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The Option of Urbanism: Investing in a New American Dream by Christopher B. Leinberger
American Society of Civil Engineers: Report Card, asset allocation, big-box store, centre right, commoditize, credit crunch, David Brooks, desegregation, Donald Trump, drive until you qualify, edge city, full employment, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Jane Jacobs, knowledge economy, McMansion, mortgage tax deduction, new economy, New Urbanism, peak oil, Ponzi scheme, postindustrial economy, RAND corporation, Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, reserve currency, Richard Florida, Seaside, Florida, the built environment, transit-oriented development, urban planning, urban renewal, urban sprawl, walkable city, white flight
There are obvious short-term cost benefits to consumers in this cheaper construction, but the end result is that modern construction quality is generally considered much worse than almost anything built prior to the 1930s Depression.2 There is an obvious irony in this; today’s Americans make three times more in real dollar terms than our ancestors living in the 1920s, yet we can not seem to build buildings of as high quality as those built then.3 Drivable sub-urban for-sale housing development also results in cheaper land costs per dwelling unit if the consumer is willing to “drive until you qualify.” Various studies have shown that for every mile from an employment center a home buyer is willing to drive, the price of the house drops by between 1.5 and 6.0 percent.4 Housing affordability has therefore been directly tied to transportation. “Drive until you qualify” has become the basic American affordable housing policy. Smaller suburban governments allow households to cluster together in relatively homogeneous jurisdictions—the “birds of a feather flock together” phenomenon described in chapter 2. Sociologists have found that this flocking together of people “just like us” (JLUs) is crucial to the selection of a neighborhood in which to live, raise, and educate children, and invest in the largest family asset.
According to Donald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking, parking policies are responsible for much of the look of development today.6 In summary, the benefits of drivable sub-urbanism have come down to: terrestrial affiliation—having a piece of land to call one’s own, lower costs, due to inherently cheaper construction and infrastructure subsidies, more land, particularly if one is willing to “drive until you qualify,” lower community taxes, improved public schools, privacy, perceived safety, and abundant free parking. Getting better services, privacy, and more house for a lower cost is about as good as it gets. The domestic policy of promoting drivable suburbanism made the decision what could only be called a “no-brainer.” What’s not to like? UNINTENDED NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES OF DRIVABLE SUB - URBANISM However, there is no such thing as a free lunch; there are always unintended, generally negative, consequences to any social engineering experiment.
In essence, drivable sub-urbanism has probably been shifting family spending away from investing in a long-term appreciating asset (e.g., a house) or savings to a short-term depreciating asset (e.g., a car). The above calculations were for a typical car-owning family, but the findings become even more grim for a working-class family. A 2006 study of eighteen metropolitan areas throughout the country found that working families spend even more on transportation than on housing, a reflection of the “drive until you qualify” affordable housing strategy.47 “In their search for low-cost housing, working families often locate far from their place of work, dramatically increasing their transportation costs and commute times.” The unintended consequences do not stop there; this means less time with the family, increased traffic congestion for the region, and greater greenhouse gas emissions. INFRASTRUCTURE AND ECONOMIC COMPETITIVENESS.
A Pattern Language, active transport: walking or cycling, big-box store, Buckminster Fuller, car-free, carbon footprint, clean water, congestion charging, delayed gratification, distributed generation, drive until you qualify, East Village, food miles, garden city movement, hydrogen economy, invisible hand, Jane Jacobs, linear programming, McMansion, Murano, Venice glass, Negawatt, New Urbanism, off grid, oil shale / tar sands, peak oil, placebo effect, Stewart Brand, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Thomas L Friedman, unemployed young men, urban planning, urban sprawl, walkable city, zero-sum game
As the price of fuel contributed to business closures, job layoffs, and rapid increases in the cost of food, clothing, medical care, and travel of all kinds, American homeowners at the margin were pushed beyond their ability to adjust—especially if the houses they had stretched to buy were in the newest, most distant suburbs, whose residents face the longest, most expensive commutes. (“Drive until you qualify” is the mortgage broker’s expression of the inverse relationship between fuel consumption and what buyers perceive to be affordable real estate.) A new house that was barely within reach when oil was $20 a barrel became a financial land mine when oil was $145 a barrel. The global credit bubble would have burst regardless—for too many years, too many financial institutions had aggressively lent money they didn’t have to people who couldn’t pay it back, making it easier for all of us to buy things we couldn’t afford—but the cost of energy was among the proximate causes, and it will always be one of the main factors determining the health of any of the world’s economies, from the poorest to the richest.