TIME Transportation

FAA Proposes $12M Fine Against Southwest Over Repair Allegations

The proposed fine is the second largest in FAA history

The Federal Aviation Administration proposed a $12 million fine against Southwest Airlines for allegedly not complying with safety regulations during Boeing 737 jetliner repairs.

The proposed fine is the second largest in FAA history, the Associated Press reports. In 2010, the FAA proposed a $24.2 million fine against American Airlines, which later settled for $24.9 million.

The agency says that Southwest’s contractor, under Southwest supervision, did not properly fasten aircraft skins and replace fuselages, among other violations, while updating 44 planes in 2006 to prevent cracking on the aluminum exteriors. The agency also claims the Dallas-based airline flew those planes in 2009 despite notice from the FAA about the lack of safety compliance.

A spokesperson for Southwest said the company will respond to the agency’s claims in accordance with FAA procedure guidelines. The airline also said it “fully resolved the repair issues some time ago” and that “none of the items raised in the FAA letter affect” planes currently in operation.

[AP]

TIME Newsmaker

TIME Newsmaker Interview: Spelman President on Small College Success, the Flawed Fed Ranking Plan and How to Meet Smart Spelman Women

The Atlantic Presents:"The Shriver Report Live"
Beverly Daniel Tatum attends the Atlantic Presents:"The Shriver Report Live" at The Newseum on January 15, 2014 in Washington, DC. Kris Connor—Getty Images

During an hour long interview with TIME, retiring Spelman College President Dr. Beverly Tatum spoke about race, Historically Black Colleges, and her plans after she steps down next June.

In June 2015, Dr. Beverly Tatum will retire after 13 years as the ninth President of Spelman College. During her leadership of the historically black women’s college in Atlanta, Tatum, 59, raised annual alumni giving to 41%—one of the highest among historically black institutions. Tatum will leave the school having led a 10-year campaign that raised $157.8 million and garnered the support of 71% of the school nearly 17,000 alumnae.

Spelman is an exceptional school in more ways than one: it’s one of the oldest Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the U.S., and it has an endowment of $357 million—the average private HBCU endowment is around $38 million. In 2014, Spelman ranked number 65 on U.S. News and World Report’s annual list of the nation’s top liberal arts colleges, the next highest ranked HBCU—Morehouse College—comes in at number 126.

But because Spelman is an HBCU, it’s often mentioned in discussions about the overall fate of black institutions, which face dire financial situations, declining enrollment and questions about their relevance in the 21st century. Tatum says the comparisons aren’t always fair. “Just as we as individuals tend to be stereotyped, lumped together as a group, in the same way the institutions that are serving African Americans are lumped together and are stereotyped as a group. We have to work very hard to penetrate that bias,” Tatum tells TIME.

In an hour-long wide-ranging interview, Tatum spoke about why we should not consider HBCU’s as a monolith, the problems with the Department of Education’s plan to marry financial aid and graduation rates, and what’s next for her post-retirement. The following interview has been condensed and edited for space.

 

You’re retiring in June of next year. Why now?

In the life of a college president 12, what will be 13 years is a long time. The average span of a college president is about 6 or 7 years. It’s a very demanding job—I’m just ready for a new chapter. But I think it’s also a great time to pass the baton. If you think about being a president as like running a relay race, you get the baton from one person and when you get it you run as fast as you can to make as much progress and then you have to pass it to somebody else. I wanted to pass it while there was a lot of momentum.

Your 10-year fundraising campaign raised $157.8 million, with contributions from 71% of alumnae. Forty-one percent of your alumnae give annually. Can Spelman be a model for other small liberal arts colleges and other HBCUs, specifically?

When I started in 2002 [annual giving] was about 13%. I knew that the future of the college really depended on strong alumni support on an annual basis because when you go to foundations, corporations, and other donors outside the alumnae community one of the first questions they’ll ask you is, “what is the level of support from your graduates?” If your graduates aren’t supporting you, why should anybody else? But, I do know that it’s very labor intensive. When you think about a donor who hasn’t been regularly giving to the college and you call her on the phone or you meet with her in person, the first gift she makes might be a small gift. Maybe $25, $50, or $100, but it’s not necessarily going to be a big check. And you spend a lot of time and energy just to get her to write that first check. There are schools that will likely say it’s not worth my time to focus on that little gift, I need to focus on those big gifts that are going to really help sustain me. What we did, which I think was really helpful, was we got one of our trustees to essentially match the gifts that we got from small donors over a period of time so that we knew we’d be able to build up the level of giving, knowing that there was a safety net, so to speak, of this other donors’ match. I think every school has a trustee who would, if you ask them to, help grow alumni giving by matching.

What does the future of Spelman look like?

I think the future of Spelman is bright. Strong philanthropic support, great students, a wonderful tradition of excellence that I’m sure will continue into the future. But I think the next President will certainly need to be thinking a lot about the impact of technology in terms of this rapidly changing world we live in. There are lots of conversations in higher education right now that any new president should be thinking about. I often say when I’m asked what the characteristics of that new president should be—and obviously it’s the board’s decision to choose— but it should be someone who can be a really fast runner; someone who can take that baton and just go with it.

What’s next for you?

It has been tremendous honor to serve as the President of Spelman College. It’s been a high point of my career and I’m looking forward to this coming year. Before I became the President of Spelman I was a professor, but I was also a writer. I want to return to writing. So my first project will be to work on my next book. One of the books I want to revisit is “Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?” which was written in 1996. I want to reflect on the last 20 years and figure out what I will say differently, but I don’t know the answer to that question yet.

How has the overall college landscape changed during your time as the leader at Spelman?

I think the concern about cost and affordability has really gotten more intense. How can we provide [an education] in a cost effective way so that students can afford to come—whether that’s providing more financial aid or figuring out a way to offer it less expensively. Because we know that everyone needs an education, but a lot of today’s students can’t afford it. And I think that that conversation has really gotten more significant for everyone, not just at HBCUs, in part because the vast majority of today’s high school students are coming out of low to moderate income families and are often first generation college students. It’s not just an HBCU question. Everybody has to figure out, how do we make this more affordable?

I know that’s something First Lady Michelle Obama has been focusing on, increasing access to higher education, particularly among African American students. But at the same time the Obama Administration is working to distribute funding based on graduation rates, which have long been a problem for HBCUs. What do you make of that?

There’s an irony there. When you are serving low-income students there are many barriers to their completion, some of which have nothing to do with the school. There are all kinds of circumstantial situations that make it hard for students to persist. If you are providing services to students who are coming from high-risk backgrounds, the odds of their completion are going to be lower. One of the things we take great pride in at Spelman is our ability to graduate students at a high rate, but even at Spelman we have found since the Great Recession it’s become more difficult for us to maintain that graduation rate. More and more students are having to step out because of financial concern. I think when the Department of Education says to an institution that we’re going to judge you by your graduation rate— I hope that they will compare apples-to-apples. If you’re a well resourced institution serving a high-income student body, that graduation rate better be high. You have no reason for it not to be. But if you are looking at the performance of schools that are serving the most underserved student population, you should compare apples to apples to make sure that you are holding all of those variables constant.

Do you think that proposal will have an adverse impact on HBCUs in particular?

HBCUs have historically served those students who are most at-risk. Every HBCU is different. If you’re a school that has more open enrollment, more selective and students who are financially challenged you are hopefully going to transform their lives through the education you provide but your graduation rate is not going to be as high as someone who is dealing with a different socio-economic demographic. Graduation rates of institutions serving high percentages of under-served students should be evaluated in relationship to predicted retention rates for low income first generation students.

In previous interviews you have said people often talk about HBCUs as if they’re monolithic, as if they’re the same school. Where do you think the disconnect is in understanding HBCUs and addressing issues that face them?

That really has to do with understanding African Americans in general. Just as we as individuals tend to be stereotyped, lumped together as a group, in the same way the institutions that are serving African Americans are lumped together and are stereotyped as a group. We have to work very hard to penetrate that bias. You don’t regularly read articles about predominately white institutions are in trouble. You know what I mean? You don’t. So why is that when an HBCU closes its doors because of a loss of enrollment or loss of accreditation we read articles in which all of us get mentioned? That is, I think, just consistent with the stereotypes that have permeated our culture about people of color and the institutions of color.

What about the question of HBCU’s relevancy? Is that the same issue?

It’s a very interesting question. Why do people ask this question? We know that the history of HBCUs is that they were created at a time when there was no opportunity because of segregation, at a time when there was no educational access for African Americans. When Spelman was founded in 1881 in the city of Atlanta, there was no other opportunity for black women to get an education. So people will say, well now those majority institutions are available so why do we need those other institutions? But that fails to acknowledge the other purposes of HBCUs. An HBCU not only provides an educational opportunity for those who have been underserved, but it does so in a context in which the culture from which they come, the history that they’ve experienced is affirmed and acknowledged in a way that’s very empowering. And so the need for empowerment is always relevant.

I had a really interesting conversation with a white male educator and he asked me about the relevance. He went to an Ivy League school and said he would have really benefitted from having women like the women who choose Spelman at my college. He said that would have really benefitted his education. I understood what he was saying, but he failed to realize the privilege in his statement. The parent who writes that check for their daughter to go to college is not thinking, “she’s going to help someone else get a good education.” They’re writing that check because this is the best possible experience for their daughter. And one of the benefits for American higher education is that there are a lot of different schools to choose from. If that guy really wanted access to smart, Spelman women he could have enrolled at Morehouse. [laughs].

 

TIME weather

Tornado Does Damage to Revere, Mass.

“Given the magnitude of the storm, it’s really a miracle that no one sustained more serious injuries,” Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo told the Associated Press.

A storm that swept through the Boston area Sunday night hit the coastal city of about 53,000 people, leaving felled trees, shattered windows and rattled residents.

 

TIME Transportation

Gas Prices Continue to Drop After Hitting Four-Month Low

Gasoline at U.S. Pumps Seen Surging to 6-Year Seasonal High
A customer prepares to fuel her vehicle at a Road Ranger gas station in Princeton, Illinois, on June 17, 2014. Daniel Acker—Bloomberg/Getty Images

One gallon of regular fuel costs as little as $3.523, on average

After hitting the lowest numbers since March last week, gas prices across the U.S. have continued to drop, AAA announced.

The current national average for regular fuel is $3.523 per gallon, according to the automobile organization. On Friday, AAA reported that the national average was $3.54 per gallon. Recent geopolitical conflict between Russia and Ukraine and in Israel has not affected distribution or supply, it said recently.

A different survey of gasoline prices by Lundberg released Sunday reports that prices for regular gasoline fell to $3.58 per gallon, the first major drop of the year after roughly three months of stability, Reuters reports.

The prices cited by AAA and Lundberg are both roughly 10 cents cheaper than gas prices this time last year.

TIME Virginia

US Court: Va. Gay Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

(RICHMOND, Va.) — A federal appeals court ruled Monday that Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional, the latest in a string of decisions overturning bans across the country.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond ruled that state constitutional and statutory provisions barring gay marriage and denying recognition of such unions performed in other states violate the U.S. Constitution. The Virginia gay marriage case is one of several that could go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

It was not immediately clear if or when the state would need to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Virginia’s same-sex marriage bans “impermissibly infringe on its citizens’ fundamental right to marry,” Judge Henry F. Floyd wrote in the court’s opinion.

In February, U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen ruled that Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection and due process guarantees. Lawyers for two circuit court clerks whose duties include issuing marriage licenses appealed. Attorney General Mark Herring, representing a state official also named as a defendant, sided with the plaintiffs.

“Marriage is one of the most fundamental rights — if not the most fundamental right — of all Americans,” David Boies, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement. “This court has affirmed that our plaintiffs — and all gay and lesbian Virginians — no longer have to live as second-class citizens who are harmed and demeaned every day.”

Gay marriage proponents have won more than 20 legal decisions around the country since the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down a key part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Those rulings remain in various stages of appeal.

More than 70 cases have been filed in all 31 states that prohibit same-sex marriage. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia allow such marriages.

The Virginia lawsuit was filed by Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk, who were denied a marriage license, and Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Chesterfield County. The women were married in California and wanted their marriage recognized in Virginia, where they are raising a 16-year-old daughter.

Two other same-sex couples, Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff of Staunton and Christy Berghoff and Victoria Kidd of Winchester, filed a similar lawsuit in Harrisonburg and were allowed to intervene in the case before the appeals court.

In 2006, Virginians voted 57 percent to 43 percent to approve the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Virginia laws also prohibit recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states.

TIME National Security

Government Spying Hurts Journalists and Lawyers, Report Says

A Human Rights Watch and American Civil Liberties Union report suggests NSA snooping prevents sources talking to journalists and compromises the relationships between defense attorneys and their clients

+ READ ARTICLE

Updated at 4:51 p.m.

National Security Agency surveillance in the U.S. has seriously hurt the ability of journalists to cover national security issues and of attorneys, particularly defense lawyers, to represent their clients, according to a new report out Monday.

Based on interviews in the United States with 46 journalists, 42 practicing attorneys, and five current or former senior government officials, the report seeks to document the tangible impact of NSA surveillance on Americans revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

In particular, the report cites the degree to which the Obama administration’s tough crackdown on unauthorized leaks, in combination with revelations about the extent of government surveillance on Americans’ cell phones and online communications, has caused sources to vanish for national security reporters.

“Sources are worried that being connected to a journalists through some sort of electronic record will be seen as suspicious and that they will be punished as a result,” said study author Alex Sinha, a fellow at Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union, which jointly issued the report. “As a result sources are less willing to talk to the press about anything, including unclassified matters that could be of significant public concern,” he said.

“I had a source whom I’ve known for years whom I wanted to talk to about a particular subject and this person said, ‘It’s not classified but I can’t talk about it because if they find out they’ll kill me,’ [figuratively speaking]” longtime National Security Correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers Jonathan Landay said for the report.

“It’s a terrible time to be covering government,” Tom Gjelten, a National Public Radio employee for more than 30 years, said. TIME was not listed among the news outlets from which reporters, many of whom chose to remain anonymous, were interviewed for the report.

Defense attorneys, who represent clients charged with a wide variety of offenses including terrorism, drug and financial crimes, among others, described how U.S. government surveillance has forced them to take extraordinary and often cumbersome measures to protect the privacy of sources and clients.

Such measures might include the use of complex encryption technologies, disposable “burner” cell phones, so called “air-gapped” computers, which are never connected to the internet as a precaution against hacking and surveillance, and in some cases abandoning electronic communications entirely.

“I’ll be damned if I have to start acting like a drug dealer in order to protect my client’s confidentiality,” said national security defense attorney Tom Durkin for the report.

“We are fearful that our communications with witnesses abroad are monitored [and] might put people in harm’s way,” said Jason Wright, who has represented terrorism clients as a military defense attorney before the Guantánamo commissions.

A report released earlier this month by The New America Foundation argues the NSA deliberately weakens cybersecurity, making online communications, study authors argue, less secure in general. The NSA has “minimization procedures” designed to limit the exposure of “US Persons”—Americans at home or abroad and others legally inside the United States—to the NSA’s wide-net surveillance programs. Privacy advocates contend they are insufficient and that, in any case, it’s impossible to verify their effectiveness because the details remain secret.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence told TIME that, contrary to revealing a decrease in press freedom, the Snowden leaks are evidence that journalism in the United States remains robust and unencumbered.

“The Intelligence Community, like all Americans, supports a free and robust press,” said Jeffrey Anchukaitis, spokesperson for Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. “The events of the last year demonstrate that the IC’s foreign intelligence surveillance activities clearly have not prevented vigorous reporting on intelligence activities. U.S. intelligence activities are focused on discovering and developing intelligence about valid foreign intelligence targets to help defend the nation, not on intimidating or inhibiting journalists. Likewise, the IC recognizes the importance of the attorney-client privilege, and has procedures in place to ensure that appropriate protection is given to privileged attorney-client communications.”

To address problems raised in the report, HRW and the ACLU recommend reforming U.S. surveillance practices, reducing state secrecy in general and limitations on official contact with journalists, enhanced whistleblower protections and strengthened minimization procedures.

The report comes just days before the expected unveiling in the Senate of the latest iteration of the USA Freedom Act, a bill to reform NSA surveillance practices. An earlier House version of the bill was significantly gutted of reform measures, leading privacy advocates to pull support for the bill and try instead to get more substantial reforms through the Senate.

TIME Crime

IV Lines Placed Properly in Two Hour Arizona Execution: Doctor

An undated photo of Joseph Rudolph Wood. Wood who was sentenced to death for the killing in 1989 of his ex-girlfriend and her father, was executed by lethal injection in Florence, Arizona on July 23, 2014.
An undated photo of Joseph Rudolph Wood. Wood who was sentenced to death for the killing in 1989 of his ex-girlfriend and her father, was executed by lethal injection in Florence, Arizona on July 23, 2014. Arizona Department of Correction/EPA

The doctor who performed the autopsy on Joseph Wood says the IV lines that delivered the fatal drugs in the prolonged lethal injection were not the problem

A doctor who performed an autopsy on Joseph Wood, the Arizona death row inmate whose July 23 lethal injection lasted almost two hours, says that prison officials properly placed the IV lines that administer the deadly drugs.

The autopsy, performed by Dr. Gregory Hess of the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office, appears to show that a two-drug combination of hydromorphone and midazolam entered Wood’s veins without incident, according to the Associated Press. The statement appears to foreclose one possible explanation for why Wood’s death took so long. A properly administered lethal injection is supposed to last no more than 15 minutes.

Wood, who was sentenced to die for murdering his ex-girlfriend and her father in 1989, reportedly gasped and snorted during his one hour and 57 minute-long execution. The prolonged episode was the third state-sanctioned killing to go awry this year and has renewed the debate over the legality and morality of lethal injection.

The improper placement of IV lines can lead to drugs leaking into the surrounding tissues rather than going directly into the bloodstream. A preliminary autopsy of Oklahoma death row inmate Clayton Lockett found incorrectly administered IV lines to be the reason his April execution took almost 45 minutes.

 

TIME weather

Tornado Rips Off Roofs, Downs Trees Near Boston

Severe Weather
People survey damage in front of a funeral home in Revere, Mass. Monday, July 28, 2014 after a tornado touched down. Deputy Fire Chief Mike Viviano says the fire department in that coastal city has received dozens of calls reporting partial building and roof collapses, and downed trees and power lines. Elise Amendola—AP

(REVERE, Mass.) — A storm system that wreaked havoc across the eastern half of the U.S. spawned a tornado just north of Boston on Monday, causing extensive damage in Revere, where roofs were ripped off buildings and dozens of large trees were uprooted.

Officials in Revere, a coastal city of about 53,000, said there no immediate reports of serious injuries, but several people suffered minor injuries, including a baby who was in a car and hurt by flying glass and an elderly woman who suffered cuts.

“Given the magnitude of the storm, it’s really a miracle that no one sustained more serious injuries,” said Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo.

Communities across the U.S. were cleaning up Monday after strong storms destroyed homes, knocked out power for thousands of people and toppled power lines and trees.

The tornado was spawned by a powerful storm that moved through the Boston area shortly after 9 a.m. Deputy Fire Chief Mike Viviano said his department received dozens of calls reporting partial building and roof collapses, and downed trees and power lines.

Paul and Patty Carrabes said they were both at work when the wind tore the roof off their home.

“I probably would have died if I was in there,” said Patty Carrabes said.

Bob Cronin, the city’s sealer of weights and measures, said he was in City Hall when the tornado hit.

Cronin said City Hall was damaged, as were a number of businesses. One auto body shop had its roof ripped clean off, Cronin said.

“This isn’t something you expect to happen when you wake up in the morning,” he said.

The National Weather Service’s office in Massachusetts said it was the first tornado in Suffolk County, which includes the city of Boston and the northern communities of Revere, Chelsea and Winthrop, since the agency began keeping records on them in 1950.

Rizzo said City Hall was evacuated due to damage and will likely be closed for a couple of days. He said he expected the city to open a shelter for any residents who are unable to stay in their homes.

In eastern Tennessee, officials said there were no reports of any deaths or injuries from Sunday’s storms, though at least 10 homes were destroyed. Claiborne County emergency management spokeswoman Gina Breeding told The Associated Press it wasn’t clear whether the destruction was the result of a tornado, but noted there were strong winds, lightning and heavy thunderstorms.

In Kentucky, National Weather Service forecaster Tony Edwards said some areas got softball-sized hail Sunday.

Massive hail also was reported in Michigan, where winds toppled trees and ripped the roofs off buildings. And in Ohio, some roads had been blocked by flash flooding. In Pennsylvania, nighttime storms knocked out power to thousands.

 

TIME Business

The Suburbs Will Die: One Man’s Fight to Fix the American Dream

The End of the Suburbs
The End of the Suburbs Courtesy Penguin Press

Engineer Charles Marohn worked his whole life trying to make his community better—until the day he realized he was ruining it.

If you looked up “Minnesota nice” in the dictionary you might see a picture of Charles Marohn. Affable and mild-mannered, Marohn, who goes by Chuck, grew up the eldest of three sons of two elementary school teachers on a small farm near Brainerd, the central Minnesota city best known as the backdrop for the movie Fargo. Marohn (pronounced “mer-OWN”) graduated from Brainerd High School, entered the National Guard on his seventeenth birthday, and went on to study civil engineering at the University of Minnesota. He now lives with his wife, two daughters, and two Samoyeds in East Gull Lake, a small city north of Brainerd. Marohn, forty, likes the Minnesota Twins, reads voraciously, and is a proud Republican. He’s the friendliest guy you’re likely to meet. He’s also a revolutionary who’s trying to upend the suburbs as we know them.

After graduating from college, Marohn went to work as a municipal engineer in his hometown and spent several years working with the small towns around the greater Brainerd area, putting projects together that would build roads, pipes, storm drains, and all kinds of infrastructure. It was the mid-1990s, the area was booming, and Marohn was laying down the systems that helped the area grow. “I built sprawl,” he now says.

Often his work required him to knock on the doors of residents, many of whom he knew from growing up, and tell them about changes that might impact their property. In order to make the town’s roads safer, he would explain, engineers were going to have to widen the road in front of their house or cut down a tree in their yard. When his neighbors would get upset and ask why or try to protest—the roads were hardly trafficked at all, and sparse enough to almost be rural, they would point out—he’d explain that the town was required to make these changes in order to comply with the book of engineering standards to which it had to adhere. The code, put in place by the town but derived from state and national standards, dictated that roads must have an ample “recovery zone,” or a wide berth to accommodate cars that veer off the road, and that drivers have improved “sight distance,” the distance a driver needs to be able to see in order to have enough room to be able to react before colliding with some- thing in the roadway. When residents pointed out that the recovery zone was also their yard, and that their kids played kick ball and hopscotch there, Marohn recommended they put up a fence, so long as it was outside the right-of-way. He was sorry, he told them, but the standards required it. The trees were removed, the roads widened, the asphalt paved and repaved. “I never stepped back from my own assumptions to consider that I wasn’t making anything safer,” Marohn says. “In reality, I was making their street more dangerous, and in the process, I was not only taking out their trees, I was pretending I knew more than them.”

In 2000, Marohn found himself assigned to fix a leaky pipe in Remer, a small town north of Brainerd. It was a routine project, but it would ultimately lead him to an epiphany. A sewer pipe that sat under a highway had a leak that was allowing clean groundwater to flow in. That meant that the clean water was getting pumped out to sewage treatment ponds, which were exceeding their capacity and would soon overflow. It was easily fixable, but it would cost $300,000, a hefty sum considering the town’s total budget for such projects was $120,000 a year; sure enough, the town said no. But the pipe was going to cause the sewage ponds to overflow, undermine the dike, knock down its wall, and pour into the neighboring river “in like a catastrophic way,” Marohn says. So he decided to find a federal grant to pay for it.

He discovered that the project was too small; grant agencies didn’t seem to be interested in a $300,000 renovation, he found, presumably because it wasn’t worth the time in administration costs. So he expanded the project, proposing the government pay not just to fix the pipe but also to extend the sewers, expand the size of the pumps, and more, at a cost of $2.6 million. The grant agency gave the green light; the state and federal government put up all the money except for

$130,000, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture financed at below-market rates over a forty-year time period. Marohn was hailed a hero. “Everybody was super thrilled with me because I got this project approved out of nowhere,” he says. And since the project would connect more homes, it would allow the town to promote the fact that it was creating capacity for the city to grow.

But over the next several years, as Marohn went back to Remer to do additional work—he had by then gotten a degree in urban planning—and saw that the town was in the process of doing a similar project with their water system, he realized he had created an unsustainable financial situation. Thanks to the leaky pipe he fixed, the town now had to bear the maintenance costs of a system that was double the size of the one it had before. “I bought them time,” he says, “but I gave them a giant unfunded liability.”

Marohn started questioning the rationale of this kind of system. The government paid the up-front costs of the massive project, but there was no accounting for the significant cost to maintain the system. The town’s property taxes wouldn’t come close to covering those costs, which meant the city would ultimately need to take on more debt. And the system was likely to need replacing well before forty years were up—the duration of the financing he’d procured—which would require an investment of equal or larger size. Marohn began to wonder whether all the work he’d been doing to supposedly help the city grow was really necessary or whether it was going to end up hurting it and, on top of that, whether the roads he was helping to “improve” were designed to accommodate the way people lived or were that way simply because the planning books said that was the way they had to be built.

He connected with a few friends in the local planning community who shared his concerns. In November 2009 they started a Web site called Strong Towns to start raising questions about America’s approach to land use and the financial impracticalities suburban sprawl encourages. Rich in case studies and educational materials, Strong Towns lobbies for communities that are financially productive and grow responsibly. But it’s also a screed against what Marohn sees as development patterns that go against the logic of design, finance, and the best interests of residential communities and everyday Americans.

One night soon after he started the Web site, Marohn wasn’t sure what to write about, so he composed a blog post on his experience tearing down trees in his neighbors’ yards, an idea that had been bouncing around in his head for a while. Declaring his work “professional malpractice,” he described how the wider, faster streets he was sent to build weren’t only financially wasteful but unsafe. “In retrospect, I understand that it was utter insanity,” he wrote in the essay, which he called “Confessions of a Recovering Engineer.” “Wider, faster, treeless roads not only ruin our public places, they kill people,” he wrote, referring to statistics of traffic deaths each year that, in his view, were a direct result of poor design. He penned the piece in less than an hour and went to bed. When he got up, his in-box was full of comments from people in the planning community with whom his words had resonated.

The Web site soon became a nonprofit, which became a series of podcasts, videos, and live neighborhood events around the country called the “Curbside Chat.” A local nonprofit threw in three years’ worth of funding, and in mid-2012 Marohn quit his job to focus on Strong Towns, which is now a robust site packed with in-depth articles, podcasts, a Curbside Chat companion booklet for public officials, and a “Strong Towns University” section with instructional videos featuring Marohn and his partners discussing things like the ins and outs of wastewater management. Marohn’s work has brought him attention within the planning community; he now travels all over the country speaking at conferences, hosting Curbside Chats, and spreading his message. But all, he says, for the greater good. “We’re not bomb throw- ers,” he says. “We like to think of ourselves as intellectual disruptors.”

Marohn primarily takes issue with the financial structure of the suburbs. The amount of tax revenue their low-density setup generates, he says, doesn’t come close to paying for the cost of maintaining the vast and costly infrastructure systems, so the only way to keep the machine going is to keep adding and growing. “The public yield from the suburban development pattern is ridiculously low,” he says. One of the most popular articles on the Strong Towns Web site is a five-part series Marohn wrote likening American suburban development to a giant Ponzi scheme.

Here’s what he means. The way suburban development usually works is that a town lays the pipes, plumbing, and infrastructure for housing development—often getting big loans from the government to do so—and soon after a developer appears and offers to build homes on it. Developers usually fund most of the cost of the infrastructure because they make their money back from the sale of the homes. The short-term cost to the city or town, therefore, is very low: it gets a cash infusion from whichever entity fronted the costs, and the city gets to keep all the revenue from property taxes. The thinking is that either taxes will cover the maintenance costs, or the city will keep growing and generate enough future cash flow to cover the obligations. But the tax revenue at low suburban densities isn’t nearly enough to pay the bills; in Marohn’s estimation, property taxes at suburban densities bring in anywhere from 4 cents to 65 cents for every dollar of liability. Most suburban municipalities, he says, are therefore unable to pay the maintenance costs of their infrastructure, let alone replace things when they inevitably wear out after twenty to twenty-five years. The only way to survive is to keep growing or take on more debt, or both. “It is a ridiculously unproductive system,” he says.

Marohn points out that while this has been an issue as long as there have been suburbs, the problem has become more acute with each additional “life cycle” of suburban infrastructure (the point at which the systems need to be replaced—funded by debt, more growth, or both). Most U.S. suburbs are now on their third life cycle, and infrastructure systems have only become more bloated, inefficient, and costly. “When people say we’re living beyond our means, they’re usually talking about a forty-inch TV instead of a twenty-inch TV,” he says. “This is like pennies compared to the dollars we’ve spent on the way we’ve arranged ourselves across the landscape.”

Marohn and his friends are not the only ones warning about the fix we’ve put ourselves in. In 2010 the financial analyst Meredith Whitney wrote a now-famous report called The Tragedy of the Commons, whose title was taken from the economic principle that individuals will act on their own self-interest and deplete a shared resource for their own benefit, even if that goes against the long-term common good. In her report, Whitney said states and municipalities were on the verge of collapse thanks in part to irresponsible spending on growth. Likening the municipalities’ finances and spending patterns to those of the banks leading up to the financial crisis of 2008, Whitney explained how spending has far outpaced revenues—some states had spent two or three times their tax receipts on everything from infrastructure to teacher salaries to libraries—all financed by borrowing from future dollars.

Marohn, too, claims we’ve tilled our land in inefficient ways we can’t afford (Whitney is one of Marohn’s personal heroes). The “suburban experiment,” as he calls it, has been a fiscal failure. On top of the issues of low-density tax collection, sprawling development is more expensive to build. Roads are wider and require more paving. Water and sewage service costs are higher. It costs more to maintain emergency services since more fire stations and police stations are needed per capita to keep response times down. Children need to be bused farther distances to school. One study by the Denver Regional Council of Governments found that conventional suburban development would cost local governments $4.3 billion more in infrastructure costs than compact, “smart” growth through 2020, only counting capital construction costs for sewer, water, and road infrastructure. A 2008 report by the University of Utah’s Arthur C. Nelson estimated that municipal service costs in low-density, sprawling locations can be as much as 2.5 times those in compact, higher-density locations.

Marohn thinks this is all just too gluttonous. “The fact that I can drive to work on paved roads where I can drive fifty-five miles an hour the minute I leave my driveway despite the fact that I won’t see another car for five miles,” he says, “is living beyond our means on a grand, grand scale.”

Marohn is one of a growing number of sprawl refugees I encountered during my reporting—people who at one point helped enable the building of modern-day suburbia but now spend their days lobbying against it with the zeal of religious converts. Some, like Marohn, focus on the unsustainability of the financial structure. Others focus on the actual physical design of the suburbs and point to all the ways it’s flawed. Most of them argue for the development of more walkable communities closer to public transportation. But their unifying criticism is that our spread-out development pattern was manufactured, packaged, and sold to Americans as part of an American Dream that fails to deliver on its promises.

Leigh Gallagher is an assistant managing editor at Fortune and a frequent guest on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, among other national television and radio news shows. She lives in New York City. This article is excerpted from Gallagher’s book, The End of the Suburbs, out now in paperback.

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