Chuck Marohn, of Strong Towns, drove through yesterday’s snowstorm to present a Curbside Chat in Northfield. Demonstrating Northfielders’ own resilience, the Archer House’s Riverview Conference Room was packed with interested participants.
Chuck argued that our current approach to municipal infrastructure development and, even more so, finance is not sustainable. Detroit and Stockton are the obvious examples. The many municipalities that are cutting back on police, fire, and lighting to pay to repair their deteriorating streets are less obvious examples.
The era of automobile-driven and boom-financed infrastructure expansion to increasingly distant locations has left us with a system we can’t really afford. Going forward, we must now not only conduct cost-benefit analysis on the initial investment but also include the Second Life Cycle, the investment required to repair the infrastructure at the end of its ten, fifteen, or twenty-five year life expectancy. The harsh reality is that rarely are these massive new infrastructure projects financially productive investments.
Chuck contrasted the conventional style of development that we’ve pursued the past fifty or so years with the traditional style of development that we followed for many hundreds of years in the past. The traditional development style was based on incremental growth and has proven over time to be robust and resilient. It also has proven to pay more taxes than the newer conventional style of development.
The solution to this financial problem is to increase the value of our existing assets. This can be accomplished by incremental additional investment in our traditionally designed built environment. As we say at the NDDC, invest in downtown and Northfield benefits.