Rising Oil Prices Will Turn Suburbs into Remote Slums: New Report

There have been no shortage of well-researched reports issuing warnings that the era of cheap, plentiful oil is reaching its twilight. Just how long it will be before such a shortage impacts the various oil-dependent economies around the world is still hotly debated, but many predict prices to start rising in just a few years. Even the US military says that we could start seeing massive shortages of oil as soon as 2015. Such shortages would not only effect the products we buy and the kind of transportation we use — but could reshape the way we organize our societies from the ground up.

Highlighting this often overlooked factor, a new study from the Australian Planner goes so far to argue that unless it radically reforms its urban planning and transportation policy, suburbs will become slums. There have been plenty of stories done on the topic of suburbs-turning-slums in the wake of the housing crash, but this report suggests that the price of oil will make the shift permanent.

Here’s the Age on the key takeaway of the study: “One of the study’s authors, Professor Peter Newman of Curtin University, who is also an adviser to the federal government, said the most compelling finding of the research was that ‘urban sprawl is finished’. He said: ‘If we continue to roll out new land releases and suburbs that are car-dependent, they will become the slums of the future.'”

Newman points out that it will soon become prohibitively expensive to link remote suburbs to urban areas with public transportation — those communities will then be cut off and isolated from regional economic centers. As oil prices rise, people who have the resources to do so will move out (back towards the cities) and housing prices will plummet. From there on out, it’s pretty easy to imagine the decades evolving such locales into grim places filled with crumbling cookie-cutter tract housing.

Hell, this generation’s young professionals are already trending towards living in walkable communities — soaring oil prices will only make the Levittowns of the world even less appealing. And all of these principles apply to the US more than anywhere — though the foreclosure crisis has stalled development for the time being, you can bet that suburbs and exurbs will begin growing again, long before the rug is eventually pulled out from under them. Which is why we need to start planning more sustainable communities — as democratically as possible, of course — for the long term, right now.

Newman is right: urban sprawl is finished.

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Image: Modern American History

About Brian Merchant

Brian Merchant is a founding editor of the Utopianist.. When he's not helming the Utopianist, he is TreeHugger's politics writer, contributes the Getting Samy Out of Burma column to, and freelances for the likes of Salon and Paste. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

24 thoughts on “Rising Oil Prices Will Turn Suburbs into Remote Slums: New Report

    1. People should be allowed to live wherever they want without feeling guilty. While CO2 is not bad for the planet, (it promotes growth of more plants which in turn produce more clean oxygen) other pollutants in exhaust are bad for life on earth. There should be an electric infrastructure capable of supporting commuters. We had it right 100 years ago with trolleys rather than diesel-guzzling buses every where.

    1. The author completely fails to have any vision of the status qua doing anything other then lying down and dying.
      not a single thought turned to adatave tech.
      Nothing about electric cars.
      about solar futures.
      about having a garden in your back yard to feed you.
      nope he thinks the future for mankind is to be crammed nut to ass in urban slums (well he calls them livable cities but people moved out of them for a reason and that reason wasn’t just to piss him off)

      1. White Flight supported by a government focused on outward expansion with a one-two punch of the GI bill and the Eisenhower interstate system. Citizens were being offered record low mortgage rates, with a portion of the down payment being funded by the government (so long as they purchased new construction in certain regions) and a brand new transportation option that offset the loss of public transit.

        I am ashamed that American cities are viewed as cramp slums. This isn’t 1850s Brooklyn. I spend more time outdoors, in parks, swimming in lakes, walking and riding my bike than any of my suburban colleagues. While they are stuck in rush hour traffic for two hours every evening I am riding home through parks along the lakefront, making it home to my family long before they are even outside the city limits.

    2. The argument is that demand will and is growing for livable cities, and will and is shrinking for sprawl. That this is driven by a change in preferences and might be reinforced by rising resource costs as supply cannot keep up with surging demand from emerging markets. You can argue that is wrong (I was also struck by not allowing for tech advances… Algae or natural gas alone could keep fuel costs low… Preferences might still shift, but not as catastraphically), but it is the essence of capitalism.

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