CNU21 Closing Plenary

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   Chuck Marohn keynoted the closing plenary of CNU21 in Salt Lake City. The following are his comments:

• Industrial park infrastructure is almost always a horrible investment because of subsidies of industries.

• It is beyond our ability to fathom the magnitude of our public debt.

• We have transformed ourselves from an economy based on savings and work to an economy based on debt accumulation.

• The mechanisms of growth we have become accustomed to are waning.

• Local governments are going to be forced to absorb the local costs of the current development pattern.

• The current pattern of development cannot be maintained without large tax increases and/or large cuts in services.

• The suburban pattern has built-in and fundamental insolvency.

• The old cities were financially resilient. If not, they would have gone away.

• Pre-sprawl development is the culmination of thousands of years of experience in development of the human environment.

• Pre-sprawl, everyone knew how to build great places. If you doubt this, look at old pictures of ordinary towns. The best we build today is scarcely as good as what everyone built everywhere before sprawl. My own hometown was fabulous by today's standards, but we largely demolished it.

• Every city today has miles and miles of streets with negative return on investment.

• We need to relentlessly prove New Urbanism as a high return public investment.

• We're missing the bazooka in our argument: the ROI of New Urbanism versus sprawl.

• The tax base of the worst historic traditional development pattern overvalues the best of the shiny and new solely because of the pattern of development. We illustrated this by looking at the ROI of a ratty section of traditional commercial versus new sprawl development just down the street.

• The auto-oriented pattern is very fragile, with limited upside and huge downside. Traditional development patterns are opposite. That's why the traditional patterns of development could be sustained so long, and why sprawl might very well bankrupt us.

• If our cities are going broke, doesn't it make sense to use the traditional pattern that, even at its worst, out-performs the best of sprawl?

• We need to champion an incremental approach to development.

• "Build it and they will come" is a brilliant plot for a movie, but it is a horrible development strategy.

• Our ancestors always built incrementally; it's only recently that we've started trying to build the end from the beginning.

• When an incremental project fails, the entire place doesn't collapse because the project is only a small part of the entire place, and therefore easy to fix.

• The way we got wealthy as a country was by building incrementally over time.

• I don't care if you like to play dice or cards, but it's still gambling to "build it and they will come."

• We need to put an end to top-down planning.

• Innovation from the top down is orderly and dumb. innovation from the bottom up is chaotic but smart.

• Replacing dumb with smart means replacing orderly with chaotic.

• As New Urbanists, we have to resist the trend to become more top-down.

• Memphis has done everything the professionals told them to do, but their wealth and prosperity has remained elusive.

• Orderly but dumb gets you downtown Memphis.

• A lot of chaotic but smart projects will fail, or be messy, but we must embrace it because overall, it's what works.

• It's not about well-informed or not. It's systemic. The "orderly but dumb" guys are the ones who are educated.

• Many minds thinking, even if uneducated in planning, will inevitably get better results than a few administrators. It's the Internet versus a mainframe. Wikipedia versus Encyclopedia Britannica.

   ~Steve Mouzon


© The Guild Foundation 2013