Strong Towns Speaking Tour Coming to Easton and Other PA Cities

Strong Towns is one of my favorite blogs on cities and land use politics, so I’m excited to see that Charles Marohn is doing a speaking tour through PA. Here’s an important post Marohn did on the Ponzi scheme of exurban development. If you like real estate development and land use issues, you really need to check this out. In the Lehigh Valley he’ll be speaking in Easton and Lower Macungie Township.

From the inbox:

Curbside Chat with Strong Town’s Chuck Marohn

West Ward Neighborhood Partnership; a program of Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, in cooperation with Envision Lehigh Valley, is hosting a Curbside Chat with Strong Towns; a non-profit organization from Minnesota, on Tuesday, January 8 at 6:00 pm. The presentation will be held in Oechsle Hall, Room 224, at Lafayette College. The event is free and open to the public. A social hour with refreshments will follow the presentation.

Please RSVP to Dennis Lieb at


  1. I find his website interesting.

    1. The system of urban financing he deplores in part 3 is what, essentially, you argue is a great system of national financing, since people are “paying us to borrow money.”

    2. He has a strong core point on the cost of infrastructure, but he draws the benefits too narrowly. The value of a street isn’t just the street, it’s the value of the network. Likewise the value of I-78 isn’t just in connecting Harrisburg with New York, but the national and regional ability to move commercial activity cheaply.

    3. He more of a builder of train sets than towns. Big cities were small cities once, and he ignores how and why towns change. Mostly, the word JOBS never appears in his analysis of why towns fade. It is as if all you need for prosperity is a bunch of people in cute buildings saying hi to each other over coffee. His historical analysis of the per credit world is weak, at best.

    Redmond WA is a suburb that probably isn’t failing. Why lump it in with Tamaqua?

    4. If what he says is true, why would any city want to annex surrounding towns?

    • Jon Geeting says:

      There are a number of things I don’t think he’s right about, but I think he brings a valuable critique of engineers that is powerful coming from an engineer.

      I don’t think there’s anything wrong with national financing as such. One thing not to like about it is that it enables states and localities to make bad transportation and land use choices, but I see that as a case for electing better politicians and working to change the dominant views of planning elites.

      The reason to annex surrounding towns is to regionalize the scope of land use planning. As he points out, the economic growth from suburban development is real – it’s just short-lasting. There are powerful incentives for politicians to zone for exurban development. Regional land use planning is needed to curtail those kinds of decisions that are good for one small area of a region for a short amount of time, but bad for regions over the long term.

  2. Apparently by doing an annexation they would also be accepting certain fiscal doom. But at least the land use would be nice!

    Cities that make things and make money often don’t look nice. He’d fit in well in Italy. Just to pick three American spots–San Jose, Houston, and Dallas–none would meet his rigid criteria for sustainable and the non-wholesome/car-friendly appearance of each would likely make him sad. Certainly with the first–is there a place in this hemisphere that does more to promote commerce, technology, and advances in quality of life? How long does something have to last before it is “long lasting” or “sustainable?” Is San Jose a passing fad?

    • Jon Geeting says:

      I would argue that those places are successful in spite of bad land use choices, and would be even more successful with better land use policy. The Bay Area in California is the ultimate example of a place that could be even more productive with greater population density.

  3. I think what you are describing is the difference between success and optimization.

    Water is a real and significant limitation on growth in California. Better land use and more efficient agriculture would help. But California remains a good place for high tech business because success means access to an exclusive set of rewards. Pedestrian friendly or dense growth planning do little for that.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      I think it is a good place for high tech business because…it is a good place for high tech business. Now that the production cluster is there already, it makes sense for tech firms and people with the relevant skills to live near it. If Bay Area land use regulations are changed so that many more people can enjoy living in that highly prosperous area, then the region and the country will be more productive for it.

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