That's one of the messages urban planners from across the state will hear at the annual conference for the Florida chapter of the American Planning Association this week. The conference — with more than 600 attendees — is being held at the waterfront Waldorf Astoria in Naples, off Seagate Drive.
Across the country, local governments are struggling financially because of the way they've handled growth, said Chuck Marohn, executive director of the Minnesota-based nonprofit Strong Towns, which he cofounded.
He'll be one of the keynote speakers at the Florida planning association's conference. On Friday, he will discuss how cities have exchanged near-term growth for long-term liability.
"You are essentially operating a Ponzi scheme of sorts," said Marohn.
When there's new development it generates new tax revenues, which can lower tax rates for residents and allow governments to expand their services and advance community projects in the short term. But as time goes on, those new tax dollars aren't enough to pay for the added maintenance costs that come with growth, whether it's for roads or water and sewer plants, Marohn said.
"When the growth stops, everything goes bad," he said. "And that is essentially where we are today."
Economic models have shown that cities recoup as little as 4 cents for every $1 they spend on maintenance generated by new development, Marohn said. His nonprofit focuses on connecting land use and economic development.
"We literally can't build in the same pattern we are building in today because it is not financially productive enough to be viable," Marohn said.
"The last 50 years, at the local level, has been about growth, but that growth, the costs of that growth, are now becoming apparent. The next 50 years has to be about making better use of everything that we've committed to."
He said one of the changes should be no more "horizontal expansion" of any cities.
"We have far too much infrastructure that is underutilized — that we need to make better use of," Marohn said.
The theme of this year's Florida planning conference is "charting a new course" for growth management in the state. The conference starts today and runs through Saturday.
During the conference, planners will tackle a host of issues, from urban sprawl to the deterioration of valuable natural resources in the Sunshine State. Other national trends that will be discussed are redevelopment, transportation opportunities, health and the building environment and economic development.
The event will include visits to Punta Gorda, Immokalee, Ave Maria University, Everglades City and the revitalized Fort Myers River District.
Other keynote speakers at the conference include: Mitchell J. Silver, president of the American Planning Association and the chief planning and economic development officer for Raleigh, N.C., and Samuel R. Staley, managing director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University.
Local speakers include Mary Gibbs, director of Lee County's Department of Community Development, and Robert J. Mulhere, manager of Mulhere and Associates in Marco Island.
Mulhere will be part of a panel that will discuss Collier County's efforts to craft a master mobility plan, aimed at reducing vehicle miles traveled and promoting transit. He's also participating in the local tours.
This is the third time the state planning group has come to the county for its annual meeting, Mulhere said.
"We are fully funded through our dues," he said. "So this conference is really a significant fundraiser for the organization."
Connect with Laura Layden at www.naplesnews.com/staff/laura_layden