Monday, May 26

Adjusting to high gas prices

A great post on Planetizen last week riffed off of the stages of grieving to explain our response to rising gas prices.

1. Disbelief (this is only a bubble!)
2. Anger (how can they do this to us?)
3. Stupidity (no more gas taxes!)
4. Blame (Big oil/environmentalists are at fault!)
5. Greed (give us oil at any cost! Or else.)
6. Acceptance (this is the new reality)

Plenty of folks are still plodding around in the earlier stages of adjustment, but the heartening news is that many Americans have begun to work toward real solutions.

From the New York Times:

"Americans have started trading their gas guzzlers for smaller cars, making fewer trips to the mall and, wherever possible, riding public transportation to work.

For years, it was not clear whether rising prices would ever cause Americans to use less gas. But a combination of record prices, the slowing economy and a tight credit market has beaten consumers down.

Gasoline demand has fallen sharply since the beginning of the year and is headed for the first annual drop in 17 years, according to government estimates

Every indicator that people are seeking alternatives to the automobile is up, from bicycle sales to public transportation usage. This is good, but the trouble is that there is only a certain amount of wiggle room available for short-term changes in behavior. You can cancel that weekend trip, combine grocery shopping with picking the kids up from school, and maybe even switch to a different mode of transportation for the daily commute. However, more drastic changes are hard because the problem is more structural than it is personal. We have built our cities around the automobile for the last fifty years, and real estate doesn't exactly have the agility to respond quickly to market fluctuations. Houses move very slowly.

This is what Paul Krugman was pointing to in his column, Stranded in Suburbia:

"Any serious reduction in American driving will require more than this — it will mean changing how and where many of us live.

To see what I’m talking about, consider where I am at the moment [in Berlin]: in a pleasant, middle-class neighborhood consisting mainly of four- or five-story apartment buildings, with easy access to public transit and plenty of local shopping.

It’s the kind of neighborhood in which people don’t have to drive a lot, but it’s also a kind of neighborhood that barely exists in America, even in big metropolitan areas. Greater Atlanta has roughly the same population as Greater Berlin — but Berlin is a city of trains, buses and bikes, while Atlanta is a city of cars, cars and cars.

And in the face of rising oil prices, which have left many Americans stranded in suburbia — utterly dependent on their cars, yet having a hard time affording gas — it’s starting to look as if Berlin had the better idea.

If this isn't a clear call for healthy urbanism, I don't know what is.

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