Here is a session proposal I put together for CNU on the way home from New Orleans on Sunday (and have also now forwarded to APA). Both of their deadlines for submissions have passed, so we'll see what happens.

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Title: The Pending Financial Implosion of Small Town America 

Speaker: Charles L. Marohn, Jr. PE AICP, President of Community Growth Institute, President of Strong Towns and author of the Strong Towns Blog

Topics: Small Towns, Local Economies, Economics of Growth

Summary:  This session will discuss the unique economics of small towns, the dramatic spatial mismatch between public and private sector investments in small towns, the implications of the evolving relationship between the original town site and the surrounding countryside and how Agrarian Urbanism is a key part of addressing these systematic problems. Technical research prepared by Strong Towns, a Minnesota-based non-profit organization, will demonstrate the economics behind growth in small towns and why a collapse of this model is imminent.

Background:

America is on the precipice of losing its small towns.

Since the end of World War II, Small Town America has systematically abandoned its traditional development pattern for a wholesale embrace of suburbanization. Small towns that had modest, but highly resilient, economies were transformed over the course of a generation into fragile places with unfathomable amounts of financial liability. This change has been combined with increasing social tension and civic disconnect as the traditional values of “frugality” and “community” were replaced with the ubiquitous, repackaged “American Dream”.

American small towns are now caught in the commodity trap of decline, where even modest levels of growth require a financial model that functions exactly like a traditional Ponzi scheme. Federal and state spending on infrastructure, as well as enormous amounts of public and private sector debt, have kept these systems afloat. As these enabling mechanisms are withdrawn due to changes in the economy, budget cuts and our inability to obtain further leverage, Small Town America is faced with the impossible task of unwinding these systems. There is no sign that this unwinding can happen successfully.

The large scale failure of our small towns, which is imminent, will be a final warning sign that the suburban model is starting its financial collapse.