Friday, June 23, 2006
My main beef with suburbia involves how nauseating it is to bike through it. But here’s the urban planning / peak oil take on suburbia.
First though, you really have to see The End of Suburbia. It’s a documentary you can find at places like Queen Video, and it shows up at the rep. theatres like Bloor Cinema.
A long, long time ago you have a village located where a river empties into a lake, surrounded by farmland. The population of the village is roughly limited by how much food can be produced in the area.
The village grows into a city, and becomes industrialized. The city starts getting rough and gritty and dirty, and those who can move further and further away from the city center. After WWI, this movement from the city center is enabled by the suddenly plentiful supplies of cheap oil. The U.S. incidentally was the world’s biggest oil producing nation up until roughly 1972, when they reached their “peak oil” limit, and production has fallen off since then (making it necessary to cut deals with the Saudis and invade Iraq to keep themselves bathing in oil).
As cheap oil, and Henry Ford’s cheap cars, enabled people to move further from their jobs, you have a simultaneous break down in public transit. As urban planners realize the trend is towards everyone driving everywhere, they plan for highways and streets rather than bus lines and light rail. It doesn’t help that the car and oil companies are buying up public transit systems just to dismantle them and force people to buy cars and gas. See the General Motors Street Car Conspiracy on Wikipedia.
We ALSO have the upper middle class, who have moved to housing developments outside of the city, using municipal zoning laws to protect themselves from having to share space with stores and industries, which are thought of as fire risks etc. So laws go into effect which FORCE the separation of residential areas from business areas.
The Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty (U.S. Supreme Court):
“(Zoning works for the) promotion of the health and security from injury of children and others by separating dwelling houses from territory devoted to trade and industry; suppression and prevention of disorder; facilitating the extinguishments of fires, and the enforcement of street traffic regulations and other general welfare ordinances; aiding the health and safety of the community by excluding from residential areas the confusion and danger of fire, contagion and disorder which in greater or less degree attach to the location of stores, shops and factories.”
So, if cities and their suburbs are designed to keep people far from where they work, with the thought being that they’ll drive back and forth everywhere, and you add in the 20th century’s unbelievable population growth, you have suburbia.
And what’s wrong with suburbia? What’s wrong with rows upon rows of “little boxes?” (a la the Malvina Reynolds song)?
Well, apart from everything else (obesity rates going up because no one walks, thousands of tons of pesticides dumped on lawns, gated communities furthering racial divides), what is REALLY wrong with them is what will happen to them once peak oil hits. If gas prices skyrocket, and you live far from work and far from the Price Chopper, how feasible will your life really be in the suburbs? Will you try to move closer to work again? Will the suburbs empty and become wastelands?
And what about all the farmland we’ve paved over to create freeways and Wal Marts? If oil goes into sharp decline, if a huge recession hits, if international shipping is severely reduced and we can’t get our grapes from California, what will these huge urban populations live on?
Imagine what will happen if everyone in the Greater Toronto Area has to depend on the food which can be produced in southern Ontario – it’s simply not possible, too many farms have been destroyed by sprawl and the populations have become too huge.
The answer? Saying no to cars and the havoc they're creating, and fight for a redefinition of our living space - fight for bike lanes, public transit, and small communities where houses and shops/business are integrated and people can walk, bike, public transit to work.