On this off-day for us here I wanted to forward a letter to the editor from Friend of STB Jake Krohn, prepared a with tad bit of help from the editing team here at Strong Towns. Great example of local activism. And check out some of his Flickr photos too of some good, small town design.

Great work, Jake! We hope this helps with the discussion in Wahpeton.


Wapeton Mayor Jim Sturdevant's comments during the discussion of the 2011 city budget ("Council split on hiring new employees", August 24) that Wahpeton has "more miles of street to take care of, more miles of water lines, of sewer lines" despite its decreasing population should raise an alarming question to all residents: Is it realistic to think that fewer people can maintain even more infrastructure?

For quite some time, our approach to community prosperity and financial success has been to convert productive farmland on the edge of town to new development. This approach includes the extension of very expensive roads and public utilities, an investment paid by developers and/or by the assumption of new debt. In the short-term, this works well for the public, which invests relatively little but enjoys the increase in tax base and revenue.

So why has this not make us prosperous? The reason is simple: New development on the periphery has allowed the city to exchange near-term revenue for long-term liabilities. We now have to maintain this infrastructure forever, yet these investments have not generated enough wealth for us to do so.

We may have been able to keep mill increases relatively low, but only because this Ponzi-scheme-like approach has not fully caught up to us. New growth has masked the fact that our development pattern costs more to maintain than we have the ability to pay. Now that this growth has slowed, like any Ponzi scheme, it is becoming increasingly difficult to hold together.

Wahpeton has long been saddled with – and seemingly accepted - decline in the heart of the city. Incidentally, this is where we currently have the greatest level of public infrastructure investment. Before another sewer line is dug or street is paved on the periphery, we should focus on strengthening our core and getting more out of these investments.

Come fall, we're going to have a new main street. This presents a tremendous opportunity to connect our walkable neighborhoods to a downtown destination in a way that allows both to blossom. Doing so would return us to a pattern of development that has served cities well for centuries. We would learn much from understanding why our recent approach has not worked and how a return to traditional small town values can strengthen our community.

Jake Krohn, Wahpeton