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Charles Marohn gives advice to Columbus on building strong towns

Charles Marohn, president of Strong Towns, a national nonprofit based in Minnesota, speaks Wednesday to an audience at the Columbus Museum.
Charles Marohn, president of Strong Towns, a national nonprofit based in Minnesota, speaks Wednesday to an audience at the Columbus Museum.

The way American cities have developed over the past 50 years has increased the financial burden with each generation, a national development expert said on Wednesday.

Charles Marohn, president of Strong Towns, a nonprofit organization working to strengthen financial resilience in American towns and cities, brought that message to Columbus as keynote speaker at three local events.

Marohn spoke at a Rotary luncheon held at the Columbus Convention & Trade Center, followed by a “Curbside Chat” at 3 p.m. at the Columbus Museum on Wynnton Road. Later in the afternoon, he met with local young professionals at the Loft on Broadway.

Marohn is a professional engineer licensed in Minnesota and a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He said the key to building strong cities is incremental growth based on a low-risk, high-return strategy that was common in the United States and across the world before World War II.

But American cities strayed from that model after the war and began abandoning older neighborhoods for newer ones, Marohn said. The cost for sustaining the new development projects has cost more than the taxes they produce, and many cities are now struggling to survive.

Marohn said many communities have found that improving blighted neighborhoods yields a better return on investment, and he used projects in his hometown of Brainerd, Minn., and other cities as examples.

“When we look at our cities today, we see that we have been so obsessed with getting that dollar for that grand huge project that we’ve just overlooked the pennies, the nickels and the dimes that are just waiting to be picked up in our core neighborhoods,” he said. “I went all over your core downtown neighborhoods today and they’re just dripping with these opportunities.”

Alva James-Johnson: 706-571-8521, @amjreporter

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