About the cover: A street that shows wealth from good planning in Detroit, MI
When they were first conceived of, streets like Lancaster Boulevard in northeast Salem were projected to be a source of commerce and community wealth for all. Subdivisions in south Salem were designed to provide housing that would bring ongoing good to the city as healthy places to live and thrive.
But because of the way they were designed, says Chuck Marohn, founder and President of Strong Towns, a non-profit organization working to support a better model of development, Salem’s decisions about downtown, its roads and neighborhoods, actually created long term debt for citizens and for the community as a whole.
“We’ve had massive growth in this country,” Marohn says, “but we’re still not wealthy. Instead, we are creating tremendous long term obligations because of how we’re building our places.”
Marohn, a professional engineer and certified planner, says that America’s auto-based development has led us to live beyond our means, provide unsafe environments for our children, deplete jobs from communities and diminish quality of life.
He will discuss these matters, ways towards better growth, strategies for for everyday community members to make a lasting difference in Salem, in a free public presentation on October 5.
“We need productive growth that makes us wealthier,” Marohn says. For example, “let’s say we will build a mile of road to situate businesses on it. These businesses pay taxes today, but when you look at the money the city gets from those businesses, it really won’t pay to fix the road in 30 years. The development is unsustainable.” When Lancaster Boulevard was being devised, designers did not calculate for the slow, grinding traffic, the pollution, the empty parking lots and vacant buildings. People were employed to build the street, but may be unemployed now. The amount we spent and the costs we deferred all over the city make Salem vulnerable and unresiliant.
“We have a short term appearance of being rich,” Marohn says, “but there’s a long-term bill that’s going to come due. And I think most Americans understand that something is inherently wrong.” His organization, by contrast, is “showing people that we can have real jobs and, growth by doing this properly. People intuitively understand what should be done, and in discussing it, we are empowering people. One example is that we should fix and care for existing roads before be build a new one. It’s not a hard concept to understand.”
Marohn argues that when a country fixes what it has, it can actually invest comparatively smaller amounts to make things better. “We can show people that we are way better off financially when we do that,” he says.
It takes, for one thing, a longer-term vision. It is understandable that banks and businesses are often focused on the next financial quarter, because “they are worried about bonuses and share prices. But government is supposed to have a longer view of things,” Mohen says. “Yet, what we have decided in America, unlike in any other country, is that it is important to be able to go a couple blocks in your automobile. The result is that we obsess over how convenient it is for people to drive, but we ignore the fact that when we do that we force people to drive everywhere. Which is actually a huge inconvenience.” A costly one, too.
Marohn believes that solutions can be found right in a community like Salem. He says local leaders who can lead the way don’t have to have degrees in civil engineering to address these issues.
“And, they’re not necessarily the mayor or city council, either. Often they are people who care about their block, who volunteer in the community, who are invested in their church or school. These are the people who know what needs do be done and will actually do something about it.”
The cities Marohn sees as being most successful in creating long-term wealth, jobs and healthy communities are those who recognize how critical it is that decisions arent simply left in the hands of planners accustomed to the status quo. “People like city leaders and department heads of local governments,” in contrast, “often have a hard time really understanding what things need to change.”
How can Salem become a Strong Town?
Wednesday, October 5th, 7 pm.
With Chuck Marohn
Loucks Auditorium at Salem Public Library
585 Liberty Street SE in Salem.