Rising Oil Prices May End Suburban Way of Life

April 30, 2008 07:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Low gasoline prices and modern freeways gave rise to American suburbia, but as oil tops $120 per barrel some experts say suburbs could become ghost towns.

30-Second Summary

As prices rise at the gas pump, some urban policy experts predict a “painful shift” for America away from its beloved car-powered suburban culture of shopping malls, subdivisions and box retailers.

Urban-centered sprawl is “the greatest misallocation of resources the world has ever known,” says author James Howard Kunstler.

As part of a trend some call “slumurbia,” the outer-ring suburbs of American cities—often called “exurbs”—will see an exodus of educated, higher-income earners, says Brookings Institution fellow Christopher Leinberger. “The knowledge workers can’t afford the time cost, and they can’t afford the commuting time,” he says.

Indeed, some suburban residents literally can’t afford their commutes, now that gasoline is flirting with the $4-per-gallon mark. Deborah Hill told Philadelphia CBS affiliate KYW that she can barely afford to get to her job, saying “commuting is the worst thing.”

Proposed solutions vary. Writer Joel Kotkin argues that telecommuting will keep exurbs vibrant. He also says such towns, with numerous business centers instead of a defined downtown, are more “democratic” because people of many socioeconomic levels can afford to live in them.

Meanwhile, Atlantic Monthly’s Matthew Iglesias calls for an end to gas subsidies and better high-density housing options in order to wean America off its cars. “The cost of driving should be priced more appropriately,” he says, “and people will respond to that.”

Headline Link: ‘Good-Bye, Cheap Oil. So Long, Suburbia?’

Videos: ‘End of Suburbia’ and rising gas prices

Opinion & Analysis: The social costs of suburbia

Reference: Fuel economy; oil prices and suburbia

Related Topics: ‘With Oil Running Out, Learn to Conserve Now’


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