Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Is this the end, suburbia?

I read an article this morning on BusinessWeek entitled "Good-Bye, Cheap Oil. So Long, Suburbia?" that seemed to be right up the alley of my blog.

The article is about the predictions of a writer named James Kunstler who lives in nearby Saratoga Springs, NY. Mr. Kunstler seems to believe that the increase in oil prices is going to bring an abrupt end to suburban sprawl, strip malls and Wal-Mart.

As much as I feel that the suburban way of life is doing massive damage to our planet, I'm not sure that it's just going to end because of gas/oil prices. I'm sure that there will still be people that feel safer in a small neighborhood away from large amounts of other people. How many families will want to sell their property in the suburbs and a move into an apartment or house on a tiny city lot and send their kids to inner city schools and to play in public parks and community swimming pools instead of letting them play in their reasonably safe back yard? How many people will change jobs to be closer to work if the company they work for is located in a city with a higher cost of living or higher crime rates than their current suburb? (Or the business is located in an industrial park in a different suburban area?)

I'm definitely not anti-city. However, the argument can be made that the draw of "suburbia" isn't going to end just because gasoline is expensive. At least around here suburban neighborhoods have schools with better reputations. Residential property values are higher and seem to retain their value better. Crime rates are lower. Many large local businesses have offices that are outside of downtown areas probably because commercial property values are lower. Two income families have to find a central location between both people's respective jobs which, quite often it seems, are in different directions. Some cities have higher tax rates than many suburbs.

I guess what I'm saying that when the company I work for relocates to a nearby city (from the suburb it's in now) in about a year and a half I would love to move to a house in that city that I can walk to work from. However, that would still leave my girlfriend with a commute that's about the same distance as mine is now. We'd be saving a the equivalent of a 20 minute car ride (her approximate current daily round trip commute) for more crime, lower property values, less personal space, higher taxes, etc.

I just don't think that suburbia is going to end any time soon.

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