Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Re-Birth of the Small City

Here is an interesting article about the future of cars in our society. The end of the automobile is in sight. Certainly in the lifetime of the Millennials. Maybe in the Life time of the last of the Boomers/Gen X'ers (like me). Oh, there will still be some cars around... but not very many (compared to now) and there will be a whole lot less driving going on.

(And for your corporate cubicle drones, something to consider.)

It is a mathematical necessity that as fuel availability declines (forget the price for a moment) that total vehicle miles will decline (even with increasing efficiency - it is simply not possible to replace the installed fleet in less than 15 or 20 years, and it will prove far more cost effective to simply drive fewer miles and keep the ICE car you have than to buy a new, more efficient vehicle. The less one drives the longer their vehicle will last (as measured in time) so my bet is that instead of a turnover of the fleet in 20 years, the fleet will last longer and drive less... but I reserve the right to change my mind!).

That means commuting is dying (Can I get a Halleluja???!!!!) and with it Suburbia... and the death of Suburbia means the rebirth of the livable, small city. Of course, we don't have many of those here in the U.S., but we will.

(I can think of no worse investment than single family housing dependent on automobile transportation. NOTHING could possibly be worse. I know perfectly rational, intelligent, successful people buying up houses in suburban developments in places like Florida and Texas... it is painful to watch. Want to buy Real Estate? Downtown. Center city. And even then, you need an eye for the future and a bit of luck.

Worse. I cannot imagine trying to evacuate, without cars, 8,000,000 South Floridians in the face of a catastrophic hurricane/storm. Think about that for a minute. Think what it would be like (for the survivors; and then think about the loss of life) in the aftermath of a hurricane in a low lying area in which 8 million people live and where there are 2 train tracks in and out. Are there that many buses in the U.S.? Would we use them every time we had the threat of a storm? I shudder to think of the post event living conditions for a metro area literally 20X the size of New Orleans with a Katrina type storm. This is not an investment opportunity; it is a trap - and a very dangerous one at that.)

When I say "small city" I am not talking about a million person plus metropolis which looks small next to New York or Sao Paulo. Most of these were designed and built around the automobile. No, I am talking about livable cities that have been arranged around walkability and public transport. That counts out Houston, Miami, Nashville, Ft. Lauderdale, et al...

So who's left? There are lots of them... complete with walkable downtowns and conceived with trollies and such in mind.... you've just never heard of them. Some of them you have - Savannah, Ga. Richmond, VA. Concord NH., but for the most case no.  There will be great opportunities to make a fine living and to live a fine life - provided you are not spending 10 years of your life unwinding the dead weight in your pockets invested in "a way of life that has no future" (to quote James Kuntsler).

But there is another process going on here.

Crime really does not pay any more. Technology destroyed the Mafia in New York, and it is in the process of destroying the inner city thug element. People can (now safely) move back to the cities, and the cities will be infinitely safer without cars zipping, in close proximity, past pedestrians (especially children. Remember those?) at 55 mph.

(There will always be crimes of passion, and nothing can be done about that irrespective of how much those that want bigger law enforcement budgets try to scare the sh#! out of the easily scared; there will always be crimes committed by the really stupid, and the mentally ill, too, but the rest of the population understands with great certainty that they are being tracked, that DNA, cell phone triangulation, and video cameras, and financial transactions (who uses cash anymore?) create a never ending alibi or link you to the scene of the crime. Just watch a movie about/involving (a) crime from just 10 years ago... it is almost laughable now!)

Like it or not, this is the environment we live in. Drones will be replacing police officers just as surely as they are replacing fighter and bomber pilots as well as boots on the ground (I think the idea of paying for a "criminal justice" degree (SNICKER) is a poor use of capital). I used to hate the idea of this. Some of it still scares the sh#! out of me. But on further reflection, much of the abuse of those in the system (not all) is being removed. I absolutely LOVE dash cameras on police vehicles and look forward to cameras on the lapels of police uniforms. If I have to choose between being watched by a camera or an individual that wants to carry a gun and is willing to use that gun on a human being for non-violent crimes I will take the camera every time. Of course, it is probably not long before those "cameras" are also armed, but at least the person operating the camera cannot claim that he felt his "life and lives of my fellow officers/"cameras" were in danger", so I had to shoot the guy that we were called on to render assistance to". There are some benefits to drone technology as well as costs.

As people move to cities and give up cars:

  •  Citizen interaction with armed government extortionist personnel (the police) will decline precipitously - and with it the expensive burden of this government "service". Those nice people can see just how valuable they are in the mart of competitive commerce.
  • Traumatic brain, spinal, and other injuries now common place for commuters and drivers will not be the burden to society that it was. Deaths in car crashes will decline.
  • Pollution, particularly of the air, will not be the issue it was... especially if we can get over the idea that we need 5 bathrooms for a family of 4.
among other positive development. There will be some tough transitions for certain segments of the industrial landscape. Think Detroit.

Better days ahead.


tweell said...

I may actually be okay here. I'm technically in suburbia, but just a mile from a major university. Universities, colleges and such will shrink with online teaching, but there will be need for some hands-on, at least for STEM. The area is set up for students, which means the required driving is low. When I'm not commuting, I fill up my car monthly whether it needs it or not. Methinks I actually have some decent real estate after all!

PioneerPreppy said...

Suburbia is going to die I will agree with that. In fact it is already dying a slow death. It reached it's peak and is now beginning to recede but there is a long road to get there from here and I doubt we see anything like the end result before we pass on.

There is a lot of debt to be settled between now and then. Even removing all the cops today will not eliminate the costs for the ones we have now and they are just a small part of the whole.

Many people are not going to get what they think is their due and that is going to have to be dealt with and will change the landscape drastically when it is.

Not to mention unless we find the energy somewhere a number of people are going to have to enter the farm payrolls once again which means we will see more of a balanced rural v. urban population like we did before.

Anonymous said...

Private, for-profit passenger rail is making a comeback too. Here is a discussion thread from with scuttlebutt about some of the fledgling possibilities:

More on the topic at hand, I don't think all suburbs are created equal. Many of Boston's suburbs still very much show the settlement patterns of the small towns with town centers that these suburbs grew out of. As well, there is a long history of rail service in the Boston area. While it is true that a most of the suburban town centers have lost a lot of commerce to the nearby commercial strips, most of the centers can easily be repopulated with businesses.

That said, there are several fairly dismal townhouse style mega-apartment developments going up along Boston's beltway (Rt 128/I-95) as well as several mega malls being built on the same beltway just to join the 3 or 4 large mall areas already there. With the advent of online shopping growing ever larger, I just can't imagine what these builders are thinking. Perhaps they are counting on the Boston area's fairly impressive "knowledge industry" wealth building to continue.

I have my doubts about that as well as having my doubts about this last harrah of Boston suburban building. I think it's funny that most of Boston's suburbs (Milford, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, Brookline, Norwood, Lexington, Concord, Woburn, Randolph, Walpole, etc., etc. etc. are sitting pretty and that the worst of the US' sprawl building patterns finally has arrived in eastern MA just as the overall real estate business picture changes (radically.)

Stephen B.

Anonymous said...

I really am impressed by this new trend of private passenger rail start ups.

I think everything we've seen developing in the airline world regarding energy and security has come together to make traveling via commercial aviation increasingly too miserable for people to endure, what with the ever smaller seats and seat pitch, the the high prices, fees for everything, and, for me, the constant, near 100 percent occupancy (required, of course, by high fuel prices) that means it takes days for the airline system to find alternate seats and get people where they are going after a missed flight.

The change is finally coming.

Stephen B.

Anonymous said...

Most of the suburbs are sitting on farmland that used to grow produce for the urban core. Methinks most of it will return to being farmland with some of the buildings retained. The farmers have to live somewhere. In the Oklahoma panhandle a farm job typically comes with a house. At one point there was around 4 farms per section and there are still roughly 4 houses per square mile. If you go to work for Joe blow on his 12 semi farm you can have your pick of which of the 48 farmhouses you want to live in as long as he doesn't have someone else living there. I have a feeling we will see some form of that in suburbia.


Anonymous said...

Grrr. That is 12 sqmi farm.