High Gas Prices Won't Kill off Suburbs

With gas prices likely to head higher over the summer, expect urban
liberal journalists to step up their campaign to get everyone to not
just vote like them, but to live like them as well. The suburbs aren't
going away anytime soon, though, regardless of what Iran or Katie
Couric might do.

Joel
Kotkin has an interesting article in Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle which argues
that high gas prices will not only not kill off suburbia, they will actually
make more people want to move in.

Predictions of the demise of suburbia, choked to death by high gasoline prices, may be greatly exaggerated.

Conventional
wisdom suggests that high prices at the pump mean less driving and,
hence, the withering of far-flung suburbs, whose residents must drive
to jobs, shopping and recreation. [...]

Philadelphia
Inquirer commentary page editor John Timpane, for example, suggests
that high prices at the pump will lead to a return to the much
mythologized urban past. He calls it, "Driving us back to the way we
were." [...] 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. [...]

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.

The
energy-stricken '70s, notes Michael Carliner, an economist with the
National Association of Home Builders, produced no discernible clamor
for smaller houses or urban spaces. Driving, even by long-haul
commuters, did not change much, although people did shift to more
efficient, often foreign-made, cars.

Given this past
experience, it's logical to expect more of the same this time. Higher
gas prices will lead to fewer monster SUVs and more efficient cars,
whether hybrid models or simply smaller, lighter versions of
conventional cars. Home builders also may get smarter, as they did in
the 1970s, using better insulation, double-paned windows and more
efficient appliances, something that Carliner suggests might actually
make new homes more attractive to buyers. [...]

Another
thing that is unlikely to change is the trend toward urban
decentralization. The evidence over the past two years shows a growing
number of people moving from the largest cities to middle-sized and
smaller communities.

Ultimately, higher energy prices cannot
overcome the realities created by the car-oriented declustered
environment in which we now live and work. As Paul Larrousse, director
of the National Transit Institute, admits, the option for effective
transit use has faded as the nation, and its jobs, have "spread out."

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013