by Richard T. Stuebi
Last week, both CNN and the Wall Street Journal ran stories that similarly raised the heretical question: is the American dream of suburbanism being killed by high gas prices? Increasingly, the answer seems, yes.
Eastern philosophies teach us that our strengths are also our weaknesses. In the case of the U.S., our abundance of land led to a pervasive trend of sprawl in the last half of the 20th Century. We fled cities and towns to massive homes on big tracts in subdivisions, premised on the convenience afforded by independent vehicles on running on low-cost roads and gasoline.
The boon of growth has now become our bane. No longer can people rely upon cheap fuel, and as gasoline purchases fall, so too will the quality and/or affordability of the road infrastructures as Departments of Transportation become underfunded. In short, many Americans are now trapped living in a system of deteriorating fundamentals.
The pathway out of the conundrum may lie in the concept of New Urbanism — a smart-growth philosophy based heavily on transit-oriented development (TOD). TOD implies mixed-use clusters of green buildings, highly-walkable communities, nested around mass transportation nodes. TOD seems increasingly inevitable as a response to the new realities of the 21st Century.
It won’t (can’t) happen quickly, but I speculate that America will slowly but surely begin to look more European: cities and towns with refocused density, linked by mass transit corridors (e.g., rail), allowing the rural countryside to re-emerge in its glory between the developed areas. CleanTech innovators and entrepreneurs are well-advised to be working with this macro-trend in mind.