Marohn vs. O’Toole: Sizing Up The Great Debate

Last week, Charles Marohn of Strong Towns went head to head with “antiplanner” Randall O’Toole in Lafayette, Louisiana. The debate was billed as an event to help the city with its regional planning process and was broadcast over local radio.

Watching O’Toole make up arguments out of whole cloth, however, you have to wonder if giving him a platform to spew nonsense is ever helpful, even if someone like Marohn is there to counter him with reason and facts. O’Toole’s presentation was all about scaring people into thinking that any sort of planning that’s not all about cars and single-family housing is a misbegotten conspiracy to impoverish them.

Marohn, for his part, really starts to hit his stride about an hour in, arguing that local people can come together and develop consensus about how to solve community problems — like how to get more public value out of infrastructure investments.

Marohn said in a blog post following the debate that he came away disappointed and didn’t think the discussion was very productive for the people of Lafayette. He said of O’Toole:

I’ve had my share of flamboyant rhetoric over the years, after all. Yet, as things went on, it was clear that he was going to take every opportunity to simply scare people, even when he knew better.

We’re not in Portland. We’re not in San Francisco. This was Lafayette, Louisiana, a fairly conservative place in a rather conservative part of the country. These people should be working together, not living in fear that a (rather weak and broadly unimaginative) comprehensive plan will give their local leaders – people who are literally their neighbors – the power to torch their house. He knows better, and I thought his repeatedly resorting to the flaming rhetoric was a huge disservice to not just the conversation but the people of Lafayette who were listening.

  • But if you read the press coverage, it is clear O’Toole’s points are what people remember. While I agree 100% that on the facts, Marohn wins, in places like Lafayette, fear is a much more powerful motivator and O’Toole’s carefully landscaped arguments work. And it is clear O’Toole’s knows this because in front of more liberal audiences, you get a lot more facts out of him and less hyperbole.

  • Erik Landfried

    I prefer Wendell Cox and Randy O’Toole’s porn star days to their anti-planner days.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    O’toole is a outright liar and he knows it


Man Who Painted Speed Warning on Street Vows to Fight Charges

A Pennsylvania man faces charges of criminal mischief and disorderly conduct for painting a warning to speeding drivers on his street. John Cherok appealed to the city about drivers going dangerously fast in front of his bookstore in McDonald, Pennsylvania. The city, for its part, conducted a study and told him speeding wasn’t a problem. The […]

When the Streets Belonged to All, and All Belonged on the Streets

It’s been a little over a year since Raquel Nelson was convicted of vehicular homicide for attempting to cross a street with her kids in suburban Atlanta. Much of the public responded not with outrage, or demands that municipalities improve conditions for pedestrians, but with victim-blaming vitriol, passed along in news stories with headlines like […]

How Engineers Deflect Criticism of Their Dangerous Designs

As people who’ve tried to make their neighborhood streets safer for walking and biking can tell you, engineers are amazingly adept at shutting down dissent. Chuck Marohn at Strong Towns — an engineer himself — knows the drill inside out (it inspired this classic animation from 2010). In a new post, he explains: Transportation engineers can be intimidating. They are […]

Are Engineers Allowed to Speak Up for Reforming Their Profession?

In a case that has attracted the attention of the Union of Concerned Scientists, well-known and outspoken civil engineer Chuck Marohn of Strong Towns recently had his professional license challenged by a fellow engineer. The charges were quickly dismissed by the Minnesota licensing board, but the incident has raised questions about engineers’ freedom to speak openly […]