Man behind the (sprawl) curtain
“Your city has been making decisions for you for a long time. Those decisions have led to this point: You’re standing in your driveway, keys in hand, wondering why you don’t seem to have a choice. You need socks or cereal. You want to see a movie with a friend. Each of those mundane tasks seems to require a journey of some distance. Why are these things so separated?” — Susan Piedmont-Palladino, “Intelligent Cities“
Here’s the main problem I have with anti-government status-quo boosters: they’re somehow completely blind to how government created the existing situation, but then loudly whine about how government shouldn’t change anything! Not even removing its distortionary supports for the status quo!
That perspective completely ignores that the oil/sprawl status quo has suffered a sea change regardless of government’s (in)action. Consider:
- Miles driven plateaued in 2007 and is now declining, shrinking relative to all the factors that supposedly caused its growth (GDP, population, employment)
- Not only that, car ownership is actually declining in the USA
- Completions of the three iconic suburban building types (detached houses, malls, office parks) have fallen to post-1950 lows, or in some cases basically stopped*
- Along with that, migration to the suburbs has also passed an inflection point
- Rail freight transport is about two-thirds cheaper than trucking, per ton-mile
- If you’re going to cheerlead a fossil fuel, oil’s the wrong one: CNG is now 36% cheaper than gasoline per gallon equivalent
* Might be interesting to research this on the housing-starts front. Post adapted from a comment to GGW.