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.
Image: Modern American History