Good Side of the Downside: The End Is (Only) Near

Depressed by city planning in your neck of the woods? Ben Brown says to lower your expectations.

2 minute read

August 5, 2017, 1:00 PM PDT

By Hazel Borys


"Chuck Marohn needs a hug."

"That was my first thought reading this in his July 17 Strong Towns post:

"Let me be clear about what I actually imagine is in store for us. I look at America’s cities, towns and neighborhoods and I see overwhelming levels of fragility. I see a development pattern that destroys wealth; the more we do, the poorer we become. I see municipal debt levels rising as a consequence, as well as an increased dependence on state and federal assistance. I see property values and consumption rates (property tax and sales tax) artificially manipulated higher by federal monetary and fiscal policy—a lofty perch I don’t see as stable. I see local governments overwhelmed with liabilities, from infrastructure maintenance to pensions and rising health care costs. And I see the people in the system — politicians, professional staff and residents — all with powerful short term incentives to simply increase the level of fragility."

" . . . I think we’re royally screwed."

"Now, Chuck is not by nature a negative dude. Not in the least, in fact, owing to the double dose of positivity that comes with being both an engineer and a Midwesterner. Engineers tend to see the components of reality as something like a giganto Lego set, just waiting for the right assembly to make things work better for everybody. Midwesterners, meanwhile, seem born with a dominant gene for conflict avoidance, for assuming others’ good intentions, for defaulting to polite resignation when frustrated by the indignities of everyday life. (Consider: In a college football universe currently dominated by the University of Alabama, its team enters combat invoking a biblical bloodbath — the Crimson Tide. The University of Minnesota footballers are the Gophers.)"

Brown encourages his fellows in the city planning trenches to accept a little more uncertainty, and tackle the tough task of identifying and aligning the right circumstances for game-changing success.

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