Saturday, June 28, 2008

Suburban Slums?

In February and again in April I posted about the threat to the future of the suburbs caused by higher energy costs, so I felt vindicated by an article in Thursday’s NYT business section taking the same view. (“Fuel Prices Shift Math for Life in Far Suburbs”) According to Moody’s, real estate prices in the suburbs are declining faster than in city centers. The article quotes urban land use expert Christopher B. Leinberger, writing in The Atlantic Monthly that “many low-density suburbs and McMansion subdivisions, including some that are lovely and affluent today, may become what inner cities became in the 1960s and ’70s — slums characterized by poverty, crime and decay.”

With oil recently hitting a new high, and with carbon taxation or trading almost certain within the next few years, I see every likelihood that the trend in fuel prices will continue upwards (though of course there may be temporary dips) unless and until we actually start using a lot less of it.

Meanwhile I am 3 weeks into life in central London, where the population density is such that I can reach almost anything I want on foot and where an abundance of public transport makes the occasional longer journey a breeze. I realize not everyone can live here, but most cities in Europe offer good public transport and America is going to have to follow. According to the NYT article, the average suburban household in America already spends over $3000 a year on gasoline; as this increases the incentive to move inward will increase and the value of the suburban property will decrease.

My message as before is to get out of the suburbs while the getting’s relatively good.

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