Chuck Marohn came to York armed with figures and stories, including one about a city council member near his hometown in Minnesota.
Marohn, the founder of nonprofit "Strong Towns," told a crowd on Wednesday night at the York County Heritage Trust he can still remember what that council member said when she learned about a new development coming to town.
"Oh wow, we get a free road," he recalled her saying.
That got laughs from some of the about 50 people who came out to hear Marohn speak about city planning. Marohn, an engineer by trade, travels across the country with a message that infrastructure funding cannot continue down its current path.
At his York talk, Marohn gave several examples of project case studies he said demonstrate a "growth Ponzi scheme" in the United States. In one, Marohn examined a $354,000 road project to upgrade a residential development.
The cost of that road will take 79 years to pay back through property taxes, Marohn said, much longer than the road will last. And it's inefficient planning, he said.
"The current path is not financially stable," he said. "We support a model of growth that allows Americas towns to become strong and resilient."
That starts with recognizing what we're doing wrong, Marohn said, and with a better use of resources. Marohn spoke of "stroads," which he said are part street and part road, but fail on both counts.
"Our biggest problem is not a lack of growth, but a lack of productive growth," he said.
Among Marohn's talking points was the need for grassroots efforts, and for local leaders to help transform communities.
York City Councilman Michael Helfrich said he thought the presentation was going to be on how to fund government projects, but was pleasantly surprised that it focused on problems created by wasteful project funding.
"Basically, this just reemphasized for me that the solution to York's problems lies in its people," he said, "not in spending and taxing those people."
For more about Strong Towns, visit strongtowns.org.