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Great article. I'd say, however, that we're already seeing the suburban slums start, especially in larger east coast cities. If you look at where the large investments are being made in cities across the country, it's pretty clear that more money is flowing into urban cores than before.

M37 gives us a different challenge, though: if we need to have a dense urban core because of the cost of transportation, how will that core be planned? If there are no teeth to land use laws, then that planning, and the livability of our city, is even more threatened.


And, when we come up with these urban renewal projects, how do we keep them from being elitist urban ghettos filled with multi-million dollar townhomes and condos? This will become more of a problem as people decide to move back to the urban centers. In Portland we have the Pearl District which was partially subsidized with tax payer dollars but is one of those wealthy ghettos. When planning these projects, planners need to require the builders to build mixed housing.

My husband and I live close in, and the neighborhood is full of townhomes, condos, apartments who's inhabitants fall into all kinds of income levels. It's a vibrant little area where we all know eachother and communicate much more than the previous suburb I lived in. If this neighborhood were filled with 1 million dollar condos, it wouldn't be the same.



In response to your post and the trackback:

Your arguments are well taken. The point of my post, however, is that none of this stuff will matter when we're confronted with the impending energy crisis. The suburban lifestyle can not be sustained. "The philosophic treatment of homes as an investment" also applies to urban properties, so I agree with your argument there, but without cheap oil the concept of the suburbs and their continual sprawl would be limited. Cheap oil has been the driving force of our economy in the last 50 years. Globalization wouldn't be happening right now if it weren't for cheap oil... we'd still be eating Oregon pears rather than pears from Chile.

So, yes, in regards to the housing market as a whole, my argument is simple because I'm only looking at the energy factor. The housing market, as you point out so well in your post, is much more complex and will continue to be due to all the special interests involved, cheap oil or not.

I'm assuming in my post that if gas were ten dollars a gallon, that M37 probably wouldn't have much impact because it would be too expensive to even develop rural subdivisions, let alone live in them.


Gas is not a limiting factor to sprawl. I think Japan is slightly ahead in the hybrid and fuel cell development, as a consequence perhaps of their higher dependence than the US and in spite of higher living density; and perhaps due to the simple economics of preparing a product for market in the US.

Did you notice that GM had only leased their cute electric cars to a bunch of folks in California suburbs, often with shared use by local residents? They pulled the plug (I believe by not renewing the leases) and demanded return of the vehicles a year or so ago.

That would resemble a motivation that is quite contrary to a free market response to higher gas prices. Unless one recognizes the interlocking ownership of oil peddlers and vehicle manufactures, and the prevalence of monopolistic control.

The high gas prices and the ability to make use of carefully choreographed shortages, Enron-style, will yield glorious profits for some folks over the next ten to twenty years.

The problem with CAFE standards was that it would reduce demand. But even that was/is minuscule as compared to the full adoption of more advanced technologies.

The saddest feature of the oil game is that oil profits will be used to kill advanced technologies, by buying them up and sitting on them; a variation of the Enron-style approach to profitability. We need a real capitalist to stick their nose in the business of the monopolist folks that keep giving capitalism a bad name. Don't forget that the car companies and oil companies once bought up the trolleys many years ago. It is the same thing today with the technology that could doom the continued use of oil in personal transport devices.

A solution might be to apply a policy that favors, of all things, development and use of land and resources over non use. Adverse possession, as applied to land, allows a neighbor, for example, to openly and hostilely use adjoining land for grazing livestock for ten years (in some states 12 or 15 years) and thereby gain title to that land, unless interrupted by a trespass action. Now I see no publicly beneficial use that a car or oil company might have in buying up non-gas technology, or even developing a patent on their own, if the purpose is to assure its non use. A good anti-monopoly law could simply split off the gas-competing technology stuff from the oil peddlers and gas-only-car-companies such that they find some application where consumers at least have a choice and a producer strives to meet the demand.

The Public Utility Holding Company Act (PUHCA) of 1935 prevents a utility holding company from subsidizing unregulated business activities with profits obtained from their regulated business activities and captive customers. If one looks at the oil peddlers and gas-only-car-companies as a monopoly, much like that of a utility holding company, then breaking them up would be beneficial to the economy, at least to the extent that the present conglomerate uses anti-capitalist activities to thwart the emergence of new technology.

I don't know how that fits into your Measure 37 oil argument, which depends perhaps on whether you view cheap gas as the driver of sprawl or whether existing sprawl has created a hostage to high gas prices. It seems independent from sprawl, as driver or hostage, because there are other more significant factors to both sprawl and to gas prices.

Before I move along there is the crazy notion of a credit outfit, GMC credit, that wants easy access to Alan Greenspan money only to redirect it to purchases from its favorite car sellers. If this were looked at from the context of a local community bank it would be like redlining certain geographic areas, for economic reasons but that have a disparate impact upon minorities. Here, in the car setting, the banking function would surely disfavor any offer for the purchase of non-gas-dependent cars made by manufactures unaffiliated with their favorite gas-only-car manufactures. The loser is not a person of color but the more esoteric and theoretical benefits from a properly functioning capitalist economy that would have been shared by all.

Isn't it wonderful . . . living in a company town where there is no capitalism, just the shifting sands of monopoly power? The perception of dependence on oil is just that, a perception, and some good old fashioned capitalism could point the way to a non-oil paradigm, if given half a chance.


The question is, can alternative sources be enough to cover the amount of oil and natural gas the world is currently consuming?

I support R&D in alternative fuel as do many people, but the current oligarchy isn't interested. If we continue to be forced to live in a nation that is led by an oil oligarchy, then what are our options?

I hear a lot of talk about hydrogen fuel cells, but you need energy to create the hydrogen. You have to look at the whole picture. For example, the act of driving a hybrid saves fuel, but the production of that car consumed a lot of energy. Growing corn for ethanol requires energy. Building wind turbines requires energy.

I think there's a perception out there that alternative energy is going to solve all of our energy problems. It might help, but we're not acting on it. When you consider that China's energy consumption in the last three years has increased by 20%, it makes a person wonder how on earth are we going to keep up with wildly increasing rates of consumption. Energy analysts predict that within the next five years India's consumption will increase by a whopping 30%. In the meantime, our own rates of consumption are increasing.

If you do the math on this and combine it with the rate that alternatives are being developed, it doesn't look too good.

Even after reading your comments, I still strongly believe that cheap oil/gas has been the main instigator in making the burbs so prolific. America would be a lot different today if it weren't for cheap energy. If we had to pay as much for our energy as the Europeans do, our cities would quite likely be more similar to theirs.

Try and get your hands on a copy of "The End of Suburbia" and let me know what you think.


A quick froogle search on 50cc in the price range of 600 to 900 brings up lots of options.

Fat America might save on health care if we used scooters a bit more often. I'm assuming that the ride might consume as much energy as say . . . walking.

Canada has lots of oil trapped in form that, while identifiable, should be too expensive to bring to market. I'm sure that the folks that brought us the oil wars to "save our way of life" will say that in the interest of our way of life that the inefficiency of extracting oil where it is too expensive to extract is just a price we must pay to save our "way of life" too. It is just that the oil folks would have a harder time preventing the internalization of the cost of processing the stuff in Canada. The cost of a war is far easier, politically, to keep externalized from the pump-price for gas.

The oil wars, to the extent that it is about oil, is the price of a dysfunctional economic system. It is a price of not-internalizing the true cost of the commodity.

Bear in mind that OPEC is blessed as a Cartel, in a world where Free Trade is supposed to rule. I cannot think of a more absurd juxtaposition and abomination to economics anywhere else on the face of this planet. The winner in the long-run among the folks sitting on oil are the folks smart enough to be the ones at the tail end (time wise) on tapping into their reserves. The consuming countries are trapped not by their lack of oil but by their perceived desire for oil, as an easy and cheap source of energy. If higher learning and the ability to add value to natural resources through the use of our brains were the natural progression of a properly function economic system we would have already been using an alternative, instead of the barrel of a gun. Either we do not have the brains or the economic system is dysfunctional. I believe it is the latter.

A country that is sitting on oil is more likely to experience dictatorship precisely because of the fight to grasp all the benefits of extraction for the benefit of a small clique. The fight to benefit, disproportionately, from oil also affects the consuming countries too, as in the US where Exxon recently reported (a year or so ago) the best profits it has ever had.

Do not sweat the shortage of oil but rather sweat the continued abundance of oil, for it is destructive to progress economically and politically.

Our little cars are little bubbles that isolate us from one another, to the detriment of the quality of our lives. Suburbia is filled with over-sized homes that serve the ego's of folks wanting to put their appearance of success on display, but it is only relative to their neighbors. It is silly, really. We have an addiction to consumerism . . . now if I could only get the good doctors to call it a disease then we could ask the Federal Reserve to quit adding fueling to our self-destructive habits.

I suppose I could superimpose, for comparison, the recognition that the trade in illicit drugs is more destructive than the ultimate consumption of low level drugs. The use of gas is not as destructive as the trade in oil (holding aside the global warming debate), just as it is with drugs. At least with gas we can look forward, with sweet anticipation, to the day that the oil-drug runs out.

Do not dread the passing of the oil-era but treat it as either irrelevant or something to embrace with joy. That will give you piece of mind, if nothing else, which has a value all by itself.

I don't think that the top of Maslow's hierarchy is the one who can consume the most oil, nor would the complete lack of oil prevent reaching the top. The belief, however, that oil is essential might prevent some people from feeling as though they have reached the top. Some people just never have enough to satisfy their cravings. I would suggest reading some stuff from Veblen as a little distraction, and social commentary, from an age that predates the era of big oil and Keynesian economics. Must we all work till we drop, to satisfy our cavings, or the cravings of others? You can step off the treadmill if you get half a chance.

(Sorry for the long post.)


No apologies needed for your long post.

I'm not sweating the impending peak-oil era. I think it will be good in the long run (emphasis on 'the long run'.) Unfortunately the nature of human beings, particularly North American human beings is to stick our heads in the sand until something bad happens.

I think post peak-oil will be good for small business because hopefully it will break up the existing monopolies that operate in nearly every industry.

Look at today's New Seasons insert in the O. On the front it asks "Where is your lamb grown?" And then there is a map of New Zealand that says "Much of the lamb sold in Portland is grown here, 7,300 miles away." Above it is a map of Oregon with the town of Riddle on it and a caption that reads, "New Seasons Market lamb is grown here, 160 miles away."

A lot of people consider locally grown meat and produce as "hoitie-toitie" because it is used by chefs at places like Higgins, Noble Rot, Ciao Vito's, etc. where hoitie-toitie types eat. But what people don't realize is that these chefs and stores have a value system that is based on something bigger than just the better taste of locally produced food. They don't want you only to be eating locally grown stuff at their restaurants. They want you to eat it as much as possible. They want you to shop at the local farmers markets and to cook your own food at home. It's about small local businesses, small farmers, energy consumption, simplified lifestyles, community, sustainability,...

In the Portland area there is an organization called the Chefs' Collaborative. Each year they have a conference with all the small local farmers where food service people get a chance to meet the farmers. They talk about energy efficiency in food production, water efficiency,... basically it's all about sustainability. It's about how food buyers and chefs can support small farmers who are practicing sustainable agriculture.

Post peak-oil will force us to move "mentally" back into our communities where food and products are produced locally. It will either be a smooth transition or one with huge upheavals that will be politically distruptive. Either we prepare ourselves for it or we don't. Can we produce enough food in the region to feed everybody? Should we be paving over our farmlands?

I agree with you on sweating the continued abundance of oil, something we will continue to have for at least 20-30 more years. It impedes capitalism.

BTW, my dad who was a sociology prof was a huge fan of T. Veblen.

Albert Kaufman

Thanks for the interesting disucssion. Came here from

Nowhere in these various discussions does anyone mention population. Over and over again I hear shows and blogs on sustainability that leave this part out of the equation as if we can continue to just keep growing and growing. If every time there was a discussion about oil, social security, the environment, dems framing issues, whatever - if someone would inject the issue of population into things, we'd all come to see that that is the core issue. We can fix a symptom here and there, even with alternative energy, there's still this increasing by 75million people a year, population.

Lots more I can say about that, but now must hop in my 35-mile to the gallon 91 Camry and drive 30 minutes home on a crowded highway from Vancouver, WA to about Beaverton.


The typical population argument posits that as a country converts from an agrarian society to an industrialized country that kids become a liability rather than an asset.

The US, like its' West European counterparts, would have declining population were it not for immigration. The population problem is a matter of bringing industrialization to lesser developed countries. This of course implies heavy consumption of finite natural resources which has formed such an important role in the economic development in the US.

In one sense it is economic stagnation and inequity in the distribution of wealth that has partially caused the decline in births, rather than development per se, but that would just be my own theory.


Interesting, however, that the countries with the fastest declining birth rates are the biggest consumers of energy. Certainly population growth is a problem, but if you have 1 person in America who consumes the same amount of energy that 25 people in India do, where do we focus on the problem? But then again India isn't really a good comparison right now since it has been predicted that their energy consumption will be increasing by 30% in the next five years. You get the point though.

As far as alternative energy is concerned, it's an unknown whether enough can be produced to fufill even the current demand. According to those interviewed in The End of Suburbia if we began investing heavily now in the R&D of alternative energies we would not be able to fill the future demand.

Thanks for your input Albert.

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