May 15, 2006

JOEL KOTKIN thinks high gas prices might actually be good for suburbia:

CNN recently published a study that suggested that the “best cities” in an oil crisis are those much-loved traditional cities such as San Francisco, New York, Boston and Chicago.

Yet in reality, these fears — or hopes — may well prove misplaced. Higher energy costs could make people look for work closer to home, which for most of them is the suburbs.

Perhaps the best way to test the thesis of higher energy prices constricting suburbia is to look at the experience of the 1970s. In that decade, Americans faced an even steeper price rise than that anticipated by almost anyone today. Worse, we were hopelessly unprepared for it, and far more jobs, particularly high-paying ones, were located in the urban core.

So what happened? People reacted, but not by jumping on mass transit in big numbers. In fact, transit use continued to decline from 6.4 percent of commuters to 5.3 percent between 1970 and 1980.

Nor did people move en masse to traditional older cities. In fact, the 1970s proved to be the only decade in the 20th century that overall urban population declined. Suburbanization proceeded apace, with jobs and people heading out to the hinterlands.

(Via NewsAlert). I’ve had some related thoughts here and especially here.

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