Transit Oriented Development

Transit Oriented Development or "Smart Growth" is often cited as one of the potential solutions to dealing with peak oil by reducing suburban sprawl and creating more usage of mass transit and walkable communities. The idea generally is to promote development near existing transit hubs or along transit corridors.

According to, the components of TOD are:

-Walkable design with pedestrian as the highest priority
-Train station as prominent feature of town center
-A regional node containing a mixture of uses in close proximity including office, residential, retail, and civic uses
-High density, high-quality development within 10-minute walk circle surrounding train station
-Collector support transit systems including trolleys, streetcars, light rail, and buses, etc
-Designed to include the easy use of bicycles, scooters, and rollerblades as daily support transportation systems
-Reduced and managed parking inside 10-minute walk circle around town center / train station

There's a lot of talk about promoting transit oriented development (the other TOD) in theory, but how much is actually happening around the US?

In searching around local US newspapers, I came across a few TOD projects in the works around existing or new transit hubs and corridors. Here are a few highlights:

Baltimore, MD

The state Board of Public Works yesterday approved a pair of contracts that advance transit-oriented development projects. The board approved an interim $1.2 billion redevelopment plan for the State Center government complex on the edge of downtown Baltimore.The redevelopment of the 25-acre site, which brings together MARC service, light rail and several bus lines, has been described as the largest single-site project in Baltimore since the revitalization of the Inner Harbor.

Also approved was a $200 million development plan - including office, retail and residential construction - around the MARC station on the Camden Line at Savage in eastern Howard County. The state's development partner on the project is Petrie Ross Ventures of Annapolis.

Beacon, NY

Representatives of 56 companies descended on Beacon yesterday for a briefing on the first transit-oriented development project in Metro-North Railroad's 25-year history.

The response — three times what Metro-North predicted — thrilled the railroad and the community after five years of planning a Hudson Valley "gateway" that would connect the train station and the waterfront to the downtown.

"People here are prepared to see development — high-density, mixed-use development — happen at the waterfront, around the train station and along our Main Street, which is over a mile long," said Sara Pasti, director of the Beacon Arts Community Association, as she showed off the long string of renovated storefronts from the bus.

Bellevue, MA

A Seattle developer on Wednesday unveiled plans for a 36-acre "urban village" in Bellevue's Bel-Red Corridor that could eventually have 800 apartments, ground-floor retail, several acres of open space and more than 3 million square feet of office space.

Named the Spring District, the $1.5 billion project would be a centerpiece of the city's revamping of the 900-acre corridor from an aging warehouse center to a tall, dense, mixed-use neighborhood, said Greg Johnson, president of Wright Runstad. The "spring" in the title is meant to indicate a season of transformation, he said.

"We certainly hope this can be the catalyst for the development that happens in the next 50 years in the Bel-Red Corridor," Johnson told 200 people at a Bellevue Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Bellevue Hilton.

Phoenix, AZ

A Phoenix developer has big plans to build one of the largest mixed-use projects along the new light rail line.

Mike Lafferty, president of Lafferty Development Inc., will build the 11-story Union Square at 12th Street. He already has received Phoenix City Council approval to rezone the area, and now is lining up investors and looking at ways to rejuvenate the surrounding neighborhood.

Union Square, at the southeast corner of 12th and Washington streets, will include 280 condos, about 10 percent of which will be priced for middle-income buyers; public and business meeting rooms; a 175-room hotel; and street-level retail.

Norfolk, VA

The first shovel of dirt has not been turned, yet light rail already has helped generate more than $220 million in planned office, retail, apartment and hotel development downtown.

Developers of three projects – Wachovia Center, Belmont at Freemason apartments and a Residence Inn – said the city’s starter light rail influenced their business decisions. Having modern transit within a short walking distance delivers a steady stream of potential customers and provides an alternative to driving for residents and workers, they said.

Wachovia Center is a 22-story tower and apartment building that will include office, retail and residential space on Monticello Avenue.

“The fact that there will be a light rail stop right out the front door of our project was a key part of why we selected that site,” said Thomas G. Johnson III, vice president of sales and development for Nusbaum Realty, the project developer.

Hillsboro, NJ

The West Trenton Line reactivation plan is the key to plans by Hillsborough officials to create a Transit Village along the railroad line and Amwell Road.

According to the township's Master Plan, adopted by the Planning Board in 2005, the Transit Village district concept will feature commercial offices, retail spaces, residential development, access for pedestrians, bicyclists, vehicles, buses and cabs; and parks and open space. The Master Plan also allows neighborhood convenience centers, churches, nursery and private schools, libraries, parks and farm/agricultural activities in the Transit Village area.

What's happening in your area?

I'd be particularly interested in any re-zonings of suburban areas from single use residential areas to mixed use.

You build 64 blocks of city in the middle of a cornfield near a city in the suburbs, and use it as a bus terminal location.
You have 64,000 people who will support bus transport all over the suburban area, drawing in all the people that work in the suburban area and need a place to live.
This is not because of peak oil, but because of the financial effects of avoiding all the costs of owning a car. That's insurance, depreciation, repair, time wasted driving, etc. Also, that's all the people that can't drive cars because of minor physical disability, the kind of minor disability that does not prevent them from working.
This is not because of peak gas, either, though the high density development does reduce heating power requirements in the winter. It also isn't because of the lower cost of building apartment buildings instead of houses because the square foot cost is about the same. Elevators are expensive, and so are steel beam frames for apartment buildings.
If you want to deal with peak oil, build a synfuel plant.

Smart growth is an oxymoron. We’d be better off if we spent our energy finding ways to slow the growth rate. We can not have exponential growth in a finite world. That said, let us hope that most of these are not in the middle of some corn field but rather in the center of some trashed out urban ruin. The future for the untold masses will be in a more confined setting. Unless we bring back some industry I am not exactly sure what they will do for employment except wait on each other for low wages. It is a touch difficult imagining a future where thousands of citizens and their Amish (with computers)-like living standard flourish in a confined setting.

It's only hard because you're stuck in the American pioneer-farmer mindset. There are hardly any farmers left in the US, and nobody really wants to be a farmer, but everyone loves to play farmer, which is what the suburbs are all about.

Dense cities have existed since the beginnings of civilization. "It is a touch difficult imagining a future where thousands of citizens and their Amish (with computers)-like living standards flourish in a confined setting."

Oh really? How about Athens, or Babylon, or Bahgdad, or Vienna or Hangzhou? "Flourishing in a confined setting" is what people have been doing for five thousand years.

I think no new farmers are coming around due to the high startup costs there is no way that somebody can really just dive in. Land is extremely expensive these days and then nobody wants a farm around them. I could never see it as a reasonable thing to buy land and start farming at the cost of land right now. The return on investment would take forever.

Sadly this combined with all the stress and effort of farming stops people from farming. Not to mention the IRS breaths down farmers necks so hard that they just give up. Its a lose lose situation. I think the only way to encourage farming again is to remove all taxes from true farmers that run so many acres.

But what am I to know eh? Part of my family was run out of farming due to some of the above factors.That combined with farming being hard work and we live in a instant gratification society where people do not wish to wait for things to grow.

IMO farming is going to have to change with the times and PO. Local farming, less than 100 miles to the nearest city may start to flourish again as the FF costs of farming skyrocket. Thats not to say farmers will be making tons of $, but the need for local produce may become a necessity as the costs will be less than importing food from 1000's of miles away.

Farming will likely go more in the direction of manual labour and less machinery. You still see plenty of human labourers even in North America. Back in the seventies and probably eighties and maybe even now, manual labourers were and are still the backbone of many types of farming here in NA.

Cuba went back to labour intensive farming in 93 when they lost 85% of their FF from the Soviets. Every piece of arable land in and around towns and cities was put into production and that is how they barely survived their own version of PO and decline.

Here is what I reckon is the shape of food to come.

The Cubans more than "barely survived." Their health and longevity is now improved on Soviet days. They get more fresh fruit and vegies instead of just masses of grain and meat.

Suburbs are about people wanting to not be so close to large numbers of other people. Those who like living in cities do not understand that most people do not want to be that close to large numbers of other people.

I think this aversion to dense living has evolutionary origins. People like grass lawns for the same reason they like golf courses with grasses bordering on small forests. We evolved in those conditions. We like those conditions.

People who want others to gladly live in urban environments are trying to get humans to do something that is against their nature.

Hardly !

The "white flight" to Suburbia was just a mass movement, (see burnt orange shag carpeting comment above) and not the result of fundamental preferences.

You are pointing to a single data point in our very long history and claiming that is "human nature".

I think the opposite is very true, Suburban social isolation is aberrant, unhealthy and contrary to the basic requirements of mental health.

As one sure sign of the pathology of Suburbia, look at the growing rates of obesity, and prescription psychotropic drugs.


You are right, there aren't much farmers left in usa, I guess less than one percent of population whose prime source of income is farming because most farmers in usa has other non-farm-related sources of income too.

But usa is just a minute part of world on any perimeter except fossil-fuel-driven-economy and fossil-fuel-driven-technology. Most of the world still live in villages, a simple low-bio-foot-print life and has community-sense that americans don't.

Its right that babylon, rome, athens, tenochtitlan, constantinople were and are all cities but only a minute part of population lived in those cities as compared to populations of whole civilizations of each of these countries. Also don't forget that we can build sustainable cities but it has to be much much low-energy-consumer than modern cities, a scaling down of 100 i should say.

I don't know what you mean by a "scaling down of 100", what does that mean in actual numbers of people. My own look at the topic of city size lead me to think that absent fossil fuels, the largest likely city size would be on the order of magnitude of 100,000, with 10,000 much more common. Cities of a million could exist as capitals of great and well-organised empires, but there'd only be a few of these in the world.

Yes, I am of that rural mind set. The idea of living in a contemporary city of say 4 million plus has no appeal to me what so ever. By the way , the aforementioned cities of the world had many fewer people. The idea of living in one of the big American cities post energy decline and in a struggling economy appeals to me even less. I, like most Americans, do not want to live like the Chinese live now. Nor the people of Bagdad, nor even Paris or Toronto. Doing so in the future may not be to comfortable for anyone. That is where planning comes in. Any effort made is better than none. More importantly, the issue of an ever expanding population needs to be addressed more than anything else. We need to begin campaigns encouraging population control, every aspect of population growth. If it were possible, we should also be addressing the Antiquated Perpetual Economic Growth Paradigm. They are both killers.

Crystal City, Virginia (next to DC), although built in the 1960s, meets most if not all of the criteria cited. It doesn't have restrictive zoning laws, and combines offices, apartments, subway, and retail. It also has a vast underground component.,_Virginia

The US is awash in housing units today, green building to me means a rehab of close in dwellings, something along the current bus routes. Energy retrofits for existing homes will save all the embodied energy of new constuction.

Whenever I see plans for one of these "green" in-fill projects such as the one in Bellevue, I wonder where the food will come from. There is no mention of space for food production, and for 800 apartments the project would need on the order of 100-200 acres. Right now the Seattle area does need innovative urban village concepts to deal with the strangling effect of high traffic density. Ten years from now, where will their food come from?

" Ten years from now, where will their food come from?"


Farms that are close to the TOD will produce the food, then bring it in by electric powered small trucks in the 4 to 8 ton range that can go 60 miles to a recharge. These farms will produce vegtables, fruits, maybe nuts and a limited number of animals (perhaps processed on the outskirts of the TOD). Tractors will be recharged by the grid that is powered by wind or hydro electric near Seattle.

This is the way many communities worked 100 to 125 years ago, but the cities centered around steam powered and electric railways and the farmers used horses and wagons for hauling while cultivating with horses, oxen, or steam powered tractors.

Some city folks, like me, will grow a certain percentage of their food in community gardens (in backyard or on rooftop) to supplement what they buy at the local market. In a 12' x 14' area I grow mellons, peppers, tomatoes, beans, & basil. More than half I give away because I can't eat as much as I produce.

Food is an extremely high utility resource. We will continue to truck our food across half the country if necessary, no matter if we have to run the trucks on ethanol, manure, library books, or decomposing human flesh. It's that important. Food shipments on some level are the highest priority thing to preserve of any transportation, so we'll keep moving it.

It will just be less intensively farmed, less out-of-season, less meaty, and DEFINITELY less exotic.

It simply isn't possible to feed a city based on land within the confines of the city. This is not a problem. Even if you're assuming a systematic breakdown of order... your garden still doesn't get you anywhere individually, because your garden fences aren't strong enough to hold back a city that didn't garden and is out of food.

I think community gardens are a fantastic idea, but they're equal parts aesthetic and cultural as they are practical. Sure, they help - by the end of the Siege of Leningrad, the entire city was one big community garden. But they still relied on (starvation) grain rations, and many people still starved to death.

Gimme a break. Food will come from 400 miles away by heavy rail, just like in 1870. Do you know why Chicago exists, as a city? It was the shipping point for the produce of the Midwest, especially beef. From Chicago it went down the Great Lakes, across the Erie Canal and to the cities of the Northeast, all before the age of fossil fuels.

Econguy - here is why Chicago grew up to be important to transport: It was the cross roads of our RR based transporation system of the time. All cattle were not shipped through Chicago, just as all grain, hogs and chickens did not pass through there. Most cities, including New York were surrounded by farms that did supply a portion of locally consumed food.

My Grandfather who was born in the 1890's and grew up on a farm, then homesteaded in Montana before WWI, told me a lot about how people raised, transported and distributed food. His father was a railroad contractor turned farmer around 1880 after a collapse of the railroad building business and bancruptcy of many RR's.

One hundred years ago most major cities had stockyards where livestock was traded then sent to a local meat packing plant. The cattle was shipped by rail from maybe 100 to 500 miles to these cities. Shipping some livestock across the country was done, but most livestock did not travel that far. Cattle and hogs raised on Minnesota farms were shipped to Minneapolis and processed there for local groceries and meat markets. Same goes for cities in Kansas, Colorado, Texas, Nebraska, etc. The surplus livestock may have been shipped east, but a lot of it was consumed locally. And states like New Jersey did have dairy farms that provided milk, butter, cheese for NY.

Bottom line is that a larger percentage of food will have to be grown locally because fuel cost to transport it will be high, even if by rail. The railroads largely got out of shipping fresh produce and livestock because they were not cost competitive with trucks. I think a large part of the food will still travel by truck, but not as far as now. I formerly worked for two major RR's and have done engineering consulting work for RR's over the last 20 years.

Like virtually all major cities on large bodies of water, Chicago was a port town. The purpose of a port is transportation. The Erie Canal connected the Great Lakes and the Atlantic in 1824. That's why, when the railroads were built, they were connected at Chicago. Most of the city's growth, and its heyday, were indeed during the rail age.

Trucks have been more economical than trains because of highway subsidy, and also the efficiencies of avoiding transshipment. When fuel is more expensive compared to labor (for transshipment), and given recent improvements in transshipment (standardized freight containers), rail will become more attractive compared to trucks. This is already happening.

What do you think of proposals to extensively electrify rail that is now diesel??

City of broad shoulders. Hog butcher of the world. Cattle were slaughtered many places but the Chicago stockyards killed the most.

Tucson was a rail head rancher would drive their cattle to and then load them on the Southern Pacific.


For 800 apartments its 4000 people assuming 5 people in each family. That requires 3200 acres of arable land to produce average food of 2000 calories per person per day (not american food usage of 3500 calories per person per day) with very little meat usage as compare to today's american food usage (62.5 gm versus 250 gm) provided the meat is by mass half from 'white' sources (birds and seafood) and half by farm animals (goats, horses etc)

Duarte, CA -- The city General Plan focuses on creating a downtown corridor, with focus on walkability, and creating a second high-density zone near what will hopefully in a couple years be a light rail station. All of the cities along the prospective light rail route are energetically looking forward to its presence.

Where the light rail has already been installed, there has been a lot of transit-oriented development, including the new flagship WholeFoods in Pasadena which is right down the street from a rail station and easier to access on foot than by car. You can walk into it right off the street, without going into a parking lot.

I livein TOD, and I think it's a superior way to live, but I'm curious about costs.

Does anyone have any good data on HVAC costs per sq ft for dense residential (high rise, rowhomes), compared to single family dwellings?

The two major PO related housing costs are commuting fuel and HVAC, and I haven't seen good comparisons.

Also, I'm curious about comparative overall costs for urban, suburban and exurban living. Ideally we'd find costs for TOD and non-TOD variations, for suburban and exurban. It would be nice to see the relative magnitude of PO related costs.

Building and energy codes for multifamily are sometimes less stringent than those for single family houses. My guess for rowhome efficiency over stand alone buildings would be 30 to 50% less energy for HVAC, high density multi-story 70 to 80% less energy. HVAC system design for multiple dwelling units can be complex with a price to be paid for ill planned mechanical systems. Clearly, residential sharing common walls, floors and ceilings with a low surface to volume ratio will use much less energy per square foot.

"My guess for rowhome efficiency over stand alone buildings would be 30 to 50% less energy for HVAC, high density multi-story 70 to 80% less energy"

But, can you find actual data? Per sq ft? 70-80% seems too large a reduction, given the high window area to sq ft ratio of high-rise buildings.

"...Clearly, residential sharing common walls, floors and ceilings with a low surface to volume ratio will use much less energy per square foot."

Again, they have a high window area to sq ft ratio, and windows are much more important than wall/ceiling area.

You can put in R50 insulation in the walls & ceiling, and still lose a lot of heat with inadequate windows - even very good windows might be only R3, and be by far the biggest source of heat loss.

We put in 4 layers of windows - 2 layers provided by standard thermopane windows, 2 layers provided by retrofitted laminated glass. We added 1/2" laminated glass to a plastic skylight and immovable picture windows, and 3/8" on moveable windows. The walls/ceiling are standard R values, perhaps R13/R22.

We can maintain 70 degrees F (21 C) without turning on the heat until outside temperatures dip below 30 degrees F (-1 C). We could probably do without heat at all until 0 F (-18 C), if we had to, just by turning on all of the lights.

High % glass is an architectural fad, started by the Lever building in NYC. NOT required.

One exposed wall, with, say two or three full size windows.

I also recommend double hex cell window blinds as a way to almost double R value when closed.

Best Hopes for Energy Efficiency,


"High % glass is an architectural fad, started by the Lever building in NYC. NOT required."

True, though I think it's fundamentally nicer to live in. most people like it.

"One exposed wall, with, say two or three full size windows. "

I would think that a better solution to high fuel costs would be paying a premium for better insulated windows - it would be much cheaper than the fuel, and I think most people would think that's worth it.

More importantly, it's characteristic of our existing urban high-rise housing stock, and retrofits are a significant expense.

"I also recommend double hex cell window blinds as a way to almost double R value when closed."

A good idea. We have single cell window blinds, and they work well - I'll have to look into this idea.

Up thread you said you lived in a TOD. You very well might be in the best position to answer your own questions.

In the HVAC/R program I'm presently in, we use reference material to determine sizing requirements per site. Usually the reference material is sourced to industry practices.

I'd approach the TOD superintendent or equivalent, ask who the HVAC contractor was and go from there.

I live in a three story apartment building with two units per floor. Interior has been reworked with 6" insulation on exterior walls and thermalpane windows all around. With only one common wall and an occupied space above me my heat bill is less than $50 per month in the winter time and that includes using gas to cook and heat water. Setting temp at 66 deg. F helps. Summer time electric bill is less than $40 per month and I set AC temp at 80 deg. F, using fans and open windows when temp is less than 80 deg.

I live in St. louis where today's high was 32 deg. F and average high temp. in July is 90 deg. F.

$50 a month!


I saw one woman on TV who lived in a Tumbleweedhomes-type teeny home who spent $6 a month in winter for heat. That was in Seattle, which doesn't get Maine-style cold but where it is around freezing in winter.


Not even superinsulated.

It is 47 F outside and a 6 mph north wind is blowing (I have a northerly exposure) and I am thinking of turning on the heat.



Housing built post-peak will be better insulated. Expect fewer windows and more multi-paned glass with argon layers. That'll be true for urban and suburban construction. The high glass designs will be disfavored.

There are historical precedents to this. During the so-called Mini Ice Age and Maunder Minimum period window size shrank in England (probably Europe too) and wall thickness increased.

Does anyone have any good data on HVAC costs per sq ft for dense residential (high rise, rowhomes), compared to single family dwellings?

Surprisingly enough, they seem to use a similar amount per square foot: EIA
(The total has AC info.)

One possible reason is that multi-family apartment buildings tend to have heating systems that are much older - and hence almost certainly less efficient - than single-family ones, a fact which suggests their insulation and other factors are likely older as well.

Add to that the common problem that the landlord pays for new insulation or heaters but the tenant pays for fuel, and perhaps it's not surprising that multi-family dwellings aren't as efficient as they could be.

I live in what is arguably the oldest streetcar suburb (1834), about a mile from the center of the CBD and slightly further to the French Quarter. The Lower Garden District of New Orleans is considered a classic "Old Urbanism" community.

The St. Charles Streetcar line is a strongly sustaining force to the Urban fabric. But so is Magazine Street, 5 miles of small shops (very few chains, at least 11 coffee shops, one of them Starbucks, etc). 28' wide streets with parking on both sides leaves most of the area for people. In many ways, we are the living textbook of what TOD should look like. Crumbling sidewalks with people on them 24 hours/day (having seen both, I believe that we have more walking traffic @ 3 AM weeknights than midtown Manhattan, despite much lower population density).

pre-K New Orleans was tied with New York City for lowest miles driven by residents (ignoring suburbanites coming in).

A radically different solution (much more human scale, and much shorter supply chains) in New Orleans vs. New York, but equivalent results.

The Millennium Institute is located in modern TOD, at the Courthouse Station of the Orange Line in Arlington, VA and is one of a number that I have seen.

One thing I have noted in new TOD examples is too much organization and too little beauty. Sometimes I think of a Disneyland neighborhood (Land of Tomorrow - TODLand). But then all American development since WW II lacks beauty and human scale.

Even so, compared to the sterility of the suburbs that my two brothers live in (neighbors down the street are identified by the car they drive, the black Lexus, red Caravan), even modern TOD is a major step up.

Between me and WalMart (7 blocks away) is a New Urbanism community ( ) that takes it's queues from the surrounding neighborhood but is too car-centric for my taste. Still, kids play in the miniyards, street and miniparks, people spend time on their porches, they say Good Morning when I walk to WalMart (yes, I get some stuff there). It is evolving into a working class African-American neighborhood, which is exactly what we need !

Perhaps I should do a pictorial of my neighborhood just to show people what it looks like.

Best Hopes for TOD,


Perhaps I should do a pictorial of my neighborhood just to show people what it looks like.

That would be a good idea, I think.

I've thought of doing that with the places in which I lived in Japan... complete with Google Earth images (highlighting the train stations), zooming down the residence, then photos of the neighborhood, etc.

As you are no doubt aware, living in a very old neighborhood, it can take decades for residents to work out the myriad of little details that makes life at least palatable, an in the best cases truly enjoyable, while living very close together. In this regard I think the Japanese are ahead of most folk.

These modern T.O.D. projects seem to lack the details that comes from decades to twiddling... and, as you say, the little things of beauty that people create to make the world around them more appealing.

Here in California there some developments in downtowns, esp. San Diego and parts of west LA, to try and make use of the (very limited and frustrating) mass transit. The one with which I am passingly familiar has its strengths but again lacks all the little details that makes a community "warm", as opposed to "sterile".

Higher housing density does not necessarily lead to a better life - witness all the government housing high-rises that become anathema to a good life.

Rather, what we need are fellow citizens who will make the changes in their lifestyles and personal habits to accommodate the less "elbow room" (as someone mentioned above) for the sake of living lives that are affordable in the long run.

Anyway, back to the photo albums... perhaps we should work on a collection of presentations, reviewing various high density locales and how they have (in their own ways) integrated rail, housing, commerce etc.?


Regards shorter supply lines for smaller urban centers: A much higher cost for fuel should favor smaller cities over larger cities. Bigger cities need transportation over longer distances.

Also, I wonder about the relative energy efficiency of coastal versus inland cities. Inland cities can have farm land around them in all directions. Coastal cities lose that in 180 degrees due to an ocean or large lake.

So I wonder: how much of NYC's food comes by rail versus truck versus ship? Will higher energy prices favor ship or rail?

There is a proposal to build a rail freight tunnel from NJ to (from memory) Queens. One reason is for better rail freight access to the ports. The other is to get rail service (food was specifically mentioned) to distribution centers. Rail to warehouse, truck from warehouse to restaurant or retail market.

I think that there are some commuter rail applications for these tunnels as well with minor modifications.

CSX has a proposal now (seeking federal funding) for a grade separated, 3 tracks from Washington DC to Miami Florida. Two tracks for regular freight @ 60 to 70 mph, 1 track (2 from DC to Richmond) for passenger service @ 110 mph (and high value, low & medium density freight as well).

Florida veggies & fruits could take this route to DC (Tropicana already has two unit trains) and then AMtrak tracks (at night) to NYC, or more conventional freight.

Remember 20 ton-miles of electrified rail use about energy (in the form of electricity) as much as 1 ton-mile of heavy truck (and 1 ton-km or less in Farmer Jones pick-up).

Also, foodstuff quantities matter. I use, perhaps, 3 oz of black pepper/year. Not a big deal to bring it 10,000 miles to Baltimore, package it, and ship it down to New Orleans.

New Orleans handles a very good % of USA coffee imports and processing (Folger's mainly), and it gets distributed from here. Americans use a dozen or more pounds of coffee/year, but transportation is not a big deal.

Grains, fruits and vegetables do weigh a lot, and transportation mode matters more.

Your half-circle vs. full circle ignores the productivity of the land (Suburbia = zero). The northeast will never truly feed itself IMHO. Railing wheat from the Dakotas to NYC, etc.can be viable and even sustainable (use renewable energy & electrified rai

I do not have the specific answer to your question, but these tidbits can affect the answer.

Best Hopes,


As Alan seems to be suggesting, the so-called New Urbanism is a dressed-up reprise of the traditional, Main Street-centric American community that preceded suburban sprawl. These instant downtowns make much sense -- there must be a dozen of them here in the Dallas area -- and residents like the social contact.

But I think the main criticism of them, voiced for instance by Joel Kotkin, holds up, and that's that Americans like their boxy, sterile suburbs. As a rule, they like the elbow room.

It seems to me that, peak oil or no peak oil, a futurist scenario is still going to include the 'burbs.

Steve LeVine, author
The Oil and the Glory

I don't know what to think about the suburbs. I think they have more to fear from the housing bubble in the next 5 years than peak oil. the suburbs do have some things going for it. there are yards, some of them big yards, to grow food. I know they can't be self-sufficient in food production, but if they need to be it won't matter where you live. the suburbs usually have a higher per capita income. they could have the resources to buy solar panels or PHEVs. the suburbs are usually safer than the cities. I see the suburbs becoming more self-contained. they'll need grocery stores and convienance stores located in the subdivision, possibly in residential homes.

many of the poor already live peak oil lifestyles. walking, using public transportation and riding bikes while living in dense communitiies such as two-family homes. less of their income is going towards consumer goods. the problem is many of the poor and working poor won't be able to deal with increases in food prices and energy prices.

"I think they have more to fear from the housing bubble in the next 5 years than peak oil. "

Is there any evidence suburbs are suffering more than urban areas? From what I've seen, cities are suffering more - think LA, Boston, SF...

I think that the suburbs of cities will do worse because the 2 reasons to move just outside of a city is gone.

1. you move because you think home prices are going to go up and living out far will be your only chance to own. that is not the case anymore.

2. the time spent commuting to a depreciating asset is not worth it anymore and gas prices make it even less worth it.

Those are not the main reason people move outside of cities. The reasons that people really move out of cities remain:

A) Lower crime.

B) More space.

C) Schools with better students (we euphemistically refer to "better schools" to avoid the mentioning that people are really fleeing lower class, lower IQ, and more boisterous kids).

D) Lower taxes and other living costs. The city taxes to go support the sorts of people that people flee to the suburbs to get away from.

The discussion here about new urbanization so far has pretty much ignored why most people choose not to live in a city when they can avoid doing so and still pursue their career.

You forgot the main, the primary reason people moved to the suburbs post-WW II. To get away from the Negroes.


I live in Australia where we don't have any Negroes and people still moved to the suburbs. I am not quite sure of your intentions in posting this comment but it does sound rather racist.

"White Flight " to Suburbia and "good schools" there was clearly connected to the WW II and early post-WW II movement of African Americans from Southern rural areas and the 1953 decision to integrate schools.

Suburban Sprawl in America was all about racism.


Bull, Alan. There was a movement, active since the 19th Century, based in the New England Transcendentalist notion of the importance of Nature to sanity, towards living in greener surroundings. It was the source not just of the early suburban movement, but also was explicitly involved in justifying urban parks, particularly Central Park and Prospect Park in Manhattan and Brooklyn. As it happens, the people involved in this movement were also, more often than not, abolitionists back in the day.

When America's wealth after WWII afforded people more choices in how to live, they moved to greener surroundings precisely because it was a long standing, pent demand in American culture. Granted, it was largely a value in white American culture. Blacks were anxious to get off the farm, in many cases; nor did many immigrants have this bias towards living outside of cities. And of course, the suburbs turned out to be a flawed realization of the ideal, once the developers got done cheapening the original concept.

To get back to topic here, I'm living in an old urbanist New England town: train station in the center of town, high density for about a square mile, lots of largely-open countryside including farms beyond that. Before this I lived near the aforementioned Prospect Park - and damn but I really need that park to stay sane in Brooklyn. Much as I wouldn't live in the suburbs again (having grown up in part in them), to my mind the original Transcendentalist concept was spot on. It fits very well with a Green ethic too.

And this has nothing, but nothing to do with racism.

White Flight had little/nothing to do with the Transcendentalist concept and everything to do with African-Americans suddenly appearing in the cities in large #s during WW II and immediately afterwards.

"Good Schools" in the suburbs meant classrooms of white faces (because early post WW II suburbs had the most overcrowded (and many temporary) classrooms with the fresh out of school teachers). School desegregation motivated MANY moves 'away". And "busing students" into mixed race schools was fought fiercely for decades.

Post WW II Suburbia was an overt expression of American racism.


You are a racist c*n%. There are two fundamental causes of suburbia and they have nothing to do with race:

1) Cars, like trains before them, make more places accessible and these places provide the space that people crave, so people develop and move to these places.
2) Planning laws were not used in America to avoid sprawl for the common good because of America's bias towards freedom of the individual and corporation. England, in contrast, built a planning system to avoid "ribbon development" (sprawl) along roads and a network of greenbelt to contain cities.

If your family moved away from cities to avoid black people, they they are ignorant idiots. Your prejudice has nothing to do with urbanism and your assumptions are meaningless.

By your definition, there were a lot of ignorant idiots, I think.

I have a large number of relatives who lived in the city of Detroit. They fled outward in the 1960s because of black folks.

I'm sure a lot also "fled" because it was the in thing to do, but to dismiss the race (and associated class) aspect for a large share of what happened is ridiculous.

I was editing my previous post to make it more mild before you posted again, after I'd calmed down! Here it is:

There are two fundamental causes of suburbia and they have nothing to do with race:

1) Cars, like trains before them, make more places accessible and these places provide the space that people crave, so people develop and move to these places.
2) Planning laws were not used in America to avoid sprawl for the common good because of America's bias towards freedom of the individual and corporation. England, in contrast, built a planning system to avoid "ribbon development" (sprawl) along roads and a network of greenbelt to contain cities.

Black people were only kept from enjoying suburbia by a racist country which kept them from enjoying the new economy. Black people were and still are not given as good educational and work opportunities, dumped in the worst forms of polarised social projects and the new suburban classes would no pay enough tax to regenerate crumbling cities.

You are in effect blaming black people for unsustainable urban form and a big chunk of global warming. Quite the most vicious and stupid approaches to politics.

Having spent four months in Africa I discovered that Black people have maintained many of the family and community values much lost in the western world. I went to Ghana and found a warm nation of friendly, helpful people. Quite the most decent people I've ever met. I now work with many black people in inner London and they are the most approachable kind people. It is terribly sad that you cannot appreciate a whole group of your society and that you can play a race card to blame black people for social trends which were mainly driven by the white middle class. You are ignorant and an idiot and I hope for goodness sake that you don't represent the views of many people. Just remember that Hitler used similar arguments to avoid personal responsibility for hyperinflation and economic collapse. I hope people like you are ignored post peak, because the turmoil will certainly give you a platform, which I intend to take from your feet.

Saying that something was "an overt expression of American racism" is not blaming black people for anything.

From a UK newspaper front page today:

Slave labour that shames America
Migrant workers chained beaten and forced into debt, exposing the human cost of producing cheap food

So how do these poor souls afford a family house in the suburbs and a SUV. It is not white flight, its blacks being trapped in poverty. Honestly, you guys should be ashamed of your attitudes or be locked up for inciting racial hatred.

I chose to live in a city that was, pre-Katrina 66% or 67% African American, with a black mayor, etc. And I have been quite loyal to that city in a number of profound ways.

Any veteran TODer can attest to that.

I could go on about my friends, etc. but why ?

Still, I do observe that the racist reactions of the white community to the mere presence of "the other" was a primary driving force behind post-WW II Suburbia. So much so that the term "white flight" was invented to describe this common cultural phenomena.


Ok, we obviously have opposite opinions. You call it White Flight, which is rational from the white perspective. I call it Black entrapment, which is rational when you look from the outside at how Black people have been systematically excluded from the American economy.

What you must remember is that suburbia has been a global issue anywhere with good access to cars where planning has not restricted suburbanisation. White people benefited from this form of economic growth because many are very much part of the middle class. The working class has largely been excluded and it includes a disproportionately high quantity of black people because they are systematically discriminated against in the work place with little social net in the form of things like universal healthcare or decent affordable housing projects.

A failure to recognise the causes of this inequity is the result of middle america's obsession with individual and corporate rights which are placed above collective rights of the community as a whole, which can only be supported by collective action, i.e. government intervention. At this point I return to my comments about anti-left-wing and communist propoganda since the world wars, which have polarised political debate in your country and fail to recognise that a healthy society involves a balance between individual (right wing) and collective (left wing) action.

Just look at Australia, which has had probably even more suburbanisation than America. Did the Aussies move to 1/3 acre plots to escape Lebanese in the inner cities? No, they just like having a big garden. You really need to delineate the issues. If a solution to a complex issue appears too simple, it probably is. Just because your little mind can't contain more concepts, doesn't mean that your simplicity is correct.

Alan, I don't understand how someone could misconstrue your view as being racist. You are obviously just stating that racism exists and is a major factor.

Anyway, I live in an urban area after being raised in a suburban area. My family and many friends don't understand how I can live around black people and I think that holds true for much of suburbia. My siblings chose to live in the suburbs and were given down payments for their houses -- I was not.

Blaming a section of society for a social problem with complex causes, such as suburbanisation, is the definition of racism. Take your argument to the extreme and, kill all the black people and the problem will be solved. Sounds silly? Your grandparents fought a world war on that same way of thinking. Unplausable that the masses would consider it? You haven't lived through hyperinflation or a great depression nor experienced how quickly things can snowball in that situation.

You will look at a Black pastor or a black criminal in the same light when discussing suburbanisation if you use concepts such as white flight because you are applying a judgement to people simply because of the colour of their skin. It may not appear like racism to you because it is institutionalised racism. This is group think, when all those around you think something is rational it becomes conditioned into your psyche and takes much thought to delineate issues and de construct the accepted way of thinking.

The bias towards gangster rap music in your media, invested in by white middle class record executives reinforces and plays upon the insecurities of the white middle classes, even though more black people would probably prefer to listen to uplifting gospel music at church, praising god rather than glorify guns.

Oh come on, somebody stick your neck out. Show common sense a bit of support!

The phrase "White flight" explictly acknowledges that much of the country half a century back was racist. It then attempts to explain their actions. It doesn't blame black people - it observes that the reason white people left the inner cities was because their racist perceptions weren't compatible with living in increasingly black cities.

Observing that this was the case doesn't speak to Alan's or my bias at all. Any more than observing that slavery existed 200 years ago makes us advocates of its use. You are trying to talk us out of racist views we don't hold.

He lives in NOLA - somewhat incompatible with "moving away from cities to avoid black people."

Growing up in the 90's in an upper-class, suburban, multiracial society, people like me were insulated from racism in an extreme way. Our only real contact with it, other than vague historical references, was ghetto hip-hop culture and deliberate trolling - it was a hangup of a previous generation. We weren't socially conscious during the LA Riots, and OJ was merely some odd celebrity which the media seemed to be obsessed with. It wasn't MLK's colorless society (mostly because of residual self-segregation and cultural differences which we didn't understand the source of, just accepted), but it was close. Common wisdom was that civil rights was a process whose start caused the Civil War and whose final conclusion created the protest culture of the 60's.

As I've grown up, I've come to understand how sheltered these views were. School integration was protested virulently in my area on into the 80's. The destruction caused by race riots is still visible today in some cities. In many parts of the country, you can still grow to adulthood without having significant contact with people of another race. And while overt public racism was suppressed in the Baby Boomer generation, I still have several friends whose parents condemn them for multiracial relationships - in an extremely liberal area where non-hispanic whites are a minority. My upbringing didn't include the notion that authority figures like those involved in the case of the Jena Six still existed. But apparently, they do.

He's speaking of the historical phenomena of suburbanization, which peaked in the 40's, 50's, and 60's. His analysis that it was mostly racial does not speak to his prejudices at all, and he deserves an apology - regardless of the validity of the argument. It's my contention that it had about equal amounts to do with:
A) distaste for crowded, dirty, increasingly black cities, seen as a haven for organized crime and far too industrialized to live in
B) a romantic ideal created as a promotion for the GI bill to have your own homestead, raise the kids in Pleasantville, and own every modern innovation known to man. This was a generation which still had a memory of using oil lamps, and progressed to the universal TV dinner and transistor radio in a remarkably short span of time.
C) the freedom of individualistic car-based existence, first tasted when families uprooted in the Great Depression and lived out of their cars in search of work, and widely praised in popular culture (from Kerouac to Brian Wilson)
D) How cheap agricultural land and oil (which the US produced better than anyone else at the time) was
E) US tax policies which emphasized depreciation ended up developing vast tracts of land into suburban commerce as an investment mechanism, and crippling traditional urban centers
F) Somewhat overlapping with A, B, and E, a desire to shop, work, and live in entirely different places evolved, and brought on zoning policies which encouraged single-use superblocks surviving to today.

The hip hop culture you refer to is something promoted by white record producers to sell records. It is responsible for many of the misconceptions of black people. MTV has much to answer for.

Transportation costs in the suburbs are high, and are getting higher. The combined cost of housing plus transportation is higher in the auto-dependent suburbs than in central cities and transit-oriented corridors. From the report A Heavy Load: The Combined Housing and Transportation Burdens of Working Families:

This study presents, for the first time, the combined housing and transportation cost burdens of households, with a focus on working families at the neighborhood level in 28 metropolitan areas. ... The study reveals that low- to moderate-income working families are finding that as they move further from work, cities, and amenities to afford housing they end up spending as much, or more, on transportation costs, negating what they are saving on housing.

More at the Center for Neighborhood Technology's Housing + Transportation website.

This is coming from a Canadian perspective, but I think that these points are a bit outdated. That may be why people fled to the suburbs in the 50s and 60s, but nowadays things are more complex.

For example, many of the less desirable suburbs, such as the Vancouver suburb of Surrey, have more crime than the central city does. They don't necessarily have more space, either. Present-day suburbanites often live in apartment buildings.

So why do people flock to suburbia, in the 21st century? Largely because real estate and rents are cheaper.

The higher default rate in suburban areas is becoming a common story around the nation. A recent article appeared in the Charlotte Observer titled New suburbs in fast decay, and had a remarkable interactive map of every foreclosed property.

A similar story from Indianapolis:

Midnight Run
"The specter of families running from foreclosure, leaving their new homes in the middle of the night, haunts the Franklin Township section of Indianapolis, a part of the city where home builders flourished during the boom."


Suburbs are home of foreclosure woes

Washington, D.C.:

Area Suburbs See Rise in Foreclosures

California Central Valley:

Foreclosures Spurring Suburban Blight

Even before the housing bubble started collapsing, the book Tomorrow's Cities, Tomorrow's Suburbs by Lucy and Phillips documented how the older suburbs built 1950-1970 were declining faster than historic urban neighborhoods. The aging suburbs have all the hassles of decaying, obsolete housing stock combined with all the suburban disadvantages of inconvenient location, traffic congestion, and poor degree of walkability and transit service.

If a working poor person is using public transit and lives in a modernized old building (like mine built in 1894) the cost for energy will not be much of a problem. Higher cost of food will be a problem unless they grow or raise some of their own, like I do. Also, going to the local farmer's market can save on food.

Main problem with the "burbs' is that these former middle class people will find themselves in the poor catagory as their jobs disappear and they won't be able to afford driving 50 or 60 miles per day to the new job. They will have to move close to work perhaps nearer an urbsn center.

What rational human being would prefer avocado colored appliances with burnt orange shag carpeting ?

Yet that is what the 1970s Suburbanites chose to buy.

Moral, Americans are herd animals when it comes to housing, NOT rational actors choosing preferences.

Laurence Aurbach has collected a wide variety of polls, and about 30% of Americans want to live in TOD, but less than 2% do. Build the Urban Rail, zone for TOD, and empty many suburbs of most of that 30%. Once the momentum (stampede AKA "white flight") gets going, then many/most suburbs will empty to below viable levels (remember that Suburban housing is NOT durable) and many will collapse entirely IMHO.

Best Hopes for TOD,


Hi Alan, we can discuss the pluses and minuses of polls in terms of accuracy on another occasion, but look at what is going on. I covered real estate for a little while back in 2005-'06, and took a real shine to the New Urbanism myself, seeing it as the clear future, for the same reasons you and others state.

But then I took a close look at the arguments of nay-sayers, and, looking around me and the many states I visit, I decided they have a point. When Americans are asked and shown the glitzy, dense communities, their eyes generally light up. Yet moving there is another matter. They have not voted that way with their feet. New Urbanism is niche, and has captured precisely two markets -- young professional singles and married couples, and retired active seniors.

Humans are not always rational. But you can see what they do. I know you've read Kotkin. He makes sense on this issue.

John15 is right about what may happen -- the 'burbs will simply become more self-contained.

New urban developments have experienced market success generally, with residences commanding higher prices than the comparable competition, and with property values appreciating at faster rates than the comparable competition. There are several academic studies documenting this effect. Even in the midst of the current housing market slowdown, new urban, TOD and infill developments are performing better than the competition.

I suspect that if you asked people if they would like to live in small towns -- especially towns with passenger rail connections (another type of TOD, I'd argue) -- you would get even greater numbers responding favorably. Small town America is archetypal America, even more so than the small family farm. Small towns are naturally human scale, and do not require a lot of special effort to make them so. In small towns, you have plenty of housing with yards that can become gardens (actually, you'll find a lot of gardens in small towns right now), yet you'll also find a fair number of people walking or bicycling; more could, if they had to. Most small towns are surrounded by agricultural land, and are at least potentially capable of feeding themselves entirely within a local catchment area.

We are likely to have some epic population movements over the next century. Not only are the metro suburbs likely to become increasingly non-viable and uninhabitable, but we also know that the increasingly arid southwest will have to downsize its population to match a very low carrying capacity. We also know that as sea levels rise due to global climate change, there will be massive relocations of populations from places like south FL, south LA, and east NC. IMHO, I would argue that small towns would have at least as much capacity as urban TOD to absorb these populations, and maybe even more. There are lots of small towns right now with empty houses just begging for occupancy. Many small towns are dominated by an aging population that will be leaving even more vacant housing units over the next few decades. Most small towns have room for infill and modest expansion without the need for huge investments in infrastructure. Ramping local food production to support increased local populations is a much easier proposition to contemplate for small towns compared to urban areas.

The main reason why more people don't live in small towns now is the lack of good job opportunities, and to some extent the isolation; the two are not totally unconnected.

As the global and national economies begin their inevitable decline toward a lower sustainable level, a lot of jobs in metro areas are going to dissapear and not be replaced. While small towns might also suffer some job losses, a greater percentage of people are likely to be engaged in the supplying of non-discretionary goods and services to the local area; thus employment is likely to hold up better in the small towns. Furthermore, as transport and other energy inputs drive up the cost of non-local goods and services, or disrupts supplies altogether, it is likely that increasing opportunities will develop for specialized production of goods and services for the local economy. For example, a small town that had not been able to support its own bakery for many years due to the availability of cheap baked goods at the supermarket might find that, with non-local baked goods becoming hugely expensive, there is now a bakery niche available to be filled. Thus, small towns may become one of the few places with good employment opportunities.

Reconnecting our small towns with passenger rail (as they largely were a century ago) is, IMHO, a project every bit as urgent in priority as is electrified mass transit in metro areas; perhaps it is even more important, because people in urban areas can carpool, bicycle, or walk a lot more than they can now, but once motor fuel becomes prohibitively expensive, small towns will become totally isolated unless they have a passenger rail connection. Small towns have traditionally served as collection points for the gathering of any agricultural surpluses their local farms have produced, for shipment to the cities. This pattern will have to reassert itself in the future, which means that the continued viability of urban areas may be more dependent than anything else upon maintaining and expanding the network of rail connections to small towns.

"about 30% of Americans want to live in TOD, but less than 2% do."

They could move from suburbia to urban TOD, but they don't. Perhaps it's because urban living is much, much more expensive (much higher mortgage costs, higher income, sales, property taxes, higher food costs, etc, etc). Does anyone have cost of living stats, as I requested above?

"most suburbs will empty to below viable levels "

That would require a lot of new construction. With new construction at about 800k units per year, that would take quite a while. And with urban sq ft land costs 3-5x as high as suburban, it would cost a very high premium.

"And with urban sq ft land costs 3-5x as high as suburban, it would cost a very high premium."

this depends on where you live. in NYC yes, in detroit, no.

There is not enough T to build enough OD for more than a few % of the population.

Build LOTS more Urban Rail (T), enact favorable zoning laws, and let nature take it's course.

Without post-WW II freeways, only a few % of the population would live in Suburbia today.

Build enough Urban Rail to saturate demand (entirely possible).

Today, single family homes are 2.5x larger than in 1950 and families are smaller. Retail space/capita has grown 10 fold (see Suburban shopping malls).

Building condos, du/triplexes & apartments 1/3rd the size of SFRs today (note common walls also save on construction costs) and less construction materials than today could build highly energy efficient & pleasant homes for twice or three times as many people as today.

Urban land is worth more because it saves so much in other ways and is more desirable to live in. And build enough Urban Rail to saturate the market, and prices will drop. There is a scarcity premium for TOD today.

Best Hopes for TOD,


The "small town America" format favored by the New Urbanists is a dead end. First of all, so-called "New Urbanism" is not even urban at all, but rather a "small town" ideal. That's why I call them the "New Suburbanists." Second, in many cases those small towns/small cities were actually the "suburban sprawl" of their day. 19th century development in the US is very spread out, but European standards. Roadways were enormous. They were interested in facilitating transit of large horsedrawn wagons, in much the same way as contemporary "planners" are concerned primarily about automobile traffic flow, resulting in eight-lane avenues. Compare any post-1840 US "small town" or small city with a medieval village in Europe. It is vastly more spread out, gigantic in scale. There are a few pre-1800 neighborhoods out there -- Colonial-era Boston, Lower Manhattan, etc. -- that reflect real European-style density, rather than the big streets/rectangular grid pattern popular in the 19th century, but in the US these are so rare as to be almost nonexistent.

Second, the automobile suburbs themselves are in large part an attempt to live in a "small town America" environment. In fact, many of those suburbs WERE small towns, until the widespread availability of automobiles after WWII allowed people to move there and work elsewhere. Most "small towns" are reliant on automobiles, because they are too small to justify other transportation options.

The "New Urbanists" are completely pathetic. They should be championing real urban environments, of which there are many successful and wonderful examples throughout the world. When the "New Urbanists" shut up about "small town America" and stupid Portland, OR and start talking about Paris or Rome or Prague or Rio de Janeiro, then I might get interested.

in many cases those small towns/small cities were actually the "suburban sprawl" of their day. 19th century development in the US is very spread out, but European standards. Roadways were enormous.

The same is true of many high-density, transit-oriented European cities - Warsaw, for example, has lots of wide roadways.

It also has a brilliant public transit system that will take you all over the city quickly, conveniently, cheaply, and efficiently. Prague has a similar system - love those trams.

Enormous roadways aren't the problem; lack of alternatives is the problem.

I think you're setting up a straw man, and aren't even taking the time to define it.

How exactly is Paris diametrically opposed to the ideals of New Urbanism? Or, for that matter, Portland?

And where in the New Urbanist handbook did I miss "requires 8 lane avenues"?

Portland is not "contrary" to the ideals of New Urbanism. It's just such a pathetic goal. If Phoenix rates a 1 on a scale of 1-10, then Portland rates a 2. I'd give San Francisco a 3, New York and London a 4, Paris a 5, Florence or Venice a 6, and Tokyo an 8. There is no score above 8, for me, thus far.

Come visit my neighbor hood :-)

Now, if we could just repairs our worn out sidewalks....


New urbanists work in a full range of built environments, from central cities to rural hamlets. Overall about half of new urban developments are infill, built where there is existing infrastructure or previously developed land. Here is a representative list of infill projects that was assembled by the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU).

New urbanists talk quite a lot about Paris, Rome, Prague, Rio de Janeiro and many many other places around the world. There has been a great deal of cross-national fertilization over the past 40 years as Americans and Europeans have traded ideas and techniques and have worked in many nations around the world. The chairman of the CNU is also head of the Prince's Foundation for the Built Environment in Britian. Some closely allied organizations include the Council for European Urbanism, the International Network for Traditional Building, Architecture & Urbanism, and A Vision of Europe, and Byens Fornyelse, and the Australian Council for New Urbanism.

Well, that's true. I suppose I am reacting mostly to Jim Kunstler personally and his Small Town America fetish. What do you expect from a guy raised in Manhattan who moves to Saratoga Springs and calls himself an "urbanist"? If he didn't have a profession that allows him geographic flexibility, he probably would have moved to the charming small towns of Westchester County, and become a suburban long-distance commuter like everyone else.

Still, that said, I sense rather extreme ignorance of urban environments among Americans, including the New Urbanist types. Of course Europeans are better off. They live in it! However, I don't think that even Europeans, or Japanese, have a conscious understanding of why the legacy urban environments they have been left with have their particular appeal. Certainly the architect/planning types seem incapable of reproducing it (although the regular people get the idea). They laughed at Le Corbusier in his day, with his idea of knocking down the Left Bank of Paris and building high-rises, but that seems to be the most popular format today. Look at Shanghai for example. They aren't building much in Paris these days that compares with the classic neighborhoods of old.

Econo: IMO, the architect/planners realize that an urban environment densely populated with medium height residential buildings (6-12 stories) is a more desirable layout. The problem is that there is more money to be made with skyscrapers (both from increased property tax revenue and increased potential profit for municipal officials).

My neighborhood is VERY human scale, mainly 2 & 3 story with some 1 and a very few 4 story homes. Enough greenery to be called the Lower Garden District, and parks.

It simply works well and nicely.

Best Hopes for Old Urbanism,


Americans who poured out of cities into suburbs had no ignorance of urban environments. Yet they fled the supposed urban utopia.

Of course Europeans are not better off - excepting the ones I've worked with who have gotten Green Cards.

Rates of obesity are certainly lower in the EU than in the USA. And social connections vary within the Eu, but I believe that few or none are as low as the average American Suburbanite.

If I leave New Orleans, I will try and leave the USA.


European rates of obesity are catching up with US rates and in some instances have surpassed them. See my post European Obesity Rates Surpassing American Levels.

It must be my lying eyeballs !

However, I will read your paper tomorrow.


Turns out that my eyes were not deceiving me.

The link given is to your own blog. That lead to the Guardian article of 2005, and Google to

The Guardian article was clearly slanted to make a story.

Men (not women, except in Greece) are overweight (BMI 25-29.9) or obese (BMI 30+) at rates higher than the US in EU nations Finland, Germany (OK Western Europe), the two halves of Czechoslovakia, Greece, Cyprus and Malta. The last 3 are questionable as Europe within the understanding of this debate.

But the biggest slant was including combining overweight (BMI 25-29.9) with obese (BMI 30+). Many Germans are overweight, relatively few are obese, 22.9% vs. USA 32.2%. Finland was slightly lower than Germany with the two halves of Czechoslovakia slightly higher (but *FAR* from the USA !). Other Western European nations were far lower.

Only Lebanon, Panama, Tonga, Samoa and Urban populations of Jordan exceeded the USA for general population Obesity.

The UN data shows that the United States is clearly, and by a wide girth margin, the most obese developed nation in the world.

Best Hopes for TOD before diabetes,


Canada was 23.1% obese and Australia slightly lower. USA 32.2%

If I leave New Orleans, I will try and leave the USA.

It would be our loss for sure... certainly the "green" looks greener in some other places, but given the universality of the human condition it is highly likely you would find just as deep, but different, problems elsewhere.

As for social connections - hard to quantify. I know of people who have lived in urban areas but who are quite isolated, by their own mental nature. Their "connections" to their society are primarily the sewer and water lines. On the other hand, I've known suburbanites who own their own and work at their businesses in their little "suburb" and were quite involved in the health and well being of their communities.

Few Americans want to live in a city as densely populated as Paris or London. Urbanists, old or new, are really statistical outliers. Most people do not want to live like them.

Europe has a far higher population density than America. So Europe has denser cities. Americans will work hard and make many compromises (e.g. long commute times, more spent to insulate and heat a house with no walls shared by neighbors) to avoid living like European urban dwellers. Not a few Europeans want to move out of Europe for the same reason many Americans seek life in the suburbs: humans evolved to prefer more space than cities provide.

Future: No. The value of residential RE is set by the market. If most people did not want to live in urban environments as you state, Manhattan, London, SF downtown residential RE would be inexpensive. I would agree that obviously few Americans would choose to live in downtown Detroit and similar cities in the USA.

Again, the vast bulk of the American people do not live in Manhattan and do not want to live in an apartment building. There's a small segment of the population that wants to live there. Some of them can afford to. Some live there long enough to make a lot of money and then move to a suburb or rural setting. Or they live there until they meet a mate, get married, and then move to a suburb more suitable for raising children.

Some cities have decayed so far and become so vacant that some middle class people move back in to take over some neighborhoods and fix them up. But most people do not want to do that.

Urbanists remind me of gays who think that a far larger percentage of the population are homosexuals than is really the case. I don't know anyone pining to go live in a city and I know lots of people. The city lovers are in cities and since they meet so many other city lovers in their cities they decide they are the norm. Whereas in fact they are statistical outliers.

I know people who want to go visit Paris or London or Manhattan. I even know people who wish they were rich enough to have an apartment in one of cities in a building with a door man with really good security. But they want that in addition to a house in the country where they'd spend most of their time. But there's no massive unfulfilled need to live in densely populated cities. Most would be happy to teleport to an office job and then teleport home to a house by a lake with a really nice mountain view and few neighbors. Some others would like to live in Mayberry RFD.

Dozens of market surveys indicate that about one-third of the market wants to live in more compact, mixed use, walkable or transit oriented neighborhoods. The surveys have been carried out by professional polling firms, by academic researchers, and by market analysts whose businesses depend on getting the right answer, reliably, year after year.

The survey results are borne out by the fact that walkable and transit oriented developments sell for more, and appreciate faster, than the comparable competition. There is indeed a massive unmet demand for walkable, mixed use developments and the demand is forecast to grow significantly over the next 20-40 years.

More discussion of this topic and citations at The Market for Mixed Use & Walkability.

Sixty-eight percent of Americans live on 2 percent of the U.S. land area. Or to put it another way, sixty-eight percent of Americans live in urbanized areas at an average population density of 2,670 per square mile. At that average density, commuter rail and jitney service are viable transportation options.

More details at Fun with Density and Transit Statistics.

I commend to your attention what Peter Schaeffer told Paul Krugman about American versus European and Asian population density in a discussion of why the US doesn't have better broadband access. The same applies for mass transit.

Mr. Krugman,

While it may appear to you that central New Jersey is densely populated, it is somewhat empty compared to Paris, London, or Seoul. Princeton University is located in Mercer county which has a population of 350,761 (2000) and a land area of 229 square miles. This works out to be 1,532 people per square mile. This is somewhat above the average for all of New Jersey of 1,174 people per square mile. Note that New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation.

By contrast, Seoul (10.356 million people) has a population density of 44,310 people per square mile. Central Paris (2.154 million people) has a density 64,186 people per square mile. A better comparison is Urban Paris with a population of 9.645 million and 9,173 people per square mile. Greater London has 7.7 million people and 12,644 people per square mile.

According to “All US Urbanized Areas:Analysis by Region and Size Classification: 1990” ( American “Central Places” average 3,320 people per square mile. By contrast, Suburban places average 2,131 people per square mile. The urbanized areas have a total of 158.259 million people (1990). The other 91.374 million Americans in 1990 lived in even less densely populated areas.
These numbers fit with statistics for particular areas. Greater Boston has 2,322 people per square mile. Harris County, TX has 2,077 people per square mile.

So Paris is going to have way better mass transit than, for example. Boston because it has some multiple of higher population density.

Americans who keep wanting to impose European style transportation policies (and a great many other policies) on American conditions are ignoring the very large demographic differences. Get outside of Boston and the differences become far larger.

By 2012, Mulhouse France (pop 112,000) will have more miles/km of tram/Light Rail than Houston, Texas (pop 4+ million) will.

Densities are roughly comparable (farmland can be seen in several places from the Mulhouse tram).


While it may appear to you that central New Jersey is densely populated, it is somewhat empty compared to Paris, London, or Seoul.

That's a bogus comparison, though - it's like saying that France is somewhat empty compared to Manhattan. Comparing regions with large cities is highly misleading.

Comparing cities to cities (via wikipedia), we get:

  • Boston: 12k/sqmi
  • Chicago: 12k/sqmi
  • New York: 27k/sqmi
  • Madrid: 13k/sqmi
  • Berlin: 10k/sqmi
  • London: 12k/sqmi

(Note that Paris was excluded because the reference for its data was missing.)

So there doesn't seem to be that much difference in population density between Europe and America. That should hardly be surprising when you compare region-to-region population densities:

  • Spain: 200/sqmi
  • France: 300/sqmi
  • Germany: 600/sqmi
  • California: 200/sqmi
  • New York: 400/sqmi
  • Massachusetts: 800/sqmi

The overall population density of the US is lower only because of large, nearly-empty states. For the vast majority of the population, though, population density in the USA and in Europe is essentially the same.

You're right -- you can't just plunk a train in the middle of the burbs and expect it to work. You need density.

20,000+ per square mile is a good idea. Central Seoul and Central Paris are marvelous places! (Seoul in particular is hugely underappreciated. Seoul is huge fun, nicer and more modern than any city in the United States.)

And you need strong planning controls to achieve this, because housebuilders will just build low density, single use estates with no infrastructure unless forced to by the local planning authority with a strong planning framework. Europe's sustainable cities have not been protected by accident, its been a century of hard work on the behalf of politicians, planners and campaigners.

Interestingly, though, Paris (the city itself, not the banlieues) achieves those high density levels with NO high-rise buildings (except for the awful Tour Montparnasse, and a small cluster of office buildings at La Defense on the outskirts). Yes, Paris is crowded, but nevertheless Parisians don't MIND living in such crowded conditions, because they are living in PARIS.

The main reason most people don't want to live in most US cities is because our cities are crap.

A large minority WANT to live in TOD. Let us fill that market demand first, and debate later where to go from there.

For better or worse, much (not all) of Suburbia is unsupportable post-Peak Oil. It is what we built, based on the assumption of cheap oil as long as "we" lived there and needed it.

Best Hopes,


It is not just that the typical European city is more liveable (and more energy efficient) than the typical US city; the typical European small town is also more liveable (& more energy efficient) than the typical US small town.

Not least among the reasons why is that most European small towns are served by passenger rail - or at worst, it is only a short bus ride to a place where they can access passenger rail.

I would venture to guess that 90%+ of US small towns are not served by passenger rail and are more than a one-hour drive away from the nearest passenger rail depot. More likely than not, no bus service to the depot either. Furthermore, more likely than not, the one passenger train per day that comes through does so in the middle of the night.

I am not sure how small your idea of a small town is. In France they are building new tram lines in towns down to 100,000. Perhaps (I do not know) the next step will be towns of 75,000 (that seems to be the pattern, for towns that vote correctly that is).

They are also beginning to build interurbans that use tram rolling stock and not regular "heavy freight" equipment designed for dual use of pax & freight. (I suspect single freight cars will find their way onto these new inter-urban lines post-Peak Oil).

Mulhouse France (pop. 112,000) has long a SCNF (slow) train station. They got their first tram in 2006. Two more by 2012, one is (still trying to confirm) an interurban that will connect, stopping at small villages, with Strasbourg (also not a major city) that will have high speed TGV service by 2012.

The first 30+ years of TGV building concentrated on a "star" radiating from Paris (all TGVs lead to Paris, as once all roads lead to Rome), but the next phase will be connectors perpendicular to the rays from Paris.

These lines appear to wander through some fields (looking at detailed street maps) to nearby villages

In 5 years, almost all of the citizens of Mulhouse can walk out their door, walk a few blocks to the nearest tram line, and be in Paris in about 5 hours. (6 if connections are less than perfect).

Oil required ? A few drops of lubricating oil.

Best Hopes for the Speed and Efficiency of French bureaucrats,


Everywhere in France is well served by SNCF. While many places may be quite far away from a TGV, there are few places not conveniently served by SNCF. This SNCF site (en Francais) lists a total of 153 Gares (train depots) throughout France. Given that there are 95 departements, that averages about 1.6 gares/departement. I haven't studied regional SNCF schedules in detail, but based upon what I have seen it appears that just about every gare is served by several trains each day. Few of these are located in what I would call truly small towns, and certainly none in villages; in many cases, though, we are talking only about somewhat large towns or very smallish cities, in the range of 10-50K population. Around each of these would be a constellation of small towns and villages within less than a 30 minute driving distance.

As for the smaller towns with out their own gare, most of these would have some way for a person to get to the nearest gare without having to own and drive one's own car: tram, bus, or taxi.

Look at how the US was served by passenger rail a century or so ago, and it was a pretty similar pattern. The typical French departement is only a little larger than the typical US county, and a US county seat would more often than not have a train depot and be served by passenger rail at least once/day. (If not, more likely than not passenger rail would be available the next county over.) Because the French have a denser population, that doesn't end up with a denser rail network, only a denser number of trains running on that network.

Smart growth is an oxymoron. We’d be better off if we spent our energy finding ways to slow the growth rate.

We're working on this.

PNM is stressing "energy-saving programs."

PNM is not addressing curtailing new construction or scaling-back on volumes heated or cooled.


One of the main problems is that it is so expensive to live in downtown they charge as much for a 700sq ft place as a 3000sq ft place out on the fringes of town They may be building a 20 mile section of light rail in Phoenix but they are building even more freeways and roads

You don't have to live downtown. Just live in an older neighborhood with access to transit or short drive to get where the job is. Apartments near me rent for $400 per month plus utilities for a one bedroom of 750 sqr feet. This is a racially mixed area and some suburbanites might not accept that.

The bottom line is that as energy costs go higher living in the suburbs will not vanish, only it will become the mainstay of the rich. Middle class people and former well offs will find they can no longer afford that lifestyle and have to move closer to where they find work.

I live in the Eugene/Springfield area of Oregon. It seems like city councilmen and people who study urban planning and make the zoning laws got somewhat influenced by studies that having a denser population in the city core stops suburban sprawl. Perhaps Kunstler's and other TOD anti suburban books influenced one or two of these planners. So what happened? In residential zoning laws it used to be that it was illegal to build a duplex or multi dwelling house except on a corner in most residential areas. I could never understand the logic of this except that a corner provides more parking spaces. But with TOD and the not so distant Portland having an influence—and perhaps people just sick of suburbia-- the local governments changed the zoning laws. But it is really half assed. You can build an auxiliary dwelling that is not on a corner now. However, I believe only if the owner occupies the main house. You are also required to put in a driveway. Then the auxiliary dwelling must not be bigger than than 40% of the main house, but no bigger than 700 square feet. If you live in a 1000 square foot house and want to build a attached apartment you are limited to 400 square feet! That might be OK in Japan but it is not very rentalble here. But it is probably OK to tear out your yard and trees to put in a 50 yard required driveway. Of course there are zones, but they are limited, where you can build apartments. There are also areas zoned for many trailer parks. Limiting the ability to build small places in residential and commercial areas makes housing more expensive and that is why trailer parks came about as well as suburbia. Can anyone explain to me why you cannot build whatever non industrial building you want as long as you do not block the light or view of your neighbors? In the mean time we have incredibly senseless zoning laws produce non walkable communities that are dependent on cars and oil.

I have a property that is a five minute walk to a new rapid transit bus were there is space in a big front yard where I would like to build a small apartment. The zoning laws make it very difficult.

One reason why there is so much suburban development is because there is so little urban development, which basically means rebuilding instead of greenfield. It is absolutely creepy how little rebuilding goes on in the US.

My sister lives in central San Francsico, which she prefers to the suburbs of Silicon Valley. She, like many others, is a reverse-commuter, living in the city for its amenities and driving to the office parks for work.

Like many US cities, Much of San Francisco's central area is old, run-down, not very useful leftovers from several decades ago. I see plots of land right in front of the subway station (Mission) where there's a single-story run-down quickie mart, with six or ten parking spaces, where you could put in a forty-story apartment building. If you looked over the city from a high place, you'd see maybe three or four construction cranes, and this was in the middle of a real estate bubble! I saw dozens of cranes over Tokyo even in the middle of a real estate depression, and of course Shangai or Moscow is a thicket of construction cranes today.

There was quite a bit of development in some US cities, such as Miami or San Diego perhaps. When the developers and early buyers go bust and the prices come down on these condos, they will be inhabited eventually, and might turn out quite nicely in the long run.

In Hamburg center they just keep tearing odwn buildings and replacing them with more modern ones all the time.

I have a great idea for your front yard.

Build yourslef a wood fired pizza oven as close as possible to the front of the property. Plant some fruit trees and maybe some olives. Put in some herbs and a vegetebal garden. Create a nice covered paved area where you can put out some tables and chairs fro your "friends". You might alos want to install an outdoor sink complet with hot and cold water.

Fire up the pizza oven on weekends and invite all of your neighbouring "friends" to come down and cook on the oven. Perhaps some of them will like your pizza so much they will be willing to trade you something for them. Of course you can't take dollars as that would be running a business and against the zoning laws anmd health regulations. Of course if your "friends" just gave you "gifts" than that would be OK.

I am going to do this in my front yard as I am sick of having to get in the car to drive to the pizza shop in the next suburb over.

I lived in China for 3 years.

My second home was on the 31st floor of a twin tower complex, which had a supermarket, computer store, and other retail businesses on street level. 6,000 people lived in a complex which occupied one city block.

Nearby was a newer complex which comprised 8 towers, had a swimming pool, recreation center, shopping, and a park.

Busses always ran at 5 min intervals.

The subway ran at 20 min intervals.

The mountain was a wilderness park. So was the beach.

I am speaking of Nanshan District, Shenzhen.


In SaiKung, Hongkong.. I kept my ship..... in a small bay with a few houses... one of which was owned by great friends... who watched it faithfully for us for all that time... Just a minibus away from the subway.. busses ran at 20 min intervals...

While far far away.........

A certain country made fun of Chinese commuters, because they used bicycles............

This country abandoned much of its commuter rail....

This country shifted to light trucks called sport utility vehicles... to avoid retooling its engines for efficiency...

This country has a vested and entrenched construction industry based upon conversion of farmland into residential...

This country has an entrenched interest that requires ever larger housing units..

The only way this can be broken is via intelligent use of taxation to drive the "free market" in the desired direction.

This specifically means raising petrol to $2 / liter or possibly triple that.... to pay for construction of the light rail... and construction of integrated shopping/residential units.

Of course, this would make jobs... would take money from DOD... likely you'd need to bring the boys home....


Perhaps... it might be prudent to raise reserve requirements of banks to something higher than zero....
To require derivatives be financed 100% with cash...
To let Citi and the others go bankrupt... intervene rescue the insured depositors...

Then... use the deposits to finance national restructuring... of transportation.. manufacturing...

You might try making interest on financial product purchases prohibitively high... while rewarding depositors with 12% or more on savings... and regulating interest for truly secured loans in critical industries...

Perhaps... some economists who know how to truly manage the coercive power of money to achieve necessary ends... might be found....


You will elect Clinton... and keep a health system which costs twice that of the French... where the first question asked is "What's wrong with you?" vs your system where the first queston asked is "How much money do you have?"

You will elect Ron Paul.. who hasn't met a social program he likes... except those for the likes of Lockheed or Boeing..
and... insists on meddling in the sex lives of the body politic...


Dubya might just take a leaf out of Musharraf's book and stage a coup.... after all he is CINC WORLD....


The corridor running parallel to I-270 from Washington, DC to Germantown, has been continuously urbanizing for the last few decades (since they put in the Metro Red Line), and the housing/credit bubble sped that up by several hundred percent. While the car-only developments still outweigh the rest (particularly at the northwestern end - Shady Grove is massive), the areas very close to route 355 + the Red Line stations have blossomed. In density alone, when you have a thousand apartments, two hotels, three office buildings, and 60 retail/food establishments, and half a dozen bus lines within a quarter mile of the station - that's sort of TOD. It's the beginning of how Silver Spring and Bethesda grew into entirely walkable communities - rapid 10+ story development right next door to low value parking and suburbia which can be expanded into later.

What I'm happy about, though, is the city of Rockville creating an explicitly new urbanist center - with integrated parking, through-roads, courtyards, streetlevel retail, and condos throughout the other five floors, with office buildings in between. This replaces two decrepit stripmalls, a supermarket, and a vacant parking lot that used to be used for fleamarkets. This is only a scant 16 acres, but it finally establishes the core of the town, in a way we only had office buildings and a movie theater and a few parking lots to do before. This is all within a quarter mile of Metro Rockville station.

I have no doubt that they're explicitly copying Reston Town Center, a similar development in Virginia - there's very little of this type of development in the suburb part of this area. But the garage + underground parking (rather than 1-story dedicated lots), the fact that it's within an already existing town (rather than a forest), and the fact that it's got great bus service and is hooked up to the Metro system - it makes things an order of magnitude more walkable - a town rather than an outdoor mall.

IMO - most measures to make carless operation practical are developmental, long, hard, and expensive.

There are a two relatively short-term things that transit authorities and planning boards could do in the area, though.

There are quite a lot of ground parking lots around here - either surrounding a mall, or in the middle of a shopping center, or surrounding small standalone buildings on a strip. We should be encouraging developers to replace these huge expanses with automated multi-story parking garages (robotic parking), as well as diverting their space requirements to the nearest transit center, and offering carshare spots. Density begets land value + transit ease - and having parking lots consume literally 2/3 of the land area of a commercial district makes TOD much harder.

2) In the Washington-Baltimore area, we have:
Metro rapid transit
Baltimore Light Rail
Baltimore Subway
a planned Purple Line light rail
a planned DC light rail line

MARC commuter trains
VRE commuter trains

Ride-On bus
MTA commuter bus
Omniride bus
Omnilink bus
DC Circulator bus
CUE bus
Georgetown Metro Connection bus
Fairfax Connector bus
Howard Transit bus
Loudon County Transit bus
The Bus(tm)
TAGS bus

They don't work together time/fare/info-wise, their routes are unknowable unless you do some online planning or you've done it before, and it's my opinion that this has resulted in ridership being much lower than it could be.

So - Put a small weatherproofed kiosk in every bus shelter. Give it the ability to plot your best route using multiple transit systems, check the exact schedule in a hyperlinked manner including connections, find the late/ontime status of any vehicle, map the areas nearby, look up the status of the nearest private car-sharing, taxi, and bus services, sell you a pass, and look around in a Google-Earth sort of way.

All these tools exist, you just have to combine them.

2b) Decomplicate the fares, and the fare collection. 2 dollars gets you 1 point-to-point trip on any of these services. 3 dollars gets you a day pass for the whole system. 60 dollars gets you a month pass for the whole system. You prepay for all this at a kiosk. Senior citizens + students get half off. Get all the rail and a few of the bus services under this umbrella, and the rest will join in.

Yes, it may be 500 feet to the bus, 100 feet from bus to subway, and 500 feet from the subway to your the place you want to get a sandwich, but it's also $1.25 for the bus, $2.65 for the subway roundtrip, and $1.25 for the return bus trip. Three separate transactions and approximately the cost of your lunch - this is not the way to encourage a carless lifestyle. It might be difficult to make mass transit faster than cars, but if it's also more expensive to use extensively, more inconveniant to pay for, and more intimidating to navigate, people are going to keep driving.

In Hamburg they combined historically(menaing a long time ago now before my time) separate transit services into a single system, and for instance in Oxford, England where I have spent some time there are a lot of separate private bus systems with differing time tables who compete against one another.

Now here's something that actually makes sense: you build the train first, and then you build the city around the station. The area around the station should be the densest part, suitable for walking, which means NARROW streets that are hard to drive on, except perhaps for one road to provide station access. This is completely contrary to the US habit of surrounding the train station with parking.

Actually, all development is "transit-oriented" development. Suburbia is oriented to the personal automobile.

This is all nice theory, but I have not seen a single meaningful example of train-based development in the US, besides what already existed from pre-1940. I get the impression that people in the US, including the city-planning/development professionals, have little clue about what a real train-oriented city looks like. That's why they fawn over the mediocre Portland, OR, and I never hear a word about Amsterdam, Osaka or Moscow.

Arlington Virgina has several around their WMATA subway stations. Including the offices of the Millennium Institute @ Courthouse Station, Orange Line. I had lunch a block away when there (at least 3 different choices) and there were both mid-rise apartments & condos above the restaurants (and car shares parked in special parking in front).

Just a few days there, but enough to contrast and compare with my Naw'lins TOD.

Best Hopes,


True - I live in one of those apartments on the Orange Line in Arlington and there's definitely a premium to pay for the privilege. Building height limits don't help - there are several blocks around the Clarendon station with a 2-story limit. Telecommuting/videoconferencing needs to be offered as an option by more employers in this area, as most desk jobs can be done anywhere.

Gimme a break. Arlington VA sucks. Yes, it is nicer than Atlanta if you want to take the train to work. But then, donkey barf is preferable to dog shit.

Americans' reaction to seeing an actual train station in the US is like a caveman witnessing his first plastic bag. Wooo! Amazing!

Why am I making such a big deal about this?

Because maybe, just maybe, people actually make the effort to actually build what they consider "train-based" cities. It takes decades of effort, and costs trillions of dollars, all told, just as building the suburbs took decades and cost trillions of today's dollars. Generations of people are forced to live in it.

If all this effort is made and we end up with a thousand Arlington, VAs, we'll just have to tear it all down again in another fifty or hundred years, when our grandchildren realize that their grandfather's dreams (like our grandfathers' dreams of automobile suburbia) were completely bogus.

Because maybe, just maybe, people actually make the effort to actually build what they consider "train-based" cities....
If all this effort is made and we end up with a thousand Arlington, VAs...

...then obviously not enough people visited Prague or Warsaw when they were thinking of what a city extensively served by both light and heavy rail should look like.

You may have seen some bad rail-centric cities, but don't make the mistake of concluding that good ones can't exist.

Yes, Prague is fabulous. Fast intercity rail, fast underground metro, extensive tram system (they are fabulous and very popular), extensive bus system, very walkable and cyclable. Very few cars on the road. Eastern European cities are a preserved example of what cities were like in Western Europe before the wealthy half of Europe lurched to the right and pandered to the needs of private motor vehicles.

Of course liberal marketeers will poo poo rail, thats because they sell cars and oil. If you sold sand, would you tell your customers that they could get it free from the beach?! Go figure!

Speasking of Prague have you seen Kunstlers latest eysore of the month? It's a shocker.

"Gimme a break. Arlington VA sucks."

Well, you have to live somewhere. I rather like it here. There are a lot of places in Europe I think are nicer. A few in the US for sure also. But, what places in the US do you think don't 'suck'?

The free marketeers don't fawn over Portland OR. They cite it as an example of the impracticality of urban rail projects and argue that money spent on urban rail was a waste.

The free marketers are too busy wailing for investment bank bailouts to fawn over anything but Mitt Romney.

You're correct - but that's not the only thing they argue.

I've been listening to a libertarian talk show for the last few weeks. I was always of the opinion that most such sentiment was people who were already wealthy within the current system, and eager to tack some more on, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Free Talk Live is run by two "free market fundamentalists," and while I've found I agree with them on most social agendas... their grasp of economics I find to be just as dogmatic as Marxist dialectical beliefs. A free market where everybody acts in their own rational interest (even though that's not reality) does not automagically create an eventual prosperous, just, equal society, any more than it creates an eventual revolution of the proletariat.

And it's really difficult for them to come up with anything resembling a comprehensive plan which conforms to the requirements we traditionally place in a system of government: justice, order, liberty, and equality. You really can't imagine, if you combine all their proposals into one, a society that doesn't simply devolve into warlordism. They only explore the consequences of individual privatizations, which can be absorbed by the strength of the other public institutions.

Dissolve the socialized police, the socialized fire service, the socialized army, the socialized schools, socialized taxes, and the socialized everything, and you're left with a society where there is truly no law but possession. Which promptly decides that it does like government after all, and diverts itself into local private versions of government centered around militias, with the same power, no respect for anyone's rights, and a conquer-or-be-conquered mentality.

Property is just a basic social contract.
Monopoly can be just as destructive no matter where it comes from.
Corporate personhood is not some natural, philosophically ideal status.
Enforcement of contract and law cannot be a voluntary phenomena.

The only way you can have an orderly high density living arrangement in a true free market society (where we've sold all the roads, for example) is if one person owns all the land. In which case, their word basically becomes law - which is what the libertarians wanted to get rid of in the first place.

It's a simple philosophy, with simple roots - constructive market competition is one of the most powerful social forces known to mankind, and for free marketeers, an object of worship. But they couldn't worship it if they destroyed the idea of public land on which to travel to church(or Wall St), couldn't call their priest(or broker) if they destroyed the idea of right-of-way of telecommunications, couldn't indulge in it if we removed the public settlement of civil law + enforceability of contractual obligation. And they wouldn't be alive if we allowed everyone the absolute freedom to arm themselves (including nukes).

Thanks Squalish.

The fact that we are having to make these points to certain individuals in this blog prooves my point, that many American's are essentially brainwashed by corporate sponsored neo-liberal propaganda spouted by our "elected" representatives. Politics should not be a dialectic conflict between right and left wing. Neither is right or wrong, neither is infact even a concept worthy of being protected in its own right. Right wing is the right of the individual, left wing is the right of the collective. The individual cannot be truly served without collective needs being met and the collective cannot operate effectively without freedoms for the individual (so long as those freedoms do not harm the whole). The divide is a conceptual one and a diversion from the reality of the situation.

The only people who protect neo-liberalism as a singular concept are the elite, who don't require collective action to support their needs because they control the majority of the money supply and can pay their way out of being affected by any negative social or environmental impacts of their activities, which is of course not the case for the vast majority.

So choose, be a puppet of the elite, or be a free-thinker who can grasp the subtlety of a contingent approach to politics: liberalism within limits that avoid negative social and environmental outcomes that are undesirable, and collective action to meet needs that cannot be met by individuals.

We need a left wing to avoid wasteful use of resources, to require that developers produce sustainable cities and need a right wing to protect the rights of individuals and private organisations that operate within the confines of the social contract, aka democracy. This approach and level of analysis may involve you getting off your arse, thinking, and watching less TV, deal with it.

Squalish, Yet say what you will about libertarian ideology (and I'm pretty hard on libertarians at times) the free marketeers seem to be mostly right about public transportation subsidies. See this page at Figure 1: Motorised Travel (passenger-kms per capita per annum) in 2003 where it compares many European countries for public transport use. What leaps out at me is that after all the subsidies and claims about public transit at least 90% of passenger miles traveled on the ground in Europe are done by car.

Think about that. With Europe's high population density, very high price of gasoline, and government public transit subsidies they still use cars for 90+% of their moving around. This is true in just about every country listed. Look at that chart. Then tell me how public transit is a solution for America. I do not see it.

Oh please, the main reason for 90% usage of cars is that road travel receives substantially more subsidy than public transport. This is the irony of libertarian transport ideology, the only thing right wing about it is that cars provide private choice to the individual, but they are paid for collectively. Road tax does little to pay for roads, which are mainly funded by direct taxation. Petrol is subsidised because the entire oil industry receives massive tax breaks and huge government investment to open up fields. The entire infrastructure is mainly tax backed. Public transport would be the choice of the masses if it received a fraction of that, as seen in European capitals like London and Prague. The mayor of London cut bus fares 10% and extended the network considerably this year after not raising the price for a few years. It is one of the few places in the world where the real cost of public transport is falling and London is the world's only major economy with more bus riders than car drivers, and it has benefited rather than harm the cities fiscal position because the economy has benefited. It is a no brainer that buses massively increase the capacity of a road without the need for new road building. The real cost of driving is falling because the industry is cosseted and has an unfair advantage.

I walk 2.5 blocks for groceries, 4 blocks for dry cleaning, bank, etc. etc. Walking does not count as "motorized transport". I burn about 5 gallons/month and use the car 2 to 4 times/week, yet probably half my "motorized miles" are in my car, half in the streetcar/bus.

Thus public transit MUST be a failure, since I *STILL* use my car for half my motorized miles. /sarcanol

Your metric is badly flawed. You are using the wrong measurement.


I'm the same way here in my TOD in Arlington. 1 mile walk to work, 3 grocery stores within 1/3 mile, library, doctors, stores, restaurants, theatres, friends, all within walking distance so I rarely take the actual transit and other trips - like to the countryside or distant relatives are by car so it skews these statistics.

But, the transit did play a role in allowing the density to succeed by reducing the parking requirement, and obtaining a larger catchment/market area for all the stores and cultural amenities.


No, I'm using the right metric.

The walking data supports the value of making walkable towns and cities. I'm all for that. I walk to the grocery store, drug store, Trader Joe's, Radio Shack, the post office, and a few other places.

The cars versus mass transit data demonstrate that getting people to take mass transit is an uphill battle that no country in Europe has succeeded at. I see this as the will of the people. Even with $7 and $8 per gallon gasoline the people still prefer cars (albeit smaller and diesel) to buses and light rail.

I prefer the streetcar, but unfortunately it does not go everywhere (not even the length of St. Charles Avenue, despite the promises lies in GW Bush's Jackson Square speech). Just 2 .5 streetcar lines. So I am forced to use my car too often (two to four times/week). More trips by streetcar, equal miles between streetcar & diesel.

Even the EU does not have enough Urban Rai. Please note the French tram & Spanish tram + subway building booms.

Without the public transit > destroyed TOD, and VMT could easily double (SWAG).

Even those that do not use mass transit benefit (and society benefits) by them living in TOD (the subject of this article).

So *USE* of mass transit does NOT represent it's larger value, which is the creation of TOD. The child of mass transit, TOD, saves more oil than does direct substitution of transportation, public for private.

So your metric is wrong since it only measures the smaller benefit of Urban Rail, direct ridership and ignores the larger benefit of Urban Rail, TOD.

Best Hopes for Deeper Understanding,


What a strange assertion. And how utterly wrong.

This little pdf tells us that the mix of trips taken in various European cities are,

Helsinki, Finland
- private cars 46%
- buses 19%
- by foot 15%
- commuter rail 8%
- bicycle 7%
- interurban trains 4%

Stuttgart, Germany
- private cars 43% (down from 48% several years ago despite the per capita number of cars doubling)
- public transport 23%
- walking 28%
- bicycling 6%

In Copenhagen, 25% of people drive to work, but 30% take public transport, 36% bicycle, and the other 9% walk.

And so on.

These cities all have this relatively low car-use rate because of a deliberate government policy to encourage other forms. People will use whatever's most convenient. Public transport is like any other business - if you provide a pleasant, reliable, frequent and well-priced service, people will use it; if you provide an unpleasant, unreliable, infrequent and expensive service, people won't use it.


Number of trips is not the same as passenger miles. The vast majority of passenger miles are in cars in Europe just like in the United States.

Percentage of trips in specific cities is not percentage of trips in a country as a whole.

Of course cars dominate passenger miles. Most of the world does not have the density required to make frequent mass transit stops economical, and if they're not frequent, they're not a convenient means of transportation.

Automobiles, however, take space that mass transit does not. Average seat utilization: horrible
Average road utilization: horrible
Average gas station utilization: horrible
Average driveway utilization: horrible
Average parking space utilization: horrible

At rush hour, the bus and train systems are full to bursting of people - the fleet was only built to this capacity, while less than 5% of the seats in the automobile fleet are occupied. And while a bus needs one double-length parking space at a depot, every one of those cars requires five or ten times its size in parking spaces at various businesses, on the chance that there's a heavy business day (as well as the convenience of exiting your car right next to the business).

The land area used by mass transit per passenger is orders of magnitude less. And so, comfortable density can be much higher. Seats are re-used, and people who exit the vehicle at their destination end up next to multiple workplaces and businesses, instead of in a parking lot with their destination being the sole thing accessible.

The more automobiles are used, the lower the density, and the more passenger miles are required to live your life. If the nearest (or hey, the cheapest) TV store is 30 miles away, and you bring the 2 kids because you don't want to leave them alone for three hours, that's 180 passenger miles on your graph. Compare to an urban landform where it's two subway stops away, and you accomplish the same objective alone in an hour, for 3 passenger miles on your graph. Of COURSE the rural/suburban populations (both a cause and an effect of automobile usage) outweigh the urban populations when measured in passenger miles - they will continue to be a majority even if the car ownership rates are 1 car to 10 people.

Density is simply difficult to achieve when you need X parking spaces for every restaurant, Y lanes of traffic for each neighborhood, and driveways the size of houses. It results in landforms where, since a car is required to get anywhere, there is no incentive to place things close to each other, and vehicle miles travelled skyrockets.

If Europe had allowed mass transit as an institution to die a horrible death, as we did, your graph of percent-of-total passenger miles travelled would only change slightly (perhaps from 80% passenger miles to 98%), while total passenger miles travelled, and transportation oil usage per capita, would skyrocket.

On this site, we try to discuss how the world, and the country, might live in an age of much more limited, expensive oil. The objective is not to eliminate cars entirely, it's to make as high a quality of life as possible, by any means possible. Using extensive medium-high density mass transit (as in Europe), as opposed to extensive medium-low density suburban automobile transport (as in the US), is a demonstrably comparable quality of life - which is not measured in passenger miles. And it accomplishes this on much less transportation oil consumption.

It's not that I approach mass transit as a drop-in replacement to all automobiles - CERTAINLY not in the US, not with the infrastructure we've built. But incrementally, with denser development (TOD), it's a means of reducing overall transportation oil consumption, without significantly lower quality of life. Alan's plan is supposed to grant an eventual 10% reduction in oil usage - but only a fraction of that will translate into percentage of all passenger miles shifting directly from automobile to rail.

London has achieved it. London’s buses carry 5.9 million passengers a day. The underground railways carry 3million passngers a day.

(Note that ridership has risen since the figures above)

Use of heavy rail is also strong: The majority of commuters to central London (about 80% of 1.1 million) arrive by either the Underground (400,000 daily) or by surface railway into these termini (860,000 daily).[2]

Car use has dramatically fallen:

Note that the link you provided includes this important paragraph:

Figure 3 illustrates the dominance of the car as the major form of motorised travel in Europe - and particularly in GB where we have the second highest mode share (88%). This trend has remained constant for more than a decade. However, it is important to bear in mind that the lack of comparable walking and cycling data from different countries leads to a different perception. The European WALCYNG study of 1999 showed as much as 30% of journeys in Great Britain made by either walking or cycling. (emphasis added)

Similarly, Great Britian's National Travel Survey shows walking and cycling with a 28% share of all trips.

For walking and cycling the key is using number of trips, not the number of passenger-kilometers. The average walking trip is a lot shorter than the average auto trip. We don't need to replace a 10-mile auto trip with a 10-mile walking trip. That's why walkable communities are made with many daily needs located within a 1/4 to 1/3 mile walk.

So overall it looks like walking and cycling have a 30 percent share of trips, and bus and rail have a 10-20 percent share of passenger kilometers (depending on the country). Within small and large cities, where transit oriented development actually exists, the numbers for transit share are much higher.

This already happens in Europe. Plans and policies eliminate new settlements that are not connected and high density/mixed uses are encouraged around transport nodes. Particular uses may be protected if an evidence base says they are needed and under pressure, but we take each development on a case by case basis and zoning rarely comes into it. Planning by zoning zoning is like colouring in by number. It does not work in a complex urban situation unless if it is applied flexibly, i.e. employment uses encouraged/protected here, etc. As I understand it, the American zoning system is, residential here, commercial there, here's your bulk and massing (no reference to sustainable transport/walking/densities, etc coz the car will do the work), now go build. It is the antithesis of sustainable urban design.

Where new ideas are needed is in the retrofitting of sustainability in the raft of low density unsustainable suburbs that scar your nation. Now that will be a challenge.

But in terms of new settlements? Its nothing new, the Victorians did it with railway towns, everybody before them created walkable settlements (because they had to) and Europe has been promoting sustainable town planning for a few decades now. The truth is, that, now that we don't have to, people need to be made to do so. This involves strong local governance and town planning controls. Call it left wing, call it anti-liberal, but it is the only way because you will never get the majority of developers to change their ways (isolated examples are no use to anybody, VOLUNTARY SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT DOES NOT WORK, except for a few irrelevant anomalies. its the national trend that matters).

When it comes to sustainable new developments? Well, all you need do is collectively eat your hats and visit and listen to Europe. We use 50% less fossil fuels than you per GDP produced. For a start, bloody sign Kyoto and stop striking out words from the new Bali climate change text.

If America falls, it will be from its stubbornness in avoiding change. In the natural world, species become extinct when they don't adapt to change. We are no exception.

The reality is, that some of these "positive developments" are in fact negative if they piggy back state transport schemes. The state, by providing trains, etc, will be subsidising development if it does not empower developers to put financial contributions towards them as part of their development via strong planning controls.

basically US power has been based on cheap fuel and the automobile industry and corresponding culture. Wehn the fuel is gone then the culture and industry will be too. We have discussed this before. America should be worse off than elsewhere post PO as they cannot use enrgy as efficiently as other countries due to poor infrasturcture and lack of experience. What Eruopeans or East Asians developed in terms of dense urban living with a nonsterile culture will sustain them when cheap enery is gone. Americans will have to live in their suburbs and neglected cities strung together with decaying roads whereas other countires will have less useless infrastructure as they were pretty much finished with buildout of the basic structure before WWI/WWII. This sort of post does not have to be a rant or antiamerican as the post above from China does seem to be, but gloating(translation for Schadenfreude by the way) after observing the American global attempt at military domination to keep a senseless national architecture going might well seem in place at this point in time. Afterwards however the rest of the world might need to make a reverse Marshall plan for the US,which I think various Arab countires are doing already for Citibank, et. al.

Cest la vie.

Yes, there is a bit of rant in my post. But the main message is, that technical solutions are not the issue. We all know the solutions, they are tried and tested. What is required is a political solution.

Developers must be forced by law to meet sustainability standards, in partnership with the public sector with the full range of political tools, regulations, tax incentives and subsidy.

My point is that, the absence of government led culture change means that the few good examples are just cherry picking the few sustainable locations that exist, and that these examples give a false sense of positivity when the rest of the industry goes on as normal. This approach is institutionalised within many industries, better known as greenwashing; one or two pet green projects for publicity reasons, a bit of cash diverted from normal revenue schemes to a couple of community projects and bam, the protesters are shoved away for another few years and consumers/politicians can breath with false relief, and its business as normal.

Add to this, that many American's would see the necessary political solutions as lefty tree-hugging stuff, and you realise that a face saving solution is required and a bit of hat eating called for. The cold war is over and Americans must realise that public private partnership is not about communism, but a necessary solution to solve the problems today that are caused by market failures. American's must understand that many social and environmental costs of economic growth are external to the business decision making process and will never be dealt with in advance without government intervention. Why invest in efficiency for tomorrow when I can make a buck today, some will be ethical but the masses and trend will always head to the lowest common denominator.

Sub-prime mortgages are a similar issue that may be closer to home right now than global warming and peak oil. However, all these issues stem from the same economic and political failure. In many ways, the Bali talks, which America is disrupting, are crucial (and we need more global governance because we are talking about global issues here), because why would country A invest in sustainability for tomorrow when B will undercut A to make profit today.

A pride in liberal economics, is the problem which stops America from progressing. It results in failure to recognise and remedy the market failures that cause the global problems, which all appear to be coming to ahead.

America does not need to embrace your "necessary political solutions". Technological solutions can let us remain in our suburbs.

Better batteries will save suburbia. We will charge up our Chevy Volt cars and cruise to work and back. If our commutes are long (and I really try to avoid that) then we'll have to plug in our PHEVs once we get to the office so we have the power to get home again.

We can make as much electricity as we need by shifting big time to nuclear power. Eventually photovoltaics will become cheap too if Nanosolar succeeds.

Urban planning is far less important than whatever is going on in the labs of Nanosolar, A123Systems, LG Chem, EnerDel, and the like.

You neglect the energy to pave & maintain your roads, light low density suburban streets, postal, UPS & pizza delivery, snow removal, water & sewage, getting food to your stores and a hundred other energy uses to maintain the Suburban lifestyle. And almost every one will be less in an Urban environment.

We have the labor to build 8 new nukes (and finish Watts Bar 2) in the next decade (per federal study), hardly enough to displace more than a small % of natural gas we burn for electricity. Perhaps 25 years of nuke building could make a significant difference. Do we have 25 years ?

No, I think that just as the herd stampeded into Suburbia, it will stampede out.

Best Hopes for TOD,


If technology was the cure, why has it not solved anything yet? Without political solutions, efficiency just results in more economic growth. Emissions aren't reduced. I expected and anticipated hatred to be thrown at me by suggesting something other than a neo-liberal market model.

You guys are seriously brainwashed by your politicians, land of the free? Nonsense. Hell, we also have better standard of living as a result of our less right wing ways, 25days holiday average (add public holidays) oh sorry you guys get about 5days a yr holiday, suckers, your right wing ways are really doing you good, eh?!

free healthcare to all (you guys are happy to let poor people die for lack of insurance), fantastic public transport (Vs SUV's), heavily subsidised university accessible to all socio-economic groups (20-30k debts for wealthy kids in the US), protected countryside (you just concrete over willie nillie), walkable neighbourhoods (some of your stupid suburbs don't even have sidewalks), high speed intercity, inter-country trains (look at London's spanking new high speed railway line to Paris and Brussels, its now faster door to door than plane, does America have a single high speed rail line worth mentioning?). Most people in Europe don't need a car, unless they live in the countryside, you guys are slaves to them. You've been fooled by your politicians, erm, sorry, your oil industry paid/lobbied liars. The reason you guys aren't given long holidays is because the powers that be don't want you to visit Europe and see how good life can really be.


The Britain of your imaginings is not the real Britain you live in. See Figure 1: Motorised Travel (passenger-kms per capita per annum) in 2003 which compares modes of transportation used by people in Great Britain and many European countries. Note that cars are used for over 90% of passenger-kilometers travelled. Buses and trains and such contribute very little to total distance traveled.

Yet the myth propagated in America is that the Brits and Euros travel mostly by public transit. Not so.

Technology has solved many problems and will solve many more. The solutions just don't come instantly.

I expect living standards in the US to decline in the next 5 years due to rising oil prices and accumulated debts and deficits. But I also expect in the longer run that technological advances will eventually make suburban living just as affordable as it was 5 years ago. That might take to the 2020s for all the nukes and PHEVs to get built. But this adjustment period, as wrenching as it is going to be, is just a transition period while we adjust to the decline of oil.

You fool, don't you know that there is only enough Uranium for one more generation of nuclear? That which is left will be harder and more expensive to extract, we are facing peak uranium matey.

I agree that Europeans use cars too much, but I'll bet that people in the US use cars 99% of the time. The fact is, that we have the infrastructure in Europe for people to give up cars if they choose to, American's don't have that choice. Most people in London don't have a car. Hows about that! I can get to any city in the UK by train or bus. ANY CITY.

You forget that efficiency is a prerequisite to achieving a transition, because none of the alternatives can match the power of oil. NONE. There is no solution other than frugality and sustainable energy sources. The transition is expensive, will take long, and you caught the train too late. Just what do you expect Joe 6-pack to do in his isolated condo when he can't run his car?! What the Fuck!!

It can be many orders of magnitude harder and more expensive to extract, and it will still have a high ROI and the power will be cheap. The point has been beaten to death on TOD - the '90s reserve estimates you're using are based on outdated figures which had no sense of economic/geographic/nuclear energy scale.

My recent posts on the matter.

Some Japanese researchers have found a way to cost effectively extract uranium from the oceans. Also, we can blend uranium with the much more plentiful thorium. An American company named Thorium Energy (or is it Thorium Power?) is conducting experiments on how to do this with a Russian nuclear reactor.

As Squalish says, this question has been beaten to death here at TOD. We really can shift to nuclear power.

The same is said about oil. You will find new sources but they are harder and more expensive to extract, so you get a peak. No massive expansion unless fusion can be harnessed to extract energy from water.


Can you provide evidence for this assertion:

We use 50% less fossil fuels than you per GDP produced.

I've seen different analyses on this. A friend did a comparison with GDP adjusted for purchasing power parity and found that most countries fit a tight line of energy used versus GDP. The US was somewhat above the line but by a lot less than a factor of 2. South Korea was above the line too and so were Canada and Australia. I suspect that this has something to do with the mix of industries and weather differences.

BTW, a recent study claims Britain has basically exported its CO2 emissions to other countries and really emits far more than it claims. Don't know if that is accurate. But driving out heavy industry with high energy taxes would tend to do that.

From Wikipidia $GDP/barrel/day:

USA: 1.65
European Union: 2.52
United Kingdom: 3.34

So, if that's correct, the EU as a whole consumes 50% less oil to create the same GDP, whilst the United Kingdom consumes over 100% less oil/GDP.

America's trade deficit reveals that you export as much if not more CO2 per capita as Europe. This is an issue, but a common one and can only be solved by bringing all countries into emmissions trading and by including aviation and shipping (ensuring that aviation is weighted according to the 3x greater effect of emissions at higher altitudes).

In London more people use buses than cars (only city in the world to have achieved that, London has the world's largest bus fleet even though its by no means to largest city) and most cars do 40-60miles/gallon in the UK, when you commonly have stupid cars that are less efficient than a Model T Ford. the UK's rail system has more passengers/year than even Germany, which has about 20million more people. Its a no brainer. I'm surprised you are questioning these things. Obviously you are not aware of how much shit America is in right now. Its up to its neck.

Phil, The Wikipedia page doesn't appear to adjust for purchasing power parity.

My questioning things: I do not accept conventional wisdom. It is so often wrong.

A very analytical friend used 2003 data for GDP with Purchasing Power Parity and compared some countries by a lot of energy measures. In one of the many columns of his spreadsheet he calculated "2003 Oil BTUs Per PPP Dollar of GDP". Here's what he found:

US: 3553
Canada: 4517
Mexico: 4195
Brazil: 3131

UK: 2079
France: 2559
Germany: 2436

World: 3150

Note that we are about 13% above the world average for oil/GDP PPP per capita.

He did another column "2003 Total BTUs Per PPP Dollar of GDP":

US: 8994
Canada: 14065
Mexico: 7216
Brazil: 6423

UK: 5903
France: 6768
Germany: 6271

World: 8188

Note that the US is 10% above the world total BTUs per PPP GDP. That's not drastically out of line. Much less than one might expect if one just listened to the emotionally overwrought rhetoric about SUVs (and I say that as someone who has never owned or wanted to own an SUV).

Really accurate facts are a lot more useful than what everyone around you assures you is true.

The bad news here is that countries can't get very far away from the average of energy per unit of economic output. Some of the deviations they've managed have been done by shifting heavy industry abroad. Some by having milder climates. Look at what the cold weather does to Canada's energy usage. South Korea looks similar. Though Germany does well and Canada could probably do somewhat better.

As for how much trouble America is in: I think it and the world are in big trouble. But I'm not going to embrace conventional wisdom without evidence. There's a big big herd mentality with humans. I'm deeply suspicious of it.

You make it sound like sustainability is somehow the status quo. The true herd is running down manhattan and the city of london, financing companies that fuel our oil addiction and destroy the planet, leaving an utter stench of dung for our children to clean up and reap an existence.

Transit Oriented Development or "Smart Growth" is often cited as one of the potential solutions to dealing with peak oil by reducing suburban sprawl and creating more usage of mass transit and walkable communities.

We do not need “smart growth” which will allow us to pack more people into our already bloated cities. We need smart re-development so that our cities have some chance of being livable in a post-fossil fuel future. How long are we going to continue with the idiotic promotion of the idea that all communities at all time should be pursing economic growth? If that is not what you meant they why did you adopt the “smart growth” propaganda phrase of the brain dead worshipers of private finance capitalism as a perfect and eternal form?

Montreal has enjoyed transit-oriented development since the 60's when our metro opened (1966) and our so-called "Underground City" began to be developped.

Please see the following links:

Here's a more general map of public transit in Downtown Montreal:

A website summarizing recent development projects in Montreal (mainly downtown condos located near metro stations):

I wanted to upload a few photos of Montreal, but unfortunately I don't seem to be able to cut and paste images into this comment.

And last, but not least, a $1,3 billion mixed-use redevelopment projet near Downtown that depends for its viability on a planned tramway line:

For images, scroll down to the bottom of this site:

Nassau County, Long Island is working on a plan. The Long Island Railroad already services most villages and the plan is to alter zoning near stations so that the surrounding area becomes a local hub for business and living.

The main changes needed are to allow more than three story buildings (for apartments) and additional parking. I attended a meeting with village mayors last year and many of them have already started working on plans. The meeting was designed to coordinate things on a county-wide level.

If there was adequate apartment space near stations then those who work in Manhattan and commute on the railroad would not need to use their cars during the week.

Here is a links list of several hundred new walkable developments in the U.S. and around the world. Not all of them are transit oriented, but many of them are:

The Congress for the New Urbanism has a list of infill projects, again not every single one is served by transit but most are:

Reconnecting America/Center for Transit Oriented Development has several books, reports and presentations with case studies and best practices:

Here is a links list of several hundred new walkable developments in the U.S. and around the world. Not all of them are transit oriented, but many of them are:

I'm acquainted with a couple of the developments on their list... and you know what? THEY ARE AUTOMOBILE DEPENDENT! Furthermore, neither of the two which I have visited have attracted me as a place to live, for various reasons. No rail service, minimal (and poorly executed) bus service, and overall they do not function significantly to reduce the per capita oil dependence.

There is a day of reckoning, or so some people suppose. For a great many of activists in these "green" movements there has been way too little critical feedback, if the long term goal is to build societies that can function with a greatly reduced oil/gas/coal per capita use.

I am interested in gathering more details about the projects on the list. Please contact me directly if you have visited any specific development in person and believe it should not be on the list; I depend on feedback from residents and visitors.

However, as others have mentioned in this thread, the element of time is crucial in creating good urban environments. Every great city on Earth started out as an undeveloped site with no transit. Development should be located where it can be served by transit, but if that is not possible then development should at least be walkable. Walkable developments do reduce auto use and vehicle miles traveled, even when there is little or no transit service. And many are well positioned to be retrofitted with transit when the political will and funding for transit service become available -- even in small towns.

The great irony of the new smart growth initiatives is that they call for exactly the kind of development that characterized our cities prior to the advent of cheap energy and the automobile. It is back to the future...

Laurence, the New Urbanism communities you mention, as others have stated, are themselves dependent on the automobile. While attractive, they are fads. As for high-rises -- Americans have demonstrated that they don't want to live like chickens.

Of the comments above, the ones that seem to stand out are those that new urbanism needs to be new urban -- right in the city. And the one that answers are going to be find right in the suburbs. There will be a dual solution.

Steve LeVine, author
The Oil and the Glory

Not about high rises specifically, but here are some facts about apartments.

Twenty seven percent of American households live in multifamily housing; 15 percent rent an apartment in a building with 5 or more units. Forty-one percent of renters surveyed by Fannie Mae in 2001 say they rent out of choice and not necessity, up from 32% in 1999. The number of apartment dwellings grew twice as fast as the number of single family dwellings from 1995-2000. In recent years the fastest growing segment of apartment renters has been those earning $50,000 or more, representing over 3.8 million households.

More at:

Apartments - The New American Dream?

and also:

NMHC Apartment Myths

There will be a dual solution.

In my TOD article "USA - 2034" I did note that a quarter of the population would live in "Transit Suburbia" 25 years hence.

The two nadirs of personal gasoline use are the residents of New York City and pre-K New Orleans. My sister lives in mid-Manhattan and I personally like living in New Orleans (my two brothers live in suburbs of Phoenix & Austin).

Manhattan is low point for personal car driving in NYC, the Lower Garden District, the French Quarter, Treme and Warehouse District in New Orleans. Two *VERY* different cityscapes but a common result.

I much prefer the human scale and beauty of New Orleans, and the much higher community contact compared to NYC. Judging from the occasional tourist carriage and walking tours (the Garden District & FQ gets many more than we do), others do as well.

If I were to make a template for "mid-level" TOD, it would look much like the Lower Garden District of New Orleans. 40% 2 story homes, 30% 3 stories, 25% one story and 5% 4 stories (My guess). 90% of residences duplex to 8-plex (higher % of structures are SFR). 28' wide one way streets with parking on both sides and very limited off-street parking (a 2 story duplex (each 1,000 sq ft) is going up next to Zara's Groceries on the front of a former parking lot, parking still @ rear).

Perhaps 15% of the surface area devoted to the automobile (vs. 50+% elsewhere) Trees and greenery stuck everywhere possible. A nice park 3 blocks away. A "distorted grid" that affects car traffic patterns. And a streetcar 2.5 blocks away from me and almost everyone else. VERY mixed use, with two commercial streets 5 blocks apart (Magazine & St. Charles). And even a WalMart in an out-of-the-way corner.

In a subway station, perhaps have the high rises within 1.5 blocks of the stop, the schools two blocks away and and them go to mid-level TOD outside that.

Streetcars are good for TOD because they have linear rather than point concentrations of transportation. I like the idea of increased distances between subway stops (say every 1.5 miles on average) with a surface streetcar/Light Rail above ground connecting the stations, with other streetcar lines perpendicular to each station. High density TOD at each subway station (with 2 streetcar lines crossing as well) with mid-level TOD along the streetcar tracks.

We have a given Urban built form, so one solution would be to take a 6 lane street, convert it to two streetcar tracks (in grass). two bicycle paths, a median and two traffic lanes. Disruptive at first (so will PO), but adaptive. Encourage mixed use.

Best Hopes,


Best Hopes,

Alan Drake

I have to say I'd agree with most all of that. I'm not against high-rises but generally the more traditional 2-10 story development is better in all ways, and actually not much less dense since more of the ground area is used. (In Le Corbusier-style development, the ego-gratifying high rise is normally surrounded by an empty plaza, and elevators take much of the interior space of the high-rise itself. The result is you'd have about the same usable square footage from a bunch of 3-10 story buildings.)

The one thing i'd add (it is implied by Alan) is Really Narrow Streets. Most streets should be VERY narrow, like 12 feet from building to building (not sidewalk to sidewalk). I've seen as little as four feet in perfectly nice, functioning neighborhoods. This is almost inconceivable to most Americans, but very common in the rest of the world. If you make the streets too large, you'll have too much traffic, and walking becomes much less pleasant. Simple as that. This is a failing of much of Manhattan which consists otherwise of 3-6 story buildings.

I did a whole series on Really Narrow Streets on my website. You'll notice that Really Narrow Streets are naturally full of people and there are NO CARS.

Alan's idea of converting excessive street space into other forms is a good one. I wouldn't just "convert" it to other forms of transportation. I'd just build buildings on it! In many cases, the sidewalks alone would make perfectly good streets, and then you could build row houses etc. on the part the cars drive on.

Greenery is good, but greenery today tends to be an attempt to distance onesself from the roar of endless traffic. When you have a narrow street without automobile traffic, you don't need a "buffer zone" anymore. Keep the greenery in parks and gardens.

This is great stuff, but the big challenge is to put good urban design ahead of highway engineering. Highway engineers plan for cars only, in general, and the planning system gives them more weight, so this requires culture change.

I've followed this thread since its inception and decided to stay out of it since these sorts of things turn into a pissing contest. I said my piece about the future here:

(Note to Glenn - want to do a reprise as a TOD Local?)

Some time later I prepared a draft of the post below which I am now posting. I don't have time to make neat arguments for my position nor do I really care to defend it. I belive I have made it clear over time that I don't care what you do but that you will live and die by your decisions.

(Start of the old draft)
I Am Tired of Status Quo Lite arguements

There are posts every day that, essentially, argue for Status Quo Lite. Without dumping on Alan, it is argued that trolleys, light rail and electrified heavy rail are the answers. Others argue that dense communities where everything is within walking distance are the answer. Some argue for relocalization which to my mind ignores the fact thata few community's current needs can be produced locally. The list is endless. But, none of these "fixes" take into account the reality that Status Quo Lite has a limited lifespan.

It could be argued that adopting Status Quo Lite allows for a transition to some new form of sustainable living. Bullshit. All it does is waste even more money, resources and time pursuing a dead end. Does anyone seriously believe that the "information/service" economy is going to be an enduring feature of the future? Further, essentially all natural resources are being depleted from rock phosphate to copper to FF's. You don't need a big box store (and the people employed by it) if it has few products to sell.

The Amish come closest to the future as see it and they sure as hell don't live a Status Quo lifestyle. I have a copy of an article from Ohio magizine from November, 1995 (note the date folks) by Gene Lgsdon entitled The Throughly Modern Amish. Here's a short quote, "I am convinved that the way the Amish combine technology and theology is what we English don't appreciate well enough yet and why we often consider them backward. It is hard to see, presently, that when cheap sources of fuel are gone, the Amish might look downright avant garde for having pioneered comfortable lifestyles based upon renewable, but less plentiful resources. Unnoticed by even the most environmentally aware scientific researchers, the Amish have been quick to pick up on new technoloies in solar, wind water and biological power, while perfecting designs and methods that require less net power thatn we are presently in the habit of using."

A somewhat similar course of action was argued by Ralph Borsodi in his 1933 book, Flight From the City I would strongly suggest that people try to find a copy of the 1972 Colophon reprint.

If the Amish/Borsodi-style of life (plain and simple) is the future (which I believe it is), why not get on with it? Let's stop the mental masturbation. This doeasn't mean not working on alternatives but rather to actively work toward a realistic end and stop wasting time on Status Quo Lite. (end of old draft)

Ok, I want to close with a comment on food. It appears that many posters have never actually grown anything. I'll use winter wheat as an example. You have a city of 1M people and they eat one loaf of bread a week (1lb). How much land just for wheat? A good yield today is around 4k per acre assuming high fertilization and sufficient rainfall/irrigation. That's 1M pounds divided by 4k pounds/acre = 250k acres divided by 640 acres/square mile = 390 square miles. Think about it.


I agree with your post todd but not your math on the wheat production. 1 million people using 1 pound of wheat per week is about 1 bushel per person per year or 1 million bushels. This 1 million divided by your 4k pounds per acre (67 bushels) is 14,925 acres divided by 640 is a bit over 23 square miles. A lot of land but not even a township (36 sq. miles).

Dense cities have been around since the beginning of civilization. They are "sustainable." How long has Jerusalem been there?

This "everybody goes Amish" idea is really Suburbanism in a slightly different guise. If you take all the people in Los Angeles, on their quarter-acre plots with decorative front and back gardens, and put them on four-acre plots with operative front and back gardens, what do you get?

It wasn't that long ago -- 1850 -- when most Americans were small-lot freehold farmers. The Jeffersionian ideal. Americans have never been able to adjust to urbanism -- the 19th century cities of coal-fired industry and underpaid immigrant labor were too unpleasant. There wasn't much in the way of labor laws in those days. People worked 10 hours a day 6 days a week, often in very unpleasant circumstances. Some people have said that humans, collectively, have never worked more hours in all of history than they did in that late-19th century period. Even the Roman slaves and medieval serfs didn't work like that. This created the backlash of everything from labor unions to government social programs to communism, which played out mostly in the 20th century.

That period of about 1850-1930 was very brief. Instead of trying to make the cities nicer, Americans' reaction was to escape the city and return to their small town/small-lot farmer self-image. This is the suburbs in a nutshell. Just look at the typical suburban house. It has a front and back lawn (ersatz wheat field/hay field) with what amounts to a farmhouse stuck in the middle of it. I am not particularly against gardens, but in traditional urban areas the gardens tend to be either a) in the back of row houses, or b) a central garden surrounded by the house on all sides, or c) a publicly accessible park. The personal automobile is simply the continuation of the horse, and the garage is the barn, and so forth.

In practice, some percentage of the population will be food-creators. It's about 2% now. Perhaps it is 30% in the future. Possibly that 30% will live "like the Amish" (who are commercial farmers, not subsistence farmers). That leaves 70% who aren't farmers, and who thus gain nothing from living on an ersatz farm.

I'm coming to the conversation late, but it seems to me that as long as the population continues to grow, smart growth is not an oxymoron but rather a prudent choice.

Suburbs in America today seem more of a symbol of status than an issue of race, but whatever the reason, we've surely set a poor example for other countries like Australia. (Three cheers to the new Aussie government for making climate change a priority.)

Sundance Channel's Big Ideas for A Small Planet had an episode entitled Cities. In it was an act on Portland, Oregon's South Waterfront ( I believe one of the guys they interviewed talked about a 10 minute rule - trying to making all necessary amenities accessible within ten minutes, whether its ten minutes of walking, biking, street car, tram, Flexcar, bus, light rail, or--worse case scenario--car. While not strictly a Transit Oriented Development, it certainly offers a good number of options.

The development's website claims the following: "What if you could get everywhere you needed to go, without a car? Most neighborhoods have one or two transportation alternatives. South Waterfront will feature over six options, including the country’s first commuter aerial tram to be built since 1976. Combined with the streetcar, bike paths, and three Flexcar spots, the variety of transit options means you may never need your car. In the future, Trimet buses and a new light rail line (and maybe even the occasional water transit) will all serve South Waterfront." "South Waterfront is Oregon’s first green neighborhood and the largest green development in the country. The entire neighborhood uses innovative energy saving and water conservation techniques to minimize the neighborhood’s impact on the environment. From the bioswale filtration to LEED certified buildings and energy- efficient Portland Aerial Tram, living in South Waterfront is good for you, and the planet."

LEED Certification does not amount to much in the way of energy efficiency, a far better model is the Passive House.

This is what is planned for my city of Portage, IN, pop. 36,000 (PDF warning):

I feel incredibly fortunate to be in the stuation I am in. I live 3.3 miles from the train station that the planned TOD is going to center on. This train system is the South Shore Line, which is a streetcar system that seems to me to be vastly underutilized (though it is now gaining usage). It was nearly killed off. All I can say is, thank God it survived. It runs from Chicago to South Bend.

I moved to my current location about 4 years ago, before becoming peak (and before that, environmentally) aware. At least I decided to leave [i]somewhat[/i] close (7 miles) to work, close enough that I can handle being a bicycle commuter. I do wish I were closer, and if I live in the TOD later, the commute will be down to about 5 miles which will be about as ideal as I could hope for.

I do have a lot of concerns for the next few years, though. In a country that seems to be going more and more bankrupt, where is the financial capital going to come from to build and sell TOD, and the associated rail? I very much want this to happen, but can it? Clearly we should have started this a long time ago, or better yet, not have built suburbia in the first place. I am very afraid of the US pouring virtually all of its resources into keeping car culture going, because, let's be frank, that's about all we know now. How many people are willing to ride a bike anymore? Some of my neighbors drive past their driveways about 50 feet to their mailboxes, then make a 3-point turn into their driveways.

But I don't want to get too down about it as I have before. At the very least making an effort will ease the pain of the transition into whatever fate awaits us. I make a sincere effort to live responsibly, and hope for the best for the future.

Is anyone else familiar with the redevelopment planned for my smally city? Any comments? I curious as to what others think of it, because I don't have much to compare it to.

The Northside Master Plan for Portage has one small portion that may turn out to be reasonably walkable -- the National Lakeshore TOD. The "perimeter block" model of mid-rise housing with internal courtyards recalls similar models that have been successful in several European cities. National Lakeshore appears to be split by a high-speed arterial, and it is also an isolated pod, with four entrance/exit points.

The rest of the Northside Master Plan is entirely auto-dependent, with isolated building groupings surrounded by parking lots, disconnected street patterns with large, car-scale blocks lined with berms and buffers, and high speed collectors and arterials.

I am sure transit oriented development would be a hit in Minnesota as long as we can get people to get out of their cars in winter. In the Twin Cities, we have one light rail line with plans to build a second along a highly travelled bus route. Transit has limited support.

I am sure transit oriented development would be a hit in Minnesota as long as we can get people to get out of their cars in winter. In the Twin Cities, we have one light rail line with plans to build a second along a highly travelled bus route. Transit has limited support.

The principles governing community development go back millenia and are as relevant today as they were 500 years ago. Our sprawl and low-density development is clearly an historical aberration. The 'New Urbanism' has reconstituted/restated these principles while individual planners and urbanists preserved and promoted them for decades. See for a thorough presentation.

Another development I don't think anyone has mentioned is the Belmar development in Lakewood, CO. I was recently there and did a quick walk-around. Not sure about the availability of transit except for buses, but it was a very interesting area.

I believe the area was originally an old shopping mall which has been renovated into almost a small downtown, with offices, theaters, apartments, shops, etc.

Here's the link:

This is almost an exact repeat of the 1970's discussion, which had, essentially, no resulting footprint in large scale urban design in the US. While small micro-urban landscapes were created, megaprojects focused on freeway and suburbia type development. I think that this pattern was also repeated in regions surrounding cities such as Moscow, London, Berlin and Paris. Haven't such plans been available for decades?

I think that only extreme energy shortages will result in fundamental urban landscape changes in North America. There was an interesting post related to the impact of post-USSR energy shortages in Cuba and the reaction of the society to this energy pressure.

I agree about the San Francisco/Oakland BART system in the comment below. Note that it was built and then didn't expand for decades. Glad that BART is adding new lines and hope that it can include San Jose (as originally planned) into a continuous Bay Area Rapid Transit system. It is interesting to note that some of the new lines alone cost as much as the entire earlier system.

Union City BART station in California is a TOD under construction.

City of Union City: Economic Development page

Google search: Union City BART TOD
(see 1st pdf)

Union City BART redesign OK'd Oakland Tribune, Aug 30, 2006


High speed rail showdown in California - SF Examiner, Dec 17, 2007

Station photos on Flickr - none of new development though...

Wiki: station page - needs addition of TOD info...

As a journalist who once covered transportation and development, and the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights, Ill., at the Daily Herald, I can tell you that Transit-Oriented Development is not just higher density in and of itself, but higher density done right: A mix of housing styles and retail on pedestrian-scaled streets that are themselves part of an interconnected street grid. Here in the Chicago area, suburbs with transit service have embraced Transit-Oriented Development near Metra (suburban rail) and Chicago Transit Authority “L” stations because they’ve long recognized the value of thriving, walkable downtowns that not only offer a sense of place, but allow those who wish to ditch their cars when desired.

Congress for the New Urbanism, for which I now work, calls this kind of development the convenient response to the “inconvenient truth” of global warming. It’s an off-the-shelf solution that helps mitigate climate change and peak oil which – like it or not – is happening within our lifetime and because of the choices we make.

New Urbanism doesn’t strive to tell people how they should live; it aims to give them choices other than the sprawling, cookie cutter crapola built in the United States since World War II. That concept of choice extends to schools; CNU’s board unanimously supports school vouchers – hardly the mark of wild-eyed, left-wing utopians. New Urbanism doesn’t strive to undo the free market; it aims to level the market’s playing field by removing zoning and code barriers to building better communities, and point out just how subsidized our “free” road system really is.

Depending on the development, New Urbanism and Transit-Oriented Development can be one and the same, but New Urbanism is more than just high density. Why? Because New Urbanism harkens back to pre-World War II styles of planning communities that recognized:

• Streets are not just miniature highways whose aim is solely to push maximum traffic through to the next major arterial, but public spaces that encourage walking, bicycle riding and setbacks that encourage houses to interact with that space.

• Housing types are not segregated from each other, nor are commercial uses segregated from housing, forcing you to drive through your subdivision, out onto the major arterial road to the strip mall. Single-family homes, townhouses, condominiums and even apartments intermingle within easy walking or bike-riding distance of retail districts that themselves offer a wide variety of uses.

• Neighborhoods aren’t isolated islands that turn their backs on their surroundings, or surround themselves with fences and guarded gates. They connect to adjacent neighborhoods and their larger communities.

New Urbanism and Transit-Oriented Development are commercially viable alternatives to the sprawl that’s resulted in Americans’ expanding waistlines and addiction to oil because these forms encourage people to get out of their cars, minivans and SUVs. Americans still love their suburbs, but that’s no excuse for designing and building lousy communities because zoning forces us into what James Howard Kunstler rightly calls the “Geography of Nowhere.” Nor is it an excuse to pave over more and more farmland with petroleum-based asphalt.

New Urbanism is the proverbial “better mousetrap.” There’s even nascent financial proof: Newspapers from Charlotte, NC, to McHenry County, Ill., to Sacramento, Calif., are realizing the suburban subdivisions that erupted like cankers in the last 15 years are among the hardest hit by foreclosures. New Urbanist developments, meanwhile, are retaining their property values.

Learn more for yourself at

It is not new urbanism, it is old urbanism and this is the accepted approach to development in much of Europe. America is about 20yrs behind. Hopefully you guys can lead the way, but only a planning system that restricts unsustainable development and promotes sustainable development will stop your ideas from being a flash in the pan with a couple of examples for university students.

It would appear that my comments on population density have been cross-posted here and subsequently challenged. Fair enough. However, if you want to understand population density in the US versus Europe you have to do apples-to-apples comparisons. To state this directly, Pitt the Elder has inappropriately compared US city cores with European metro areas. In the US, the core city is the separately incorporated area (such as Chicago or Boston) that gives its name to the metro area. As you will see below the correct comparison is US metro areas to European city cores.

To get a feel for the data lets take a look at the core density (people per square mile) of a few US cities

Atlanta 9,558.4
Boston 12,201.5
Chicago 12,473.7
Dallas 3,599.3
Denver 3,697.0
Houston 3,700.3
Los Angeles 8,206.3
New York 27,081.5
Seattle 6,942.1

And a few European cities

Berlin City 9,886.7
Greater London 12,335.7
Madrid 13,775.0
Paris City 64,186.4
Paris Urban 9,173.4

At first glance these numbers don't look too different save for the very high density of New York in the US and Paris City in Europe. Note that the Paris City data is misleading and Paris Urban is a better comparison. Note also, the very low densities of the newer US cities such as Dallas, Denver, and Houston. However, the European cities (save for Paris City) have most of the people living in each urban area. The following table (of population in millions) should help show this.

City Urban Metro
Berlin 3.45 3.70 5.96
London 7.50 7.50 8.51
Madrid 3.23 3.23 5.84
Paris 2.15 9.64 12.01

Only in the case of Paris does the urban or metro area constitute the bulk of the population. By contrast, in the US the urban core accounts for only a small fraction of the population of the metro area as the following table (once again, population in millions) shows.

City Metro
Atlanta 0.49 5.14
Boston 0.59 4.46
Chicago 2.83 9.51
Dallas 1.23 6.00
Denver 0.57 2.41
Houston 2.14 5.54
Los Angeles 3.85 12.92
New York 8.21 18.82
Seattle 0.58 3.26

So how densely populated (people per square mile) are US metro areas. Not very as the following table shows.

Atlanta 613.44
Boston 987.53
Chicago 874.19
Dallas 646.34
Denver 286.27
Houston 550.59
Los Angeles 2,664.53
New York 2,800.33
Seattle 398.66

As you can see, not one US urban area comes even close to the population density of the European cities and the gap is quite large. A typical US city might have 500-1,000 people per square mile versus 10-12,000 people per square mile in Europe.

Of course, it is important to understand where Europe's cities are headed. They are being "Americanized" as quickly as possible. In many cases, Europe's governments are strangling the process. However, the desire of the people of Europe for a low-density, suburban lifestyle should be clear. Check out

A useful quote

"I went to Europe this summer looking for my ideal city.

It's a place where people walk from their homes to grocery stores, bars or friends' houses. It's a place where front doors open onto sidewalks instead of driveways. It's a place where the rhythms of life still reverberate along the paths of that well-worn institution, the street.

Here's what I found. Shopping malls. Gas stations with convenience stores attached. Curvy boulevards with multiple left-turn lanes and box-in-the-lot office buildings. Homes tucked away inside one-entrance subdivisions.

I found the Auchan shopping mall. It's as good an example as any of what is the real Europe. It's a long concrete box perched at the foot of the exit ramp off the freeway heading into Lyon, France."

Indeed, in France the TGV system is actually helping the emergence of a suburban, automobile oriented lifestyle. Low-density car suburbs are being built long distances from Paris with commutes made possible via TGV. To a very small extent, as a REIT investor, I am responsible for this trend.

It should be understand that Europe is almost as car dependent as the US. Check out "Transportation by Car" for some useful statistics.

Many people tend to assume that the lower population densities of US cities are some sort of disadvantage. For mass transit purposes that is true. However, from a broader perspective, they are a huge advantage. In the United States, Europe, and developed Asia it is very clear that middle class folks will only marry and create families in a low-density suburban environment.

The following quote from an article in Newsweek by Joel Kotkin is right on target

"Greater Seoul, in short, is almost hostile to human life, a widening ocean of high-rises with a shrinking number of traditional Korean houses. Suh Yong-bu, a Korean expert in business demographics, notes that high housing prices and cramped spaces have helped send Korea's birthrate into free-fall, down 30 percent since 1993; much the same problem is felt in other ultra dense urban societies like Japan and China. "The same patterns can be found throughout Asia," notes demographer Phil Longman, author of the "The Empty Cradle," a study of world population trends. "Once everyone is forced into a small city place, there's literally no room left for kids.""

Thank you

Peter Schaeffer

The kindergardeners on my street must be an illusion. Your statement that suburbia is required to have children seems absurb on it's face.

And you posit what is today and not what can be/will be in the post-Peak Oil future.

And quite frankly, if re-urbanization lowers birth rates, that is a good thing. But I do not think that it will :-(

Best Hopes for more TOD,


Kotkin is right about Seoul. Not because of density but design. It is very anti-human. Lots of high rise with large amounts of space between them - very bad. Below is Seoul and Paris. Not sure which is denser, but I know which is more walkable and would be better served by transit and where I'd rather live

Made a quick search of on-line photos of my neighborhood, found one of a post-K fire. Not a "posed" picture but a random grab. Two blocks from me.

And a framed photo 3.5 blocks from me

And a sidewalk 4 blocks from me

I've seen these views of Hong Kong and Seoul mega-apartment-complexes from Google maps... but as a photograph... awe-inspiring.

Well, since it is photo sharing time...

Speaking of HK, here it is at night:

Most Americans do not desire, I believe, to live in such a city, even though it is worth a visit.

Neither do most Japanese, either. Though someone posted above a link to images of Tokyo, note that the population there grows because young people come in from the countryside looking for work, and like most Japanese cities it tends toward the grey-on-grey theme. However, it is not like HK.

As for liveable/walkable Japanese cities, here is a shot of a Japanese neighborhood:
looking east towards a train station (which is right next to a subway station). It is late in the afternoon and people are returning home.

Point is... that neigborhood/shopping area/train station will not win any awards for good looks... it will not win any awards from architecture societies - heck, it won't even be noticed by the the trendy T.O.D websites.

However, it is an amazingly live-able area. And that is the most important thing.

From where I took that shot, immediately to the left is a little park in which children play:

To the west (behind my back from the vantage of the street shot) is a residential neighborhood mostly of 2 story buildings, in which every little nook is filled, and in which people carve out residences, some rather simple and quaint by anybody's standards:

Not at all like HK - you have room to yourself; nor like American cities - easily it takes less than half the amount of energy/day to live compared to American arrangements.

Just plain, eminently practicable.

It is incredibly easy to grow a population in a difficult environment using social incentives or immigration or economic incentives, and incredibly hard to deal with huge population growth as well as people's cultural entitlement to have five kids like their parents did.

We have 6.77 billion people in the world. From a respect-for-human-life standpoint (one of the only thing most of us share), we can agree that we don't want to reduce the population. But do we really want to grow it any further? Hedonic Calculus has had a lasting impact on modern thinking, but it doesn't specifically quantify how much we can compare quality of life versus numbers of lives - whether 100 starving people are superior to 50 healthy ones. We face a future where we have to choose between more people and more comfortable, happier, better fed people. The Cold War presumption that growth is a positive thing because it results in faster innovation is at its limit - tumultuous amounts of innovation exists today, and the requirements of accommodating a large population are beginning to actually slowing it down. (Suck it, Kurzweil)

The world needs to form a consensus on the overpopulation problem before resources are depleted to the point that massive famines/droughts return. Urbanization, contraception, and feminist movements all reduce birthrate much more humanely than things like famine or genocide - why oppose this?


On another note: all these borders and densities are arbitrary and easy to manipulate.

I think in these discussions we need a chart wherein (for an example small country) each horizontal pixel is 1 square mile plot of land (ranked left to right by population), and each vertical pixel is 100 people living in that plot. The area below is the total population.

This creates an immediate grasp of the density situation of a nation - whether they have most of their people in suburbs, cities, or rural areas, and just how dense or empty those areas are. A picture is worth a thousand statistics in this instance.

After ranting about UK planning controls, here's the national planning policy for

Sustainable Development:


Town Centres:

Sustainable development in rural areas:

Note: developers get refused permission to build unless they , to the satisfaction of the local planning authority, meet these planning requirements. Builders balk at the idea, but the alternative is for voters to subsidise developers by having to put up with horrid places to live in and the resultant social problems, which cost money to solve, more expensively in the case of retro-fitting, if indeed they can be solved at that time at all.

Voluntary measures DO NOT WORK because the social and environmental affects of development are only born upon developers by regulations because most of the costs are long term and suffered by future residents, not the developers who will have sold plots long ago. To understand more about this, read a book or paper about environmental economics, which explains how and why the free market externalises social and environmental costs to the detriment of society, without well thought out government intervention to remedy market failures, and that's what they are.

I found an interesting article that makes it very, very clear how the people of the UK would like to live... If their government would let them. From "Auction land to ease the housing crisis" (

"With agricultural land averaging £10,000 and residential land about £3.2m a hectare, the council could potentially reap a profit of £3.1m a hectare from, in effect, selling its planning permission. Similar margins are available in urban areas. The council can spend these profits in any way, from subsidies for affordable housing, better local services to lower council tax"

That means that developable land for homes is 320 times more valuable than farm land. The people of the UK are voting with the checkbooks and mortgages for a low-density suburban oriented lifestyle. In the absence of a government stranglehold on development, far more of them would have it.

I seem to remember this proposal being put forward as a fringe item on the Lib Dem party conference, it being a fringe third party with just about 60 MP's, and the proposal was overwhelmingly rejected and is not Lib Dem policy.

But you confirm my assertions with your point that Brits would individually choose low density. Each individual would choose that and developers would go ahead if allowed. But, collectively we have chosen a compromise which avoids suburban sprawl. We recognise as a country the undeniable truth that developers, uncontrolled, would concrete anywhere where they could sell houses, so we reign that in with strong planning controls.

Yes, some greenfield sites need to be released, but these generally will be "sustainable urban extensions" built to between 30 and 60 dwellings/hectare with clear public transport, walking and cycling routes into the city and a mix of uses that avoids some of the need for travel. Developers will be forced to pay for local schools, libraries, some healthcare provision, etc. and will be forced to pay for bus services and or subsidise a new rail station if appropriate. So planning gain (additional value from planning permission) is already clawed back in the form of legal agreements. The paper you refer to is just another method of doing so.

Just because we release land, does not mean that we go for low density. The debate now is how we force developers to go carbon neutral and most council's require 10-20% on-site renewable energy provision, which incentivises efficiency because renewables cost more than efficiency measures, so things are tightening up on many measures. However, there is a constant tension between private and collective interests and each successive government renegotiates that settlement with planning reforms. This is the nature of things.

"But you confirm my assertions with your point that Brits would individually choose low density. Each individual would choose that and developers would go ahead if allowed. But, collectively we have chosen a compromise which avoids suburban sprawl."

If the people (and the developers) of the UK want low-density housing, then in a democracy vox populi should be the rule. I have little use for pretentious elitism on the part of those "who know what's good for the little people".

As for "collective choice", that's not what my friends in the UK tell me. They are quite clear that it amounts to intense opposition on the part of existing property owners to any development that would increase density where they live, and reduce sky high prices for homes. Basically, the NIMBY mindset common enough in the US (for similar reasons).

And yes, my sources own valuable property and want to keep it that way, housing affordability for the rest of the UK being of little concern to them.

"We recognize as a country the undeniable truth that developers, uncontrolled, would concrete anywhere where they could sell houses, so we reign that in with strong planning controls."

Imagine the terror, the horror, the nightmare of Brits being able to buy home where they want them.

"But you confirm my assertions with your point that Brits would individually choose low density. Each individual would choose that and developers would go ahead if allowed. But, collectively we have chosen a compromise which avoids suburban sprawl."

If the people (and the developers) of the UK want low-density housing, then in a democracy vox populi should be the rule. I have little use for pretentious elitism on the part of those "who know what's good for the little people".

As for "collective choice", that's not what my friends in the UK tell me. They are quite clear that it amounts to intense opposition on the part of existing property owners to any development that would increase density where they live, and reduce sky high prices for homes. Basically, the NIMBY mindset common enough in the US (for similar reasons).

And yes, my sources own valuable property and want to keep it that way, housing affordability for the rest of the UK being of little concern to them.

"We recognize as a country the undeniable truth that developers, uncontrolled, would concrete anywhere where they could sell houses, so we reign that in with strong planning controls."

Imagine the terror, the horror, the nightmare of Brits being able to buy home where they want them.

I couldn't give a crap whether or not you don't have time for elitism, at least we will survive peak oil far better than your stupid country. You guys choose to be unsophisticated about development and reap the reward with awful unsustainable cities.

As for house prices, where have you been for the past 10yrs? House price boom throughout the entire planet, caused by excess cheap credit to put off recession after .com boom, etc. America has lots of land, lax planning yet had a property boom. Same for Australia. Nothing to do with planning control's.

Planning could be restricted to artificially lower the supply of housing. However, the role of planners and developer can be blurred; developers can artificially lower the supply of housing by accumulating land with planning permission to form a 'land bank' to be used as a balance book asset, which can be used as a deposit against a loan for developments elsewhere and can be sold at a later stage. Land banks can be structured to block rival developers from an area and to avoid an oversupply of housing to support higher prices. The Royal Town Planning Institute provide useful research on this fact:

I hate to point this out, but the house price bubble in the US has been concentrated in areas that have either run out of land or where development is severely restricted (the coasts). Same as in the UK. In areas where land is readily available (the central states), construction has been extensive and housing remains affordable.

If planning permission was freely available in the UK, 'land banks' wouldn't be an issue. Sounds like the UK needs a new Thatcher to liberate housing. Actually, my UK friends tell me that the Labor party is more interested in affordable housing.

What a load of nonsense. America has had its first median house price falls since the great depression. The bubble was throughout the country.

Have you read the RTPI report? What you are saying is that, if we gave permission to build over the entire country, then there wouldn't be land banks. You make no sense and have no authority with what you say. You appear to know little about economics or planning.

You are a prime example of why America consumes so much oil, has such stupidly unsustainable cities and way of life. Your rejection of things like planning, which are simply democracy in action to avoid market failures are why your country is in such a state. Yes, individuals would build willie nillie, but voters collectively put into power those who protect the countryside and avoid suburban sprawl. DEMOCRACY, you are arguing against democracy and prefer economic dictatorship from elite organisations and rich individuals who have little interest in the common good. This is the fundamental paradox of the American way of life and psyche.

I hate to point this out. But on a barrels per dollar of GDP basis, US oil use is inline with the rest of the world. I know that's not politicaly correct to point this out. But sometimes you have to accept the truth even if it hurts.

The individuals you are so distainful would appear to be a majority of the people of the UK. If a majority of UK citizens would prefer low-density housing, then a democratic system should provide it to them. You may see it otherwise...

By the way, US elites tend to be very anti-development. Where they have prevailed, housing is unaffordble.

Nonsense, Americans consume double the oil/GDP than Brits. Go ahead, make yourself feel better, spout lies and nonsense. Be my guest.

American oil consumption: 7566.45 million bbl/year
American GDP: $13.13 trillion
American GDP/barrel: $1.739

British oil consumption: 666.85 million bbl/year
British GDP: $1.93 trillion
British $GDP/barrel: $3.518

Now this is a quick calculation, purchasing parity would put the UK at a far more efficient position, because it gives the UK a higher GDP.

Sorry, I don’t mean to burst your bubble. However, I wrote “US oil use is inline with the rest of the world”. Now let’s see if that true. According to “China's economy smaller in new study: World Bank” (

“In the study, the United States still has the world's biggest economy with 23 percent of global output. That compares with 29 percent using market rates.”

The US consumes around 24% of world oil production, well below our share of global product at market rates and right inline with our share using PPP.

You have to be prepared to accept the facts even when they don’t match your ideological preconceptions.

By the way, $1.93 trillion is the PPP UK GDP. UK GDP at market exchange rates ($2.346) is higher, not lower than using PPP.

Oh, for goodness sake, to say that the US is inline with the rest of the world as a whole is to be really damning of the USA, because the developing world and places like China are excessively inefficient in terms of energy usage because of poor technology investment.

I am comparing the USA with Europe and I am right that you consume about double the oil/GDP. The fact that SUV's are often driven around at less efficiency than a model T Ford is an example of why. Most European cars do 40 to 50mpg. Why don't you get off your high horse and stop lying about the unsustainable nature of the USA. You spout half truths and nonsense and you may fool most of the people most of the time but you sure as hell don't fool me.

I am, once again, quite sorry that my facts were correct. By the way, the US is considerably more energy efficient than Canada (in BTUs per PPP dollar) and on a par with Australia. Considering that Canada and Australia are the countries most like the US, I don't think the US has anything to apologize for.

No, Australia is uses more oil per capita than even America, being the largest consumer per capita. To compare yourself with Australia and Canada is not anything to be proud of.

The fact is that you are spouting half truths, because what I said about Europe being about 2x more oil efficient than America, Australia and Canada is true. It therefore follows that if you adopted some of Europe's policies, that you could halve your oil usage and have the same GDP. Given that you produce over 25% of the world's CO2, that would have a huge, massive impact upon the survival of our planet.

I never said the majority wanted suburban sprawl. Individuals make decisions in their own interest without considering others. Companies make decisions that don't take into account long-term social and environmental costs born onto society unless society forces them to take responsibility for them. That is why we have democracy, that is why we have planning. The free market fails without suitable regulation to make people take responsibility for the results of their actions. Hell, take your argument to the extreme and we should stop charging criminals with crimes (coz thatz what they wantz to do innit).

I am quite familiar with the concept of negative externalities. However, low-density housing is a positive for society because it provides a better family environment. See my original post on the subject.

Absolute bollocks. Many British terraced townhouses have huge gardens, heaps of space and our cities have a wealth of parks but are often between 100 and 400 dwellings/hectare. You obviously have never seen London with its amazing terraced family homes. It is clever design that combines high density with great amenity space with places that can sustain high levels of services and public transport and that is what urban design is all about.

Of course I think that family housing and space is a great thing, but planning is about resolving conflict between a complexity of issues, it takes thought and planning and design. Planning fails when people like you take one issue and ignore all others and fail completely to be creative or knowledgable. Or when developers are allowed to let their personal gain be elevated above the needs of the community.

If you understand externalities, pray tell, how can they be internalised in the case of development, without a planning system?!

Given the positive benefits associated with low-density development, the UK government could fund road development as a means of encouraging suburban sprawl.

Given the obvious positive benefits of you talking regressive shite, the US government could fund pedestals for you and your neo-liberal friends to stand upon.

I don't understand "shite". Is this some sort of anti-Islamic slur?

No, it is a Hippocratic reference to an excess of black bile.