Bayfront Convention Center
1 Sassafras Pier
Erie, PA 16507
Chuck Marohn will lead a breakout session and give a keynote lecture at the American Planning Association Pennsylvania (APA PA) Annual Conference.
Breakout Session: The Growth Ponzi Scheme (Monday, October 15th, 3:45p.m. to 5:15p.m.)
We often forget that the American pattern of suburban development is an experiment, one that has never been tried anywhere before. We assume it is the natural order because it is what we see all around us. But our own history — let alone a tour of other parts of the world—reveals a different reality. Across cultures, over thousands of years, people have traditionally built places scaled to the individual. It is only in the last two generations that we
have scaled places to the automobile. How is our experiment working? At Strong Towns, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization founded in 2009, the interest is in understanding the intersection between local finance and land use. How does the design of our places impact their financial success or failure? What has been found is that the underlying financing mechanisms of the suburban era — our post-World War II pattern of development —
operates like a classic Ponzi scheme, with ever-increasing rates of growth necessary to sustain long-term liabilities. Since the end of World War II, our cities and towns have experienced growth using three primary mechanisms: Transfer payments between governments, transportation spending, and public and private-sector debt. In each
of these mechanisms, the local unit of government benefits from the enhanced revenues associated with new growth. But it also typically assumes the long-term liability for maintaining the new infrastructure. This exchange—a near-term cash advantage for a long-term financial obligation — is one element of a Ponzi scheme.
Keynote address and luncheon: The Infrastructure Crisis: It’s Time to Rethink our Approach to Growth
(Tuesday October 16th, 11:45a.m. - 1:30pm)
For more than six decades, local governments have been accustomed to building infrastructure and expanding existing systems. While liabilities have grown, transportation funding has not kept up. Now there is a desperate need for local governments to change their approach. We need to shift our strategy from an emphasis on continuous expansion to a more mature focus on maintenance and maximization of existing infrastructure. In difficult economic times, this is a scary, but necessary, realignment.
There are trillions of dollars of unproductive infrastructure already in the ground today waiting for us to make better use of. At Strong Towns, we see that our cities, towns and neighborhoods are dripping with opportunity. These opportunities are not of the mega-project variety. They are small—seemingly beneath us, perhaps—but they can positively transform everything about how we live our lives. An infrastructure presentation brings your community into the national conversation about infrastructure spending and will help local decision-makers determine where to spend precious infrastructure dollars to get the best return on your investment.
(Top photo source: AndreCarrotflower)