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Charles Marohn: Not Your Typical Urbanist

From his home in Brainerd, Minnesota (population 13,500), this fiscally conservative engineer leads a growing movement. His slow-and-steady approach to urban development has real bipartisan appeal.
December 10, 2015, 2pm PST | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Charles Marohn

As a civil engineer, Charles Marohn used to oversee projects that widely overshot the mark, providing unnecessary infrastructure and saddling towns with inflated costs. He realized that the suburban mainstream offered "solutions that not only encouraged sprawl, but also created places that were financially unsustainable."

Peter Callaghan reports on the man behind Strong Towns, first a blog and now a non-profit dedicated to the economic viability of existing communities.

Marohn is anti-suburb, but he doesn't fit the typical urbanist profile. "He describes himself as a fiscally conservative Republican; most of those who share his philosophy are liberal Democrats. Also, he was a civil engineer first, not a city planner."

"It's a perspective that has led Marohn to conclude that the nation's 70-year experiment with suburban development is a failure — because it is economically unsustainable. That is, the lack of density does not produce tax revenue necessary to cover current services, let alone the long-term costs of maintaining and replacing those services."

In Marohn's words, "Woodbury is going away, no matter what. There is no renewal process. There is no next step in its evolution." He sees both parties as complicit in an "infrastructure cult" dedicated to top-down projects, be they highways or transit. Instead, he says, we should look to the period before the postwar suburban boom for wiser models.

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Published on Wednesday, December 2, 2015 in MinnPost
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