Energy Prices Spurring "Reversal of Desirability"

norabeck's picture

Great article by Peter Goodman in today's New York Times, "Rethinking the Country Life as Energy Costs Rise," which focuses on the effects of rising energy prices on home sales in the Denver Metropolitan Area.

Goodman notes, "Across the nation, the realization is taking hold that rising energy prices are less a momentary blip than a change with lasting consequences. The shift to costlier fuel is threatening to slow the decades-old migration away from cities, while exacerbating the housing downturn by diminishing the appeal of larger homes set far from urban jobs."

Along with the complicated reasons for the real estate decline, Goodman explains that experts agree that the rising cost of energy is the primary factor for pushing home prices down in the suburbs. Joe Cortright predicts a “reversal of desirability. Typically, Americans have felt the periphery was most desirable, and now there’s going to be a reversion to the center.”

Chris Leinberger sees a more drastic future, with “[m]any low-density suburbs and McMansion subdivisions, including some that are lovely and affluent today, may become what inner cities became in the 1960s and ’70s — slums characterized by poverty, crime and decay.”

If Leinberger's assessment is true, what role can New Urbanism play in avoiding "slum-burbs"? Can these areas be retrofitted fast enough into walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods with real street networks, or should they be turned over back to habitat and agricultural uses?

Here are some key points within the article:

--"In March, Americans drove 11 billion fewer miles on public roads than in the same month the previous year, a 4.3 percent decrease — the sharpest one-month drop since the Federal Highway Administration began keeping records in 1942."

--"In 2003, the average suburban household spent $1,422 a year on gasoline, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By April of this year — when gas prices were about $3.60 a gallon— the same household was spending $3,196 a year, more than doubling consumption in dollar terms in less than five years."

--"More than three-fourths of prospective home buyers are now more inclined to live in an urban area because of fuel prices, according to a recent survey of 903 real estate agents with Coldwell Banker, the national brokerage firm."


The challenge of the

The challenge of the declining suburbs also has a twin: the booming urban neighborhoods. As people move back toward the center, how will these communities deal with rapid growth and neighborhood change? Will diversity and affordability be preserved, or will many residents find the need to move to farther-out neighborhoods and suburbs that are now becoming more affordable.

I've heard plenty of complaints in my neighborhood about the current wave of suburbanites moving in -- that they don't interact with their community, they drive everywhere, aren't tolerant of the expected noise of the city, etc. And this community reaction has taken the form of a fight against almost all new development that could enable more people to move into the neighborhood. We're also losing a lot of our affordable housing and low-rent apartments. I'm curious if neighbors in urban communities will be able to find common ground to keep their neighborhoods great places to live for everyone, or whether they'll succumb to reactionary behavior in the face of change.


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