CNBC Tackles the Growth Ponzi Scheme

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This is one installment in an ongoing series on suburban development, which started February 1 with “How Suburban Sprawl Weighs On The U.S. Economy.”

The most recent entry in the series focuses on the role of mixed-use development in suburban expansion, featuring commentary from Strong Towns President Chuck Marohn on behalf of the movement. He details how the suburban growth model resembles a Ponzi scheme, where the cost to maintain the streets, pipes, and other publicly owned infrastructure are continuously kicked down the road.

Paying the costs isn’t as simple as taking on more debt or raising taxes; it will take an entirely new approach to development to put cities on the right track and avoid ruin.

Others who were interviewed for the project cited projects such as the Mosiac District in Fairfax, Virginia, as an example of how to increase the amount of available housing at a lower infrastructure cost per unit. However, it’s important to consider the long-term liabilities that come along with these infrastructure investments, and the matter of who can actually create these neighborhoods.

Great townmakers know that part of the solution is to open up zoning codes to allow for mixed uses and more housing types, built not just by capital-rich large developers, but by local firms and even single-property owners. In neighborhoods where only single-family homes are allowed, opening the door for homeowners to renovate their structures into duplexes, build accessory dwelling units, or set up a small commercial operation are good first steps. This incremental approach doesn’t just provide more housing opportunities—It also  increases the economic productivity of the neighborhoods and puts them on the right track to restoring financial stability.

Hundreds of thousands of people are discovering the Strong Towns movement with this video, and that’s something to celebrate. But this wouldn’t be possible without the support of thousands of advocates across the United States and Canada who are applying the Strong Towns approach in their own communities every day. It’s because of you that the principles for building financially resilient places are seeping into the way journalists, planners, and your neighbors think. Together, we’ll change the way our towns are made.

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