Growth is often treated as the gold standard of success for American cities. If you’re building new subdivisions, new highways, new strip malls – and theoretically growing the city’s tax base in the process – conventional wisdom would tell you your town is healthy and thriving. But after decades of sustained growth, the majority of American cities find themselves scrounging and sacrificing just to pay for basic infrastructure and services. “We’ve gotten good at paying for things right up front: buildings, roads,” said Charles Marohn, a professional engineer and certified planner. “What we haven’t figured out is how to maintain it.” Marohn is the president and co-founder of Strong Towns, a nonprofit that encourages citizens, developers and municipalities to rethink the way their communities grow. According to Marohn, most towns in the country are surprisingly fragile economically. Since World War I, local governments have been courting families, big box retailers, manufacturing and technological industries to come set up shop in their towns. The government promises to take on long-term responsibility of servicing and maintaining all the necessary new infrastructure, and in return the city sees revenue from permits, utility fees, property taxes and sales taxes. It appears to be a good trade-off in the short term, but in the long term over a large scale the exchange almost never pays off for municipalities.