 33,000 people, Holland, Michigan is a strong town known for its annual Tulip Time festival, which has been ranked as America’s third-largest town festival and named Reader’s Digest’s best small town festival.
  • Holland prides itself on its complete streets and walkable neighborhoods with 150 miles of sidewalks that were recently supplemented by over eight miles of boardwalks, bike paths, and bike lanes.
  • These complete streets are uniquely winter-friendly as well. Holland has the largest re-use of wasted heat municipal Snowmelt system in the country. This asset enables year-round walking, running and biking, enhancing the overall livability downtown.
  • All neighborhoods are well lit with LED low-wattage, downward-directed lights. All crosswalks are painted annually. Significant efforts, including $640,000 in expenditures, have improved pedestrian crossings and added sidewalks to major intersections in the last two years.
  • The City is a partner with a full-service mass transit transportation agency (MAX) and public transit ridership is up nearly 100% in the last decade.
  • Three focus groups have been organized to support at-risk youth. They found that jobs and mentorships are the best way to combat gang recruitment.
  • A Sustainability Committee has been created in Holland. Community input led to establishing a forty-year Community Energy Plan which outlines how Holland will reduce its per capita carbon footprint by 60% from 24 tons per capita to 10 tons per capita by 2050. Seven citizen-led task forces were created and a comprehensive sustainable-return-on-investment process determined natural gas was the source for new power generation.
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