Chuck Marohn is a University of Minnesota-trained civil engineer with a master’s degree in city and urban planning. He grew up on a farm near Baxter, Minnesota and now lives near Brainerd. He’s also a gadfly — so much so that colleagues in the profession (he calls it “the infrastructure cult”) are trying to take his license away because, like Socrates, he has a questioning attitude.

The hemlock hasn’t been served, yet, nor does the threat appear to deter Marohn. He started writing a blog in 2009 that offered up some ideas on land use planning and road building that challenged the conventional wisdom on both subjects. The blog, subsequently, turned into four books and a national organization, Strong Towns, with hundreds of followers. I’m one of them.

Marohn is an “urbanist” — not one of those reflexively density-loving, Met Council types who’d stash most of us in condominiums and make us bike to work. He’s a friendly, fiscal conservative best summed up in this quote: “I am a guy who started out writing a blog and felt like I was a voice in the wilderness with maybe some crazy ideas that people around here certainly weren’t buying.” His most recent book, “Confessions of A Recovering Engineer” came out last week. I’ve read and recommend it.

Marohn isn’t the preachy anti-growth type one often finds in the sustainability movement. His arguments are mainly economic. Our post-war, freeway building suburban experiment is a Ponzi scheme that will go on demanding more growth and more road building to pay for those already built until the law of diminishing returns and environmental degradation combine and bring it all down in a heap. Marohn says we can’t build our way out of congestion without destroying the environment and bankrupting ourselves along the way. I agree with him. It’s time for change.

Suburbs boomed after World War II. People were sick of the Depression and the war and city life. They wanted fresh air and room to plant a garden. They wanted automobiles to take them wherever and whenever they wanted to go. They didn’t want to follow trolley, train or bus schedules.

Over time, as the economy prospered, homes grew from tidy 1,500 square foot Cape Cods and bungalows to sprawling, 6,000 square foot castles with three car garages. My parents bought, and moved into, a brand-new house in Bloomington in 1953. I recall they paid $14,000 for what was a modest place with a single car garage. There were no trees or grass. Dad put in all the landscaping. They lived there for over twenty years.

I never cared for our suburban digs, or the suburban lifestyle, preferring my grandparent’s home on West Minnehaha in St. Paul. It was built in 1905 and came with huge boulevard trees, a big front porch, great neighbors, and, best of all, the Hamline Cherokee streetcar that ran by at regular intervals. Grandpa and Grandma took streetcars everywhere, and I always rode along. Grandpa bought a car and put up a garage in the 1930s, but I was told the car mostly sat.

Their house, and it’s memories, are why my wife and I, on retirement, bought our 1907 vintage home on Pleasant Street — but it almost came to naught. A short time after we moved in, the City of Prior Lake hired a consultant who recommended Highway 21 be moved south and the vacated portion of Highway 21 be commercially developed — wiping out the Pleasant and Colorado Street neighborhoods; the oldest in Prior Lake.

It was my first brush with the “infrastructure cult” and its developer buddies. The county joined in and backed the city. For a time, it was touch and go, but the neighborhood stuck together and eventually prevailed. That’s when I discovered Chuck Marohn and became a disciple of the “no build” fraternity.

Today’s engineering profession has a one-dimensional monomania. Sample this logic:

Traffic congestion can only be solved by building more capacity, even if it means tearing down neighborhoods and historic buildings, or ripping out a neighborhood’s trees and sidewalks to make room for more cars, and higher speeds. State rules say a local street has to be a certain width. If it isn’t, you don’t get your funding. Cars can collide with boulevard trees. Per corollary, trees are unsafe — no more boulevard trees. Asphalt and concrete are more important than trees and people.

I’m hearing some of this logic from city engineers as they plan the rebuilding of Pleasant Street next summer — specifically, no boulevard trees. Never mind that Pleasant Street once had a canopy of leafy elms and a “small town feel.” Whatever happened to that? All the remaining well established boulevard trees will come down in this project. Chuck Marohn’s new book has some different ideas. He’s speaking at New Ulm on Oct. 13 — perhaps he should stop by. Otherwise, read his books. Check out the Strong Towns website and be a gadfly. We need more of them.

Above all, save the trees.

John Diers is a Prior Lake resident who spent 40 years working in the transit industry and is the author of “Twin Cities by Trolley: The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul” and “St. Paul Union Depot.” To submit questions or topics for community columnists, email