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.

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