Friday, September 24, 2021

Turning the idea of growth on its head

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The steady westward expansion of Springfield is often cited as the healthy, inevitable result of growth and progress. But a book being read widely across our fair city today posits that there is another way to think about these changes, however, that isn’t quite as comforting.

Using his insider’s view on government decision-making mixed with a fair bit of historical analysis of the growth of cities over thousands of years, Charles L. Marohn, Jr. sends out not only a warning, but a call to action, in his book Strong Towns: A Bottom-Up Revolution to Rebuild American Prosperity. Any fiscal conservative, pragmatic thinker or simply anyone who cares about Springfield’s future, should be interested in this eye-opening book.

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Marohn explains why cities of all kinds are struggling financially and how each of us can work to change things for the better, one block at a time. He speaks from what he knows. “I have witnessed countless local governments make up for cash-flow shortfalls with debt. As a professional engineer, without fully understanding what I was suggesting, I recommended many such tradeoffs,” he writes.

Somewhere along the way, Marohn had his own conversion on the road to Damascus. His argument in Strong Towns is that preserving older neighborhoods is not just a sentimental exercise. Relying heavily on data and analysis of hundreds of cities’ finances, Marohn lays out the evidence that the inherent wealth baked into older neighborhoods makes them, even today, more ‘financially productive’ than shinier, newer neighborhoods.

Intrigued? Does this sound familiar to you when you look around Springfield? Marohn writes, “The core neighborhoods – those neighborhoods that are very poor and blighted but also very profitable over the long term – have suffered from decades of decline and neglect…They have generated plenty of cash to pay for their basic maintenance, but it has been squandered in other places, largely subsidizing new growth out on the edge.”

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