My latest piece is a review of Chuck Marohn’s new book Strong Towns over at City Journal. Here’s an excerpt:
Strong Towns, the book and the namesake organization, resulted from civil engineer and urban planner Charles Marohn’s discovery that the highway projects he designed showed a negative return on investment. The local taxes generated by new road construction and expansion didn’t even cover the costs of the roads themselves, much less any other city services. Marohn calculated, for example, that it would take 37 years’ worth of property-tax revenue from all the houses on his own cul de sac just to recoup the street’s initial cost. This realization inspired Marohn to argue that urban sprawl is a financial loser.
According to Marohn, the current approach to suburban development is a “growth Ponzi scheme.” New developments, like housing subdivisions or industrial parks, require little maintenance for many years after their initial construction. This allows the municipal tax revenues they produce to be used for other purposes. But over time, infrastructure inevitably needs repairs, and, too often, a city can’t cover the cost. If the city goes ahead with the maintenance work, it will need to boost economic growth to generate the necessary revenue to pay for it.
Click through to read the whole thing.
A shame that you didn’t have the room to discuss this book in any more detail. Chuck Marohn has some ideas worthy of debate, even if they’re ultimately wrong.
P Burgos says
I haven’t read the book, but the website at times takes on a sort of Moneyball approach to urban planning and development, with the idea being that the road to municipal fiscal health is via maximizing the ratio of taxable value to liabilities, and mostly infrastructure liabilities. There is more to it than that, but that is a big component.
George Mattei says
Columbus did a region-wide analysis of development patterns that evaluated the costs based on different development scenarios. This was specifically designed by Calthorpe and associates for the tax system in place in Ohio.
The pattern is clear-denser development costs less. You can click here to see the fiscal summary, but the whole site is interesting:
Calthorpe has a RapidFire model that they use to predict these things. It also provides other metrics like cost per household, transportation, land consumed, etc.