By Quint Studer

road trip

Labor Day has come and gone, but for many families that long-awaited road trip is right around the corner. If you’re wondering how to keep the kids occupied during the long drive (besides video games and bickering!), here’s a thought: Why not listen to a podcast from one of America’s thought leaders on building stronger communities?

Sound a little far-fetched? It isn’t. Learning what goes into creating great cities and towns is fascinating for people of all ages.

There’s a movement right now toward localism and creating thriving places where people want to be. Creating a great community is a job best done by citizens—and civic-mindedness starts early. Why not take advantage of having the whole family together in one place, and make your road trip a fun, educational experience?

Another point to consider: School has been a bit, well, disrupted in 2020. Many parents are worried about what their kids might be losing, education-wise. It won’t hurt them to learn about, say, the link between human connection and happiness…or why walkable cities beat car-centric ones…or how to build an urban forest. (See? Fascinating!)

All this is why I created the Civic-Minded Family Series. It’s a spin-off of CivicCon (short for “Civic Conversations”), Pensacola, Florida’s speaker series designed to improve the civic IQ of citizens. CivicCon brings in some of the nation’s top thinkers and experts to educate people on issues they need to know in order to lay the groundwork for change inside the community.

Here are a few lectures you and your kids might enjoy listening to or even watching (well…not the driver) on your summer road trip:

Andrew Davis

Leveraging What’s Special About Your Community
After studying what makes American towns boom or go bust, Andrew Davis has found that most thriving communities have “staked a claim” by making themselves synonymous with a particular industry or lifestyle (e.g., Napa Valley immediately calls wine to mind, and Nashville is the home of country music). He identifies steps communities can take to focus their branding, create location envy, and attract more businesses.
Event video: watch here
Podcast: listen here

Charles Montgomery

Create a Happy City by Connecting People
Having spent roughly a decade doing research and urban experiments for his book Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design, award-winning author and urbanist Charles Montgomery says simple human connection is the key to making people—and cities—happier. Learn how government officials, developers, and urban planners can create environments that boost citizens’ social connection, community engagement, health, and general well-being.
Event video: watch here
Podcast: listen here

Chuck Marohn

What Makes America’s Strongest Towns Stand Out?
Chuck Marohn is the founder and president of Strong Towns, host of the Strong Towns Podcast, and the author of several books, including Strong Towns: A Bottom-Up Revolution to Rebuild American Prosperity. He will change the way you think about growth and development and talk about the ways we can make the lowest-cost, highest-returning investments in our community.
Event video: watch here
Podcast: listen here

James Fallows

What Successful Communities Are Doing Right
James Fallows served as former President Jimmy Carter’s chief speech writer and is an award-winning author and a decades-long correspondent for The Atlantic. He spent years traveling the country in a single-engine prop plane. He says even though many Americans are worried about the direction of the country, local communities are getting things done: finding money to innovate their schools, investing in businesses and policies to revitalize their downtowns, and building better places for people of all different experiences and backgrounds.
Event video: watch here

Jeff Speck

How to Create a Walkable City
Jeff Speck is a city planner, urban designer, creator of the Governors’ Institute on Community Design, and former director of design at the National Endowment for the Arts. He advocates internationally for more walkable cities and argues that cities function best as a collection of small neighborhoods, each with their own places to live, work, shop, worship, and go to school.
Event video: watch here
Podcast: listen here

Peter Kageyama

Does Your City Grab You by the Heart?
Peter Kageyama is the author of For the Love of Cities: The Love Affair Between People and Their Places and Love Where You Live: Creating Emotionally Engaging Places. The senior fellow with the Alliance for Innovation inspires the audience with his passionate stories of how grassroots community change has made life better and happier for people in cities across the country. His examples are simple and achievable, and in fact, inspired a local Chalk Art Festival in downtown Pensacola less than three months later.
Event video: watch here
Podcast: listen here

Lysistrata “Lyssa” Hall

Great Cities Have Great Urban Trees
Lysistrata “Lyssa” Hall is the founder of Cloud Hall Creative Solutions in Phoenix, Arizona, and she has worked with many communities on tree ordinances and tree plans. She was instrumental as a planner and arborist in the green infrastructure around the light rail corridor in Phoenix. Here, she shares the importance of urban forests and strategies for growing them.
Event video: watch here

The best part of listening to these lectures is the discussions you and your kids will have afterward.

It’s a lot of fun to apply what you’ve learned to the cities and towns you pass through on your trip. People tell me that after listening to a couple of these lectures, their kids really enjoy pointing out big parking lots that could be put to better use, or commenting on how walkable a downtown is with all the shade trees.

Kids really do love to learn. Even younger ones grasp more than you think they will. And it’s great to know they’re learning something that will benefit us all in the future.

About the Author: 

Quint Studer is the author of Building a Vibrant Community: How Citizen-Powered Change Is Reshaping America and founder of Pensacola’s Studer Community Institute. For more information, visit and