Peter Callaghan: Chuck Marohn's Mission


Marohn created a blog ( to share his observations about land use, sprawl and how to make existing communities economically stronger. One of the early posts was titled “Confessions of a Recovering Engineer.” He is not particularly popular among his former colleagues.

“I am a guy who started out writing a blog and felt like I was a voice in the wilderness with maybe some crazy ideas that people around here certainly weren’t buying,” Marohn said. “What I found is there’s a nation of people hungry to do something different, share our message and support us.”

“Us” is Strong Towns, the nonprofit that grew out of Marohn’s blog and that now has a small-but-growing national membership. As part of his work for Strong Towns, Marohn publishes frequent blog items, records podcasts and travels (a lot) — he’s spent 64 nights on the road so far this year — delivering “Curbside Chats” to groups and working with cities. He had just returned from taking part in a White House conference on rural placemaking.

I encourage you to catch one of Chuck's Curbside Chats. Several issues resonated with me. First, suburban development is insufficient dense to support infrastructure replacement costs at current tax rates. Suburban development is subsidized or the replacement costs are supported by ever more subdivisions. Chuck notes the latter fact and calls out suburban development as a Ponzi scheme. Second, communities should build roads and streets, not stroads. Stroads are hybrids that are dangerous for people, that also reduce economic value of the surrounding lands. Third, governments are deaf or ignorant on these issues. We (citizens) need to confront officials to demand better designed streets and require development patterns with higher density potentials. We also need to take small positive actions in our neighborhoods to produce safe streets and educate community leaders on the importance of economically sustainable development. We need to build areas with Strong Town Principles.