By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Chuck Marohn’s titles may include planner and civil engineer, but Monday he turned into a fire and brimstone smart-growth community evangelist, sounding an alarm for local government to plan smart or pay big time later.
Marohn, speaker and author of “Thoughts on Building Strong Towns,” began a north Mississippi tour in Tupelo to tell citizens that expansive, sprawling growth will cost local governments many times more in tax revenue than it generates through the decades.
Even worse, Marohn warned that federal and state funding will likely dry up, forcing local governments to use their limited resources in the smartest ways possible.
“Local government will have to absorb the local cost of current development patterns,” he said.
Marohn’s visit to the state is sponsored by Mississippi State University’s Stennis Institute of Government and the Appalachian Regional Commission. It includes sessions in five more communities this week after Monday night’s gathering at the BancorpSouth Conference Center.
Tax revenue generated from big box and other developments on the edges of cities and towns doesn’t measure up to costs of repairing and upgrading when the infrastructure breaks down, Marohn said.
“We’re going broke and our cities are going bankrupt,” he warned. “Something has to change.”
Marohn said public leaders should make smart fiscal decisions that include encouraging high-density shopping and tax generating areas like downtown.
“We literally have to start having a conversation about the productivity of our patterns,” Marohn said.
While not framed in these stark terms, Tupelo’s city planner and others in the Department of Development Services have discussed these concepts for years. Tupelo’s current comprehensive plan and updated development code encourage more development within existing high-density areas, along with encouraging more mixed-use development that combines residential and commercial areas in proximity.
Marohn said Northeast Mississippi communities can encourage a different kind of development by taking small steps.
“We’ve got to start thinking about incremental investments,” he said.
Instead of the current trend of building developments that focus first on automobile transportation, Marohn said communities should promote developments that encourage more walking.
“We’ve created for ourselves an environment that’s very socially isolating and stifling,” he said.
Strong Towns curbside chat series
Starkville – Greensboro Center, 5:30-7 p.m.
Amory – Gilmore Foundation, 10-11:30 a.m.
Winona – Winona Community House, 4-5:30 p.m.
Water Valley – Main Street Association Office, 10-11:30 a.m.
New Albany – Magnolia Civic Center, 5-6:30 p.m.
For more information or to register to attend the free meetings, call (662) 325-3328 or visit www.MSCurbsideChat.org