A Resilient Suburbia? 2: Cost of Commuting

In the second post in this series on suburbia and peak oil, I’ll consider one of the threats that peak oil poses to suburbia: the increasing cost of commuting to and from work for suburban residents. My conclusions may surprise readers: suburbanites aren't particularly vulnerable to the rising cost of gasoline. Instead, like all of us, they are vulnerable to general economic shocks that may be caused by peak oil, but the elasticity of their commuting budgets may better position them to deal with these shocks than urban residents.

The first thing that comes to mind when people discuss peak oil and suburbia is the massive amount of gasoline used to commute to and from work. I think this is also the least problematic. However, to the extent that it is a problem it won’t result in the abandonment of suburbia—rather, it will act as a catalyst to reshape the economic structure of suburbia.

For the purposes of this article, I’ll discuss the hypothetical suburban commuter who drives 10 miles to and from work 22 days each month. I realize that many suburbanites drive farther than this, and that some drive shorter distances, but it’s an easy number to work with. Here’s a graph of what that commute costs each month at varying prices of gasoline and vehicle MPG figures:

Not very scary, is it? It’s important to remember that most suburbanites drive more than just to and from work, that most suburban families are two-income/two-commute families, and that there are more costs of commuting than just the gasoline (auto depreciation, parking, etc., though these don’t generally increase with increasing gasoline costs). So let’s make a more extreme, scary, and arguably realistic graph. Here’s the cost to a family that drives two cars 40 miles each per day, plus 48.5 cents per mile (the IRS business deduction) as an approximation of cost of car-ownership, plus $10 per day for parking for each commuter, plus $100 for insurance for both cars (that’s $1394/mo baseline plus the cost of gasoline):

There’s a number of take-aways from these graphs: 1) these numbers are higher than average cost of commuting, 2) to the extent that they’re accurate, commuting is VERY expensive, 3) the majority of the cost of commuting is the base cost, not the gasoline, 4) for most suburbanites, the ability to afford life in suburbia is more a function of the shape of the overall economy (e.g. the earning power of suburbanites) than it is a function of gas prices in isolation.

What are the options to commuting? First, looking at the graphs above, it should be clear that eliminating a suburban family’s need for one of their two cars will have a greater effect than doubling the miles per gallon of both of their cars. There are many ways to do this: ride sharing, mass transit, and telecommuting are the most obvious.

Ridesharing (Carpooling): For all the talk about improving vehicle efficiency, there are few solutions that are simpler, more elegant, and more practical than putting more than one person in each car. For our hypothetical suburban family in the example above, if the happy couple can drive to work together and only maintain, insure, and park one car, they would save $697 after-tax dollars per month--and this is assuming no reduction in car-miles driven. Similarly, workers can organize car-pool clubs, etc. The downside of ridesharing is inconvenience. It’s convenient to only go straight from your house to work and not pick anyone up along the way. It’s convenient to pick when you commute. It’s convenient to have access to a car while at work in case you need to run an errand, etc. If, for our hypothetical family above, they can afford $32/day and the convenience gained is worth more than that, then it probably makes financial sense to drive alone (ignoring environmental arguments, etc.).

Mass Transit: Mass transit is another option for most suburbanites. Again, the viability of mass transit is a matter of weighing the cost savings against the inconvenience. In some cases, mass transit may actually be more convenient, but for most suburbanites it 1) takes longer, 2) is less flexible, and 3) doesn’t address the “last mile” and still requires one car (and its associated costs) per commuter.

Telecommuting: Working from home, one or more days per week, is another approach to making suburbia viable. This is already a common practice, and the ability to expand upon it has been explored here before.

I sense that, at this point, many readers will be a bit baffled by my focus on the base cost of commuting rather than the variable cost of commuting caused by higher gas prices. This is, after all, an article about peak oil and suburbia. I think it’s critical to focus on this differentiation—-the base cost of commuting vs. the variable cost.

If the variable cost (as gasoline gets more expensive) of commuting is what will kill the finances of suburbanites, then urbanites will be far better positioned to adapt to the impact of peak oil. They don’t have these long commutes, they often don’t have a need to own one car per family, let alone 2+. However, if it’s the base cost that is the primary issue (as I argue here), then we need to envision the scenario where suburbanites can no longer afford this base cost. This is even more true to the extent that America’s auto fleet gradually improves in efficiency (a topic I have largely ignored).

As long as suburbanites maintain their present income levels, they should be able to afford their present costs of commuting--in most cases rising gas prices won't break the bank, and can largely be addressed through improved efficiency. However, a sharp economic downturn has the potential to dramatically reduce these income levels. Here’s the key: a sharp economic downturn will most likely reduce urbanites’ income levels by a similar amount. So while these economic troubles may make life in suburbia much more difficult, it will also make life in urban areas much more difficult. Precisely because the issue is base cost of commuting, not variable cost, this economic impact is felt equally in suburban and urban areas. In fact, because there are so many viable (if inconvenient) options for suburbanites to reduce base commuting costs (outlined above), it may be easier for suburbanites to adapt to a sharp economic downturn than urbanites. Cutting down from two commuter cars to one could cut a suburbanite's total expenditures by 10-20%+ per month without great change. That's a large chunk of suburban budgets that is quite elastic, and lends a great deal of resiliency to suburbanite finances. How many urban households can cut expenses by this much merely by doing something as simple as carpooling?

My purpose in writing this series is not to make a partisan stand in favor of suburbia. Rather, my intent is to push the debate beyond “suburbia sucks” to the more important question of how we will address its weaknesses. As I argued last week, it isn’t practical to think that we’ll simply abandon suburbia in favor of some preferable urban option. This week, my conclusion is that suburbia may actually be no worse situated to deal with the economic impact of peak oil than urban areas. It is the base cost of commuting, not the variable cost, that most impacts suburban finances—-suburbanites have already (by definition) budgeted for this cost, and have more viable options to reduce this cost than urbanites have viable options to comparably reduce their expenditures. Next week I’ll argue that suburbia may be more than on equal footing with urbia—-it may actually be better positioned to deal with the more extreme potential impacts of peak oil such as food shortages, water shortages, and energy shortages.

Good job, Jeff. I don't think there is any arguing with your base point, that the marginal cost of commuting under different gas price scenarios is not a suburbia killer. But I am less sure that looking at commuting costs in isolation tells us much about what to expect.

I'd like to see a discussion of increasing oil costs on suburban residents and the distribution of their expenses. For example. If in a $2 a gallon world I spend 1.3% of my income on gasoline (12000 miles/20 miles to the gallon/$45000 income) and that rises to to 6.7% with $10 a gallon gas, the question isn't can I afford it, the question is where does the money come from?

My choice is to spend less on something else or trim driving. At first, I give up my pleasure drives. Then I start being more careful about planning trips (no more running back to the Home Depot because I forgot to buy that roll of gorilla tape when I was there this morning). But eventually I am down to my base driving and the money has to come from somewhere.

Then, to really make things twisted, consider that at the same time this is happening, that health care costs continue to rise, education costs continue to rise, etc. And then, the higher transport costs also drive up the cost of food, plasticrap, and almost all other items we buy. So, the impact of any shift of spending is even more dramatic then the simple one to one dollar exchange of a substitute.

These are the sorts of decisions suburbanites will have to make. Not, just whether or not to drive to work.

Yes, the paradigm shift is getting rid of one's car, not merely using it less.

One can start by using it less, and eventually discover that one could get by without the thing entirely..

I lived without a car for nearly 6 years. It was difficult at times and I learned the importance of living in an urban area where things were local. The automobile isn't just about money and cost, it completely changes your life: Here are some examples I noticed as I went from car free to car trapped

- Weight gain/worse health. Not from the lack of walking but from the ease of acquiring junk food. It's just easier to hit a McDonalds than it is to hit your local diner which has limited parking. When I was car-less, I almost never ate fast food because my life was centered around my local urban neighborhood which was fast food free.

- Sense of the world around you. As a transit user/walker, I had a deeper connection with my neighborhood. When your day starts with a walk to the bus stop, you can feel the fiber of your community. In a car, it's just traffic.

- When I was car less I was far less likely to head to the shopping mall and more likely to shop in my urban neighborhood. Because of that, I often supported local business & grew to know the vendors personally..hence a better connection with my community.

- Living car free my life was far less stressful and I had more time. That sounds backwards, but it's not. On a Saturday you might think "let's go have breakfast" which consisted of walking up the street in the fresh air to the diner. In the car world, you're far more likely to think "I'll drive 20 miles to go to ABC Diner".

Not to say having a car isn't nice sometimes. I love the ability to hop in my car and drive to some place other than my neighborhood. But, life without a car was hardly the horrible experience many make it out to be. It was one of the better times of my life..hell a trip to a city 100 kms away always bought adventure because you'd jump on a train, arrive in another town and set out on foot to see the world around you.

I see the suburbs & the whole commuting lifestyle as a prison sentence. There is no pleasure walking to the mall nor driving there. And I can't understand how people want to start off their day sitting in traffic going nowhere. Waking up and walking to work may suck when it's -25C but then that's what the bus is for.

"Sense of the world around you. As a transit user/walker, I had a deeper connection with my neighborhood. When your day starts with a walk to the bus stop, you can feel the fiber of your community. In a car, it's just traffic."

This is such an important point. This isolation is what breeds ignorance, fear, xenophopia and allows people to accept the most outrageous calims as fact. This isolation is a root cause or significant factor in many social problems, especially those related to psychology.

well said, Anti-Elvis. I live less than a mile from work. I used to always walk but my life has become very busy lately and I've gotten into the habit of driving every day to save 10 minutes each way. But it's just not worth it. My head is so much clearer in the morning if I drive to work and the 15 minute walk back home is exactly what I need to clear my head after a hectic day at work.

Except you don't save much by "getting rid" of car #2 because it is already a non-recoverable sunk cost. You could save money by not acquiring car #2 if you don't already have it or if it is time to replace it. But what are you going to do with car #2 that you already have? sell it? There isn't going to be much of a market for used gas guzzlers and any car loans are likely to go upside down like mortgages.

Now, there will be some market. Some will go the route of buying a used car rather than buying a new car with lackluster performance and buy a 100MPG+ car when those become available. Even a Prius only gets around 50MPG.

And with oil going up at 30% per year (give or take some recent fluctuations) or 14X per decade, it doesn't take that long before the marginal cost overtakes the upfront cost.

You save insurance, maintenance and repairs and licensing. As the market value of gas guzzlers plummet, the annual overhead cost becomes a larger share of the full fixed cost of the second car.

Intriguing arguments but your assumptions about Suburban driving habits err on the side of understating the driving problem. The average commute in the US is 12 miles each way. That includes urbanites like myself who bus 6 miles to the city core. 40 miles per day seems like a lot, but consider this: my wife and I share one car and use it only for some local trip making (errands/visits not doable by bus or foot) and visiting family. When we practically go nowhere, we average 5 miles of driving per day of car use. But more than not we average 15-20 miles per day. The average household makes 10 trips per day. In our case, about 80-90% of our trips are done on foot or transit. And yes, 15-20 miles per day is our average. One reason is because our extended family is out in the exurbs and a visit requires a 70-mile round trip. If one lives in the suburbs, they don't have the luxury of making non-work trips by foot or transit, except to visit some of their close neighbors. While commuting to work is around half of vehicle miles traveled, it makes up less than 20% of daily trips. For the suburbanite, the automobile is required for nearly the remainder 80%. The average trip in general is 5 miles. That is, the average household travels about 50 miles per day. Given many suburban arrangements, I would like you to consider a scenario where the family is traveling an average of 80 miles per day. I think that will better reflect the gravity of the suburban family's predicament. You need to think of social networks and food networks that support the suburban family because it will not be enough for a family to survive with living in an isolated development pattern and drive out only for work.

The Non-Commuting Energy Costs of Suburbia

Suburbanites drive EVERYWHERE for EVERYTHING ! Too many cannot even get food from the store to home without driving. Total VMT, rather than commuting costs alone need to be considered.

Suburbanites generally use twice as much electricity as urban residents (I suppose larger homes, homes with "complex shapes" that maximize surface area, no shared walls).#

Many more ft2 of asphalt to maintain (asphalt is diesel that just needs a little upgrading).

ALL services require substantially more energy in Suburbia. US Mail, UPS deliveries, plumbers traveling to site (plumbing is a job that cannot be done via telecommuting), groceries have to be trucked further to Suburban grocery stores, and Suburbanites almost never walk to buy their groceries. etc. etc.

The electricity grid in Suburbia has more feet of wire/capita, which requires both more maintenance AND trends towards more transmission losses.

Water and sewage also are much longer in Suburbia, and have significant energy costs for pumping.

In many cases, these costs are absorbed into the commons (42 cent stamp regardless of whether mailman walks route or drives many miles), in which case all of society pays for Suburban energy costs.

Best Hopes for More Energy Efficient Living Patterns,


# When visiting Phoenix for Christmas 2007 I remember real estate section of local newspaper that mentioned that home buyers were still not interested in energy efficiency. Granite countertops were more important than 6" thick walls with more insulation, etc. I consider Phoenix to be 99% to 100% Suburbia.

Larger homes filled with more electronic gadgets, I suspect. To a lot of people, if you have trouble staying cool in the summer, the answer is to throw more HVAC at it. It would never occur to people that maybe by planting a tree or putting up blinds could make a big difference.

I see lots of suburban developments not far from where I am. Lots of cul-de-sacs and so forth, and strip malls every so often. When I was a kid we had the corner neighborhood grocery that we oftentimes used. Mom would send one of us out on our bike to go get something or another - that in lieu of getting in the car and driving to the supermarket. Of course back then we only had one car, so I suppose there might have been some scheduling issues that may have played into this, but since we had the neighborhood store as a fallback it was never a huge issue.

All through my childhood we walked to and from school. Sometimes if one of my parents was heading to work at a time that could get us to school on time we would get a ride one way. The rest of the time we walked. As a kid I was never that athletic, but I never really started to get fat until I got a car.

The closest thing we have to neighborhood stores these days is a 7-11. Not at all the same of course, but as times change, these stores could change their product mix a bit and perhaps start to take on those old roles.

It's no longer socially acceptable to let your kids walk to school, or walk to the store to get stuff for you, or do anything without adult supervision. And since adult supervision isn't possible 100% of the time, the kids get plugged into video games and the TV, where they are unlikely to get 'hurt'.

Maybe that changes when the kids become late teenagers, I'm not at that point yet. So now that the adult has to do the shopping. But again you can't leave the kids at home alone and go shopping, so you have to take the kids with you. Well, there goes the possibility of biking or walking, so you take the car.

Yes, when they become late teenagers, they start hanging out at the mall.

You tread heavily, Alan, you you're right. the greater the sprawl, the more energy and materials are needed to maintain it. But people don't want to live in huge complexes that are efficient and close to downtown. People want the illusion of space and security in their own home, away from the city, with fancy counter tops and attractive baubles. Perhaps they always will. Sustainability will raise its head soon enough, I'm afraid; perhaps that will pop the mindset of the American Dream.

Dreams change. It was only a few generations ago that the dream was "40 acres and a mule."

From the perspective of happiness, it is not the grandiosity of the dream that matters, but the ability to achieve the dream. Our current model of dream chasing has us always just shy of the goal. It keeps our desire to purchase more always at the forefront. How different would our world be if instead we had dreams that were obtainable and enjoyable for being so?

It was only a few generations ago that the dream was "40 acres and a mule."

That will become the dream again.

...From the perspective of happiness, it is not the grandiosity of the dream that matters, but the ability to achieve the dream....

Such an important point. Fundamental to the American Dream is idea (more of a foundation principle) that we can do better than our parents, and our children can do better than us. "Better" has traditionally been measured in wealth, not happiness, satisfaction, health, etc. Our problem is that it will be a painful thing for a large chunk of America to realize that their dream is truly beyond their reach. Current generations are unlikely to leave their kids in a situation in which they will be more prosperous. That will be a very large and bitter pill, possibly more than many Americans can take. The denial will be stunningly strong.

The question is, can we change our attitudes? Can we redefine the American Dream? Can we change the measurement system so that we measure happiness, satisfaction, community instead of wealth? Can we change the definition of status, so that status is derived from being a good neighbor and friend, rather than from being rich or holding a position of power? Can we reprioritize so that cooperative success is considered more important that individual success?

If we as a people/species can do these things, we will be better able to adapt to our changing circumstances. We may be able to redesign a society that promotes a newer, healthier version of the American Dream, one that can, in fact, leave our children in a position where they can be at least as happy, and perhaps happier, than we have been.

The question is, can we change our attitudes? Can we redefine the American Dream? Can we change the measurement system so that we measure happiness, satisfaction, community instead of wealth? Can we change the definition of status, so that status is derived from being a good neighbor and friend, rather than from being rich or holding a position of power? Can we reprioritize so that cooperative success is considered more important that individual success?

Very nicely said. I think you have put your finger on the defining aspect of our time. Are we up to the task?

I think this is right on. Are we up to the task? I might add that, while we, as individuals, may be "up to the task," I worry about the struture of our economic and political system. I won't launch into some treatise on the structural impact of concentrating vs. distributive systems in human society, but I worry that the necessary paradigm shift you identify is structurally incompatible with our politica-economic system. When we start talking about fundamental systemic change, impacts start to get much more extreme in a hurry...

A friend pinpointed the main reason that I am attracted to New Orleans several years ago. More than the food, music, architecture, Mardi Gras, etc. it is that New Orleans has no social pressure to conform. I can be a white nerdy engineer and have gay banker, gay artist, black musician, etc. friends. My social status is MUCH more dependent on the good that I do than the money I make.

In three different "recovery planning" workshops (different demographics for each), we were asked what did we most want to preserve about New Orleans. In all three, the #1 answer was "the way we relate to each other".

At parties here, it is quite unusual to be asked "what do you do". Sex, religion, politics# are freely discussed, but "what you do" is not. Elsewhere, I am asked that in the first 5 minutes, so I can be comfortably ranked socially (my assumption).

The post-K public involvement remains at sky high levels. Recent reports/test results are showing a marked improvement in public education. Volunteer help has been part of that.

No society is perfect, and that is a goal New Orleans would never even aspire to, but we are very human and recognize, and accept, the humanity of our fellow citizens.

Elsewhere in this thread someone wrote:

But people don't want to live in huge complexes that are efficient and close to downtown. People want the illusion of space and security in their own home, away from the city,

I have the illusion of space (it is called the Lower Garden District for a reason), the efficiency of our urban form is well hidden under several layers of chaos (so is the density), it is beautiful in several different ways, and I live 1.2 miles from a 51 story office building.

Best Hopes for Learning from our example,


# Sen. Vitter's sexual preference for having prostitutes give him enema's while in a diaper, and his hyprocrisy with "family values" (condemning those without his stated family values) and church endorsements covers all three I think. OTOH, Gov. Edward's claim that he and opponent David Duke (the election from Hell) had something in common, they were both wizard's beneath the sheets, was received with a chuckle.

Elsewhere, I am asked that in the first 5 minutes, so I can be comfortably ranked socially (my assumption).

I don't think it's so you can be ranked. It's because it's more personal than talking about the weather. Many social gatherings aren't between friends, but rather acquaintances, and in that setting people don't want to show their cards (political, religious, sexual orientation, what have you.) So asking about one another's jobs is a way to show interest in one another, without having to actually see if your values mesh. Then after you've gotten past the 'what do you do' you can shift to talking about sports or something equally vacuuous.


Elsewhere, I am asked that in the first 5 minutes, so I can be comfortably ranked socially (my assumption).

Considering that most peoples identity is tied into 'what you do' and that many of us spend 1/4 of our time at that job - 'what you do' is a quick way to attempt to obtain common ground in addition to apply filters.

Social ranking can be applied to the clothes you wear and the manner in which you speak.

Well, I may be in a minority here in that I see peak oil as a presenting symptom and not as the cause of our problems, so my response is tempered by that belief. The incompatibility you note between the necessary change needed and our politico-economic system suggests one of two things;

1)the necessary change can't happen because of that system, or
2)that system must come to an end.

By calling that change necessary, we have already indicated that option one is not acceptable to us. That means we must work towards the second option.

Yes, it's that big.

"2)that system must come to an end."

Agree whole heartedly.

I look at the micro to get an idea of what might happen macro.

All the people I talk to who now "get it" are TOTALLY focused on preserving their wealth.

Oh, that and buying weapons.

Jeff, I believe you have hit the crucial point of the whole problem , we need a fundamentally different structure, one that is incomptabible with our current centralized politica-economic system. Of course you blog about this in the possibility of an emergent distributed rhizomatic structure.

The thing though that I take away from your writing is that we can get working on these rhizome nodes right now, in the cracks of our current system, so that when it falls the landing is not as harsh. So a resilent suburbia is just a few steps away from morphing into a rhizome node.

I say lets get started by first developing a simple open source set of sustainable technologies that will allow suburbia to produce its own energy, tools, manufacturing capabilies and food production. I shamelessly must promote this open source site where all this is happening openfarmtech.org

I want to respond to both your comment and the comment above: I agree that the system needs changing AND that part of the preparation and facilitation of that change is to adapt the infrastructure we already have (e.g. suburbia) to facilitate the growth of the new system. Here's a link to what I've written about the need for, and the path to, such a new system: The Problem of Growth.

I agree, openfarmtech.org is an amazing start and a very exciting platform for building these changes... I email regularly with their founder, and I highly recommend readers explore their site and participate.

bmerson asked:

Can we redefine the American Dream?


Too many cannot even get food from the store to home without driving

You are right. Jeff, however, points out that reducing traffic volumes, raising mpg of cars and the like is one thing, but giving suburbs the infrastructure (groceries etc) they currently lack is another.

The German capital was surrounded by "suburbia" 100 years ago. Mariendorf or Dahlem were little villages in the outskirts of Berlin at that time, today they have subway stations. So it makes a difference how a suburb is developed.


I think its grossly inaccurate to describe such German Villages as "suburbia", They are walkable, medium density and did not require cars to operate, This is what made them so easy to "update" to rail commuting, put a Bahnhof in the vicinity and voila!


Not sure if 'voila' is quite the right expression here . . .

...is one thing, but giving suburbs the infrastructure (groceries etc) they currently lack is another.

It is interesting to note that in some areas, the opposite problem is developing. In urban centers, especially in western states, hospitals and other health care facilities are disappearing. In Denver, hospitals are relocating from the city to the suburbs. There generally seem to be two reasons given for these relocations: (1) the cost of needed expansions is very high at the current locations, and (2) the incidence of non-paying patients is much lower in the suburbs. In a growing number of cities, those living in the urban core have to go to the suburbs if they require hospitalization. Those who wish to encourage the movement of population back into the urban core should be advocates for universal insurance coverage in the US.

ALan: as usual, your comment quality rises to the top. Jeff is doing a great job advancing this discussion. Jeff also lives in Denver which is doing a better job than many cities in dealing with suburban issues. I did some back of the envelope calculations and I think Jeff understates the cost of automobile use to the commuter and the cost to society at large. Jeff's high cost scenario has the cost for 2 cars doing (2)20 mile each way commutes coming to $1700/mo using gas at about $3.50/gallon. We have two Toyota Camrys, a new one and a 10yr old one. My calculations showed the annual cost per 10000 miles of the beater to be about $500/month and the new one about triple to quadruple that. And maintenance costs are certainly a function of miles traveled(eg tires and brakes,timing belt R&R,oil changes etc). Jeff left out the infrastructure costs to society for all these roads and bridges which were built when asphalt and steel and concrete were very cheap. No Mas. And with the new coking units being added to refineries, asphalt is no longer a waste product of refining. Forget concrete as well. I do not know what the cost to rebuild and repave all the roads and repair all the crumbling bridges would be and what would be the point of building a new highway bridge to last 30 or 40 years when we may only be driving for another 20 years?
And lastly Jeff left out the soul numbing total waste of time expended doing those commutes, the C02 released, the likelihood of oil shortages or oil rationing which could collapse a suburban economy. If a terrorist strike knocked out the huge processing complex at Abquaig, POOF! 7 million barrels/day. It almost happened several years ago. If that happened the US would go into immediate rationing and you'd have the SPR spigots opening which might give us 60 to 90 days, most of which would be diverted to the military and critical transportation.Just in time retail and manufacturing POOF!. We could limp along just on our domestic supply of 5 million barrels a day but getting that crude to an appropriate refinery might be problematic. Now if we had a viable backup transportation option like electrified rail and other non petroleum transportation options we could muddle through. The attack on the twin towers was flashy but ineffective from a strategic perspective. An attack on the petroleum supply chokepoints would be be devastating to the country that consumes 25% of the world's oil.The sheer dependency upon petroleum is what really dooms suburbia. The cost of gasoline as Jeff points out correctly is irrelevant except to the folks at the margin.And oh yes, the deficits are rising to levels unimaginable just a few years ago and the money is not going to infrastructure but to banks who by their corrupt and irresponsible activities have brought this once dynamic country to its knees. I would have to conclude that almost all of suburbia is vulnerable and large sections are highly vulnerable to an economic collapse scenario driven by petroleum scarcity.Looking at just commuting costs to determine the long term viability for suburbia is irrelevant.

"My calculations showed the annual cost per 10000 miles of the beater to be about $500/month..."

Did you do your math right? My ten year old Neon beater costs me $500/10,000 miles for all costs -- ammortization, licensing, insurance, repairs -- other than fuel. I'm averaging 38 mpg overall, so my total costs at $4/gallon were 15 cents per mile, and now at $2/gallon they're 10 cents per mile.

My older son, who lives in a metro suburbs is much closer to services than my younger son who is a grad student and lives in St. Paul next to the U of M campus. Core urban area residents also have to commute all over the place to get to their jobs. In 1950, half the jobs and stores in Minneapolis were downtown. That is no longer the case. When my younger son lived just south of the Minneapolis downtown, the heaviest traffic on 394 was the opposite of what you would expect: going out of the downtown in the morning and going in in the evening.

No car except the Prius can get 38 mpg in city commuting. If you don't ever change your oil, replace brakes, put in a timing belt, pay a parking fee or a toll or pay insurance and licensing fees, you still can't even approach $500 annual expenses. My 10 yr old car's insurance is over $500 alone. Just liability is over $300. Registration is $200 even for a beater. Add necessary and prudent maintenance expenses and you're way over $500. If you blow a tranny or engine you're looking at several thousand dollars and once you get over 100K miles, your repair costs go through the roof, even on a neon. I run heavy equipment and we know to the dollar what it costs to run our loaders and dump trucks and yes our company car and you have to include realistic repair and maintenance costs in your budget if you want to stay in business. It ends up being way over what you might think on a quick back of the envelope calculation.

No car can get 38 mpg in city commuting?!?

I guess I better tell my friend with an 84 Honda Civic CRX HF that his car doesn't exist.

Time! The real issue is time.

Life is short and you are dead forever.

How does anyone rationalize spending one third of one's working life in a metal and plastic box 'stuck in traffic'?

12 Mi. commute ='s 24 Mi. @ 1.5 hours each way. (Northern Virginia)

For what end?

A worker has to labor many hours each week to pay for the box, the road, the parking lot(s), the signals, the 'accidents'; for the military force needed to obtain and 'protect' the fuel ... etc. Gasoline costs cannot be honestly measured alone, but only within a context that includes all related costs.

I've said before that I suspect a large number of people enjoy the drive to/from work, which may contain a significant amount of time stuck in traffic. The reason is simply that, for people with wives/husbands/families it's not socially acceptable to say "I want to spend an hour on my own without having to deal with my family", but if it's "unavoidable" you can enjoy it in good conscience. (Think about how drive time radio is marketed.)

The limited time thing is only half true I think: to some extent there's an assumption that one ought to be making the absolute most of one's time, even though I suspect human beings probably don't have the physical/mental energy to really make the complete, absolute most of the 16-18 hours we're awake a day. What strikes me as crazy is that in order to justify "downtime" we've come to accept sitting in a traffic jam burning fuel pointlessly.

The Marquette Principle is that once the commute exceeds half an hour, there begins to be pressure from the length of the commute, and the more it exceeds half an hour, the greater that pressure.

So a change in commute time from 20 minutes to 30 minutes is not likely to have any impact, while a change in commute time from 40 minutes to 50 minutes is likely to start having a bit ... and with an eight hour working day, going from a commute of half an hour to a commute of an hour and a half means that the time available for rest and leisure during the working day declines from 15 hours to 13 hours.

There should also be a child coefficient added into the equation, the more kids the less time there is in general (its like a negative multiplier on the effective or usable time in any one day). Also, one needs to factor in the impact of driver’s and children’s ages. Perhaps one should also add gender, and whether there is a spouse or partner involved. On a day like this, I would also like to add a weather coefficient as I will be driving home in sleet and snow. If you are commuting in Arizona or Georgia or Houston, you will not be facing this sort of impact.

So, for me, when I had one young child, I was commuting 3 hours a day (often more, hard commute time in and out of downtown Boston). It was damn hard but I was able to keep it up for a year. When I had two small children and was running for public office I was commuting 3 hours a day into and out of Cambridge, MA and it felt much harder. Imagine this, working full time and then racing home to whip on a suit and do a televised debate in the evening or doing other campaign events. Yeah, I was burning the candle from too many ends.

Now I have 3 young kids, no campaign, and a commute that is MUCH less onerous (only 80 miles a day) but I feel like its MUCH harder on me and my kids. Whats changed is my age (energy waning fast), their age, the need to reconnect with THREE kids at the end of the day, tho my pay has not increased much at all in all this time (ok, its actually gone down, “am happy to have a job” and all that rot). So for me, the impact of commuting seems to be increasing even tho the mileage has dropped. I can add that some years ago, when I had just one child, I had a job in the same region I am now so very similar commute and this one now seems much harder on me.

The Marquette Principle is derived from observation of settlement patterns, rather than from abstract mathematical priors, so it refers to the population rather than to the individual. Both more individuals being affected as well as greater impact on each individual will contribute to the increase in pressure as the time over and above thirty minutes increases.

Oy vey :-) This was mostly meant to be less than serious.

No dramas, mate ... its just that lots of my colleagues in Economics are utterly earnest when they try to derive social behavior entirely from models of individual behavior.

We may look to suburbia and think that it is the fundamental problem; it's not! The fundamental problem is population growth. The human species will grow to fill what space there is; as will single cell organisms.

Suburbia is a good thing because it limits the population growth by reducing the population density.

Contrast Australia to Japan. Japan has a population density many times that of Australia. Japan imports more than half it's food, whilst Australia produces food to support more than triple it's population.

If all countries followed the high population density structure then populations would simply expand to fill that gap until they reach that limit and then crash. At least by having suburbia there is a fair buffer zone for where the impacts of population pressure can be reduced.

Back to Japan... what are all those people going to do if/when a huge economic downturn occurs. Look there now. Those people in their 20's/ 30's are described as the lost generation.

The society that their fathers built was conceived of only one imperative and that was economic/military power. Go back to the late 1800's to see the beginning of this policy, as the rulers saw that to achieve economic dominance they would need large numbers of foot soldiers to feed the machine. A dense population is much more efficient, as infrastructure costs, labor supply etc. are better suited to expanding GDP.

Japan had it's period of military security security 1910-1945 and it's period of economic security 1960-1995, but now they have built a system that is fundamentally unstable because the house of cards is based upon false assumptions.

The primary false assumption is that there are no limits to growth.

So next time you look around and see all those commuters stuck in traffic jams, just imagine all those commuters on the Tokyo subways jammed into the carriages by the station attendants. You are physically in contact with 5 or 6 people, and you wonder why...

2 things:

1) Japan has negative population growth.
2) Australia is running out of water and won't be able to feed it's people, regardless of the density of their buildings.

The fundamental problem is population growth. The human species will grow to fill what space there is; as will single cell organisms.

There are populations and populations;

- the population of autos worldwide is nearly a billion.


- the population of livestock is several times that of humans; 20 - 25 billion.

FAO, FAOSTAT Agricultural Data 2002 www.fao.org

- the population of highways, streets, roads and parking lots in the US is larger than the area of the state of Georgia; greater than all the National Parks combined.


We already know what the war between humans and livestock is called; dinner! What will we call the coming war between humans and their automobiles?

Interesting article. I agree that suburbia will be very resilient in the face of peak oil. But your argument why suburbanites are better off than urbanites is a little strained. If suburbanites are in a better position because they can easily cut expenditures by 10-20%, then it would seem that actually cutting those expenditures would make them worse off (i.e. put them in the same position as urbanites). So why would they do it?

Personally, I'm one of the urbanites you're referring to, and my total transportation costs are extremely low. However, I'm not sure why that makes me worse off. The money I used to spend on my car and driving just ends up in my bank account. My inability to cut expenditure doesn't really matter because I *already did* cut my expenditure and banked the surplus. You're not considering savings.

Right, JD. The logic of this piece fails me. We must assume both a urban (public trans available) and suburban (no public trans) family with the same income. The urban family has more discretionary income because they aren't spending as much on transportation. Regardless of the marginal cost of transportation for the suburban dweller, transportation cost will always be greater than what the urban dweller pays.

Resiliency to me means how much will someone be willing to pay to continue doing something they want to do, in this case to be dependent on the car.

They will spend lots. We can see this in the huge amount of debt people have taken on - refusing to admit they cannot afford their lifestyle by mortgaging their future. Maxed out credit = no resiliency. That equation is the one to be concerned with and credit is contracting by the day. Think of the charts provided with a flat horizontal line for maximum spending possible and imaging that line sinking lower by the day. This "crushing of the charts" is happening now.

"The urban family has more discretionary income because they aren't spending as much on transportation. "

I think that's a huge leap, and generally untrue. Cost of living in urban areas, minus the cost of transport, is generally higher. I agree with you that suburbanites will "spend lots" to keep driving their cars, but when push comes to shove and they need to cut something, I think they are generally more able to cut a substantial portion of their budget (by, for example, eliminating a car) than are urban residents.

"I think that's a huge leap, and generally untrue. Cost of living in urban areas, minus the cost of transport, is generally higher."

I agree and I think few urbanites realize how much higher the costs of living are in urban areas, they have simply come to accept it.

I am confronting this right now. I currently live 22 miles from where I work. There are no buses, no trains. Due to work schedules being non-synchronized by the management of my company, I cannot even consider car pooling (companies are very frugal with labor, and distribute schedules scattered out so they have the greatest hour coverage with the fewest people. They also activily discourage car pooling for HR (Human Resource issues such as claims of sexual harrassment, fraternization, etc. I know a married couple that works at a firm who never ride to work together because it creates the "perception" of nepotism)

When gasoline was very expensive (a few months ago, amazing how things change so fast) I shopped for a home closer to work. A house next door to mine out in a small town recently sold for (get ready) $36,000 dollars! This house was nice in every way, 3 bedroom, single bath, concrete driveway, nice yard, less that a quarter mile from an elementary school, less than half a mile from a grocery store, less than three quarter mile from city hall of our little town.

Similiar houses are for sale near where I work...for $85,000. Even at $5 or $6 per gallon for gasoline, I can pay for my gasoline for the rest of my working life from the difference in price between housing costs in the country vs. housing costs in the city, and that's before you count the interest payments on the mortgage.

We must assume that if more people decide to move to uban areas, the price spread between urban and rual housing will only increase, thus making the economic burden of living in urban areas ever greater.

To me a great example to study would be suburbanization in the U.K. Despite paying as much as three times what we in the U.S. do for gasoline, suburbanization has until recently been all the rage in Britain, something that began ironically (as it did in the U.S.) with cheap mass transit, and then transfered itself to private car ownership. The price of gasoline over the years seems to have had virtually no impact on suburbanization, from the days of "Mr. Blandings Dream House" to the age of the McMansion, from London to L.A.

A closing thought. The charts shown in Jeffvail's post show clearly why the idea that plug hybrid automobiles may succeed strikes horror in the heart of suburb and automobile haters. There are many people who detest the automobile on purely cultural aesthetic grounds. This is not new, and has been true since the very first days of the automobile, seen as a detestable toy of the capitalist idle rich in it's early days, and as the embodiment of the "decadence" and sloth of the middle class "joe sixpack" suburban "King of the Hill" stereotype today.

Jeff shows in his charts that gasoline consumption is already a marginal cost of automobile ownership. If that cost can be essentailly cut in half, or even by two thirds, there is no reason to believe that "joe sixpack" will give either the car or suburbia up. Why should he? To live in some urban ghetto packed together like sheep in a pen, with no room to breath, no yard of his own to at least enjoy a bit of the outdoors, subject to the taxation of the overlords and the crime of the poor, living in what would essentially be a workers camp? In every nation, people flee the urban slums, and seek freedom of mobility wherever it becomes possible. Gasoline at $10.00 per gallon will not stop the desire to live like humans with space and freedom of mobility. It is an elitist dream to hope otherwise. Sorry, that's just the way it is.


"To live in some urban ghetto packed together like sheep in a pen, with no room to breath, no yard of his own to at least enjoy a bit of the outdoors, subject to the taxation of the overlords and the crime of the poor, living in what would essentially be a workers camp? In every nation, people flee the urban slums, and seek freedom of mobility wherever it becomes possible. Gasoline at $10.00 per gallon will not stop the desire to live like humans with space and freedom of mobility. It is an elitist dream to hope otherwise. Sorry, that's just the way it is."

There's a lot of hyperbole there, the gaseous nature of which could power many miles of suburbanites' commutes. I live in the middle of a city and it's nothing like you describe. Until the economy went south, people were buying condos as fast as they could be built. Housing costs are much higher than in the surrounding suburbs because the demand for urban housing is higher than that in the suburbs. Given the laws of supply and demand (using your $36-85K housing cost example), wouldn't it stand to reason that if people had such a yearning to live in the 'burbs, the home values would be higher?

The reality is that people are generally seeing the benefits of living in a city and are increasingly making the choice to do so. No, it's not for everyone and there will always be those who choose to live further out of an urban core. But it's not an issue of hating automobiles or wanting to take people's freedom away to create attractive places for people to live throughout a metropolitan area.

But a plug in hybrid (like the Chevy Volt,) is more expensive than your neighbor's house. If people are barely able to afford to buy houses at $36k, how are they going afford to buy a car at $48k, let alone two? A 30 year mortgage on a $36k house works out to about $200/month. A single person can afford that on minimum wage. But a 72 month car loan on a $48k car is $800/month. And so even if the person can afford to live in the house at minimum wage, they can't afford to go anywhere from the house at minimum wage, so they'll never buy it in the first place. In fact, it is more likely that the price of the house is depressed because of the fact that you need a car to get anywhere. And so when gasoline goes up, the value of the house will just go down...

There is certainly going to be one heck of an economic crunch, which is only just starting to get going.
Even though the number of all-singing and dancing EV's sold will be low, I reckon most people in most suburbs will be able to stay put, but they will probably get around using things more like this:

At a retail price of £999, the scooters are cheap to buy, cheap to run and cheap to insure. The bikes can be fully recharged for around 8 pence, giving a maximum range of over 40 miles. One of the key markets for the scooter is universities where students and staff currently use a car to commute.

At $1600 personal mobility will still be assured, and various versions will likely come out with cover for brutal climates, child seats and three wheels for icy roads.

Getting around will look more like Vietnam than present day suburbia, but people will still be able to get about at reasonable cost.

In every nation...

In France, the slums (and worst crime) are in the Suburbs and the "good people" live in the urban core. Quite beautiful there BTW.


Urban households on average have lower incomes than suburbanites and therefore do not have more discretionary income, whatever that vague term is. In most metro areas there is a small city center with upscale condos and high rent apartments surrounded by a lagoon of poverty which is then surrounded by an archipelego of affluent suburbs. Beyond the suburbs are the rural low income counties which provide the food, timber, and minerals the suburbanites enjoy.

A big problem with suburbanites using public transit is that transit routes are designed on a hub and spoke pattern while the majority of commuters travel from suburb to suburb. In my years as a transit worker I have encountered many people who live in the core city having to go well past the end of the bus route to get to work or even get specialist medical care. I know of one case where someone had to travel several miles outside the transit system's service area just to meet with their court appointed attorney. In many places not having a car means not having access to 80% of the area's low wage jobs.

I'm probably not being very clear in my argument. You aren't worse off because you spend little on transportation. Let's say it costs a suburban family $500/month to maintain and drive a second car. They can fairly easily cut that $500/month expense. That expense--before it is cut--is highly elastic (relative to quality of life) and therefore represents resiliency. In other words, they could fairly easily absorb a shock to their income (or other expenses) of $500/month. Since you don't already have this source of elasticity, what can you cut (as an urban dweller) that would eliminate $500/month from your expenses? I'm not saying that you, personally, couldn't do this. Rather, my argument is that, on average, urbanites don't have these ready sources of financial elasticity to the same degree that suburbanites do. To the extent that this generalization is true (and, certainly, there are individual cases where it is not true or even reversed), suburbanites are in a more resilient financial position.

In your case, because you banked the savings from cutting your car, you are clearly in a preferable position. I think it's a safe generalization to say that most urbanites are not banking an ADDITIONAL value each month in savings equivalent to what suburbanites spend on a car. In general, the savings rates of suburbia are actually higher than in urban areas, though that is largely misleading as it's more due to sharp demographic differences such as age, race, income level, etc.

I take issue with using the IRS $0.485/mile here. That cost is intended to be a measure of all of the fixed and variable costs of operating a vehicle. That includes both insurance and also the cost of the fuel. So I suspect you are double counting some of these costs.

IRS Announces 2008 Standard Mileage Rates; Rate for Business Miles Set at 50.5 Cents per Mile

The standard mileage rate for business is based on an annual study of the fixed and variable costs of operating an automobile; the standard rate for medical and moving purposes is based on the variable costs as determined by the same study. Runzheimer International, an independent contractor, conducted the study for the IRS.

If I get some time later today, I will try and come up with some real-world estimates of what the true fixed and variable costs for my vehicle actually are.

Good point--my intent was simply to pick an "official" number. It's probably possible to pay less than $.10/mile or over $5.00/mile in car ownership costs, so I figured some middle-of-the-road figure would be the best for purposes of illustration. However, as you point out, it's double counting the cost of gas, which wasn't my intent... If you figure 25 mpg and $3/gallon, then the cost of gas for a mile is $0.12. So maybe $0.30 is a better rough non-gas cost/mile figure?

So maybe $0.30 is a better rough non-gas cost/mile figure?

My cost per mile is $.10 for insurance, $0.007 for registration, and $0.05 for maintenance (if that).

Then again my car is fully depreciated...

I agree.

You can't add gasoline plus the IRS mileage rate. The rate already includes gasoline so you are double counting. It is probably accurate to add in insurance and parking though.

The IRS rate includes EVERYTHING, even depreciation. See http://www.irs.gov/faqs/faq-kw119.html
I don't think you can reasonably add anything to the IRS rate when using it as a standard cost. Naturally, you can reduce this cost by buying used cars, driving reliable cars, changing the amount you drive, etc.

Precisely. Because its an average for "normal" conditions that includes both fixed and variable costs, a more appropriate procedure would be to deduct the variable costs per mile, then use the base assumptions behind the figure on normal miles driven to approximate the fixed cost portion.

If the IRS rate covers everything, it's bogus. The government also gives you inflation CPI numbers that don't reflect reality. We have a gussied up new Camry. The depreciation alone in the first few years averages $5K a year. 48 cents a mile is $4800 year. There is no way in god's green pasture that 48 cents a mile would be reliable number. Don't take the IRS word for it. Do the math.

Jeff, thanks for a fine article.
I am sympathetic to your basic thesis, as I feel that suburbia is unlikely to be extensively abandoned.
However, I feel that far more adjustment will have to be made than you indicate to driving habits, involving much more use of public transport, scooters etc.

The reason becomes clear if we compare your argument with west texas's and khebab's work on declining oil availability.
This decline is for most purposes absolute, although the present low price of oil may restrict investment in more output somewhat, further reducing output down the line beyond their median case.

If this decline is going to happen, then one of two consequences follow:
1) Either the price of oil rises until demand balances supply,
2) Or recession intervenes to keep demand below the rate of output even with low prices

If there is continual recession suburbia will be thrown out of work in great numbers, and the fixed costs of their cars become unsupportable anyway.
If oil prices rise, then they will just continue to go right on up until demand is cut, IOW the ratio of variable costs of the gas will soar until demand reduces, even if that means petrol at $50/gallon.
In practise of course the knock-on effects of a massive oil price rise would raise the cost of everything else very rapidly, so all the costs would rise including the fixed costs.

What it boils down to is that after, say, around 2012 the oil simply will not be available for the commuting you suggest, even with car pooling.

I agree that many of the suburbs will survive, or be altered into mini-towns with work and shopping locally, but the changes will be more severe than you indicate to the suburban lifestyle.

Excellent article, jeffvail. I found the second graph dealing with total car cost ownership and fuel efficiency telling. You points on elasticity are also noteworthy. However, the mental adaptation for suburbanites to strip away "elasticities" in fuel usage in the tide of tightening budgets may be a bit of a shock. The perceptual need for driving probably outweighs needs for consumption in other areas. The relative elastic mindset would be that luxury purchases, perhaps even food, are forestalled before any drastic driving cutbacks are implemented, further risking greater economic downturn. It is doubtful that suburbanites will give up the convinces of a second car until forced to, as the perceived relative utility of the vehicle is high.

As far as addressing the "weaknesses" of suburbia, the risks of fuel supply disruptions is problematic as we start to experience fuel depletion. While I applaud your desire to veer away from the "suburbia sucks" manta, it's possible that the suburbia landscape biggest weakness is vehicle dependence. Regardless of price, if the resource is unavailable, or only to a select few, that's it. In a democratic state, the inclination is to divide the resource up as evenly as possible to anyone who wants it at a fair market price. If peak oil production is here, or nearly here, then 30 years of depletion will make fuel elasticity largely moot. Thirty years may seem like a long time, but it might make you think twice when getting that 30 year mortgage on a suburban home.

Perhaps it’s worth considering two different suburban profiles. I’m very familiar with one having lived here almost 30 years: Houston. A very large population spread out over a very large area. In Houston, some of the previous comments regarding travel expenses of service providers, grocery shopping, medical visits, etc are no more than experienced by urbanites. Over the last 20 years Houston’s suburbs have transformed into smaller city centers. Nearly all necessities are typically within a few miles. The University of Houston even has suburban campuses. Profession job opportunities have also spread to these suburbs. Suburban office locations have become one of the big perks. Being the center of the oil patch in the US, many of the larger corporations long ago relocated to the burbs. Urban public transit is not the greatest so many urbanites still depend upon their cars for shopping, etc. Suburban local transit is non-existent but there are well established commuter bus services for those still needing to travel to the city center. One even owns its own commuter bus line.

As I mentioned before, during the last 10+ years there has been a significant upscale redevelopment of the inner city by folks how would not accept the commute from the burbs. But this change in attitude had nothing to do with the price of motor fuel. Even with suburban commuter buses the daily round trips were reaching 3 to 5 hours. Folks were willing to pay the much higher urban costs (probably around 2 to 3 times the cost per sq ft in the burbs) in order to recover 20 hours or so of their life every week. For the price differential in housing cost one could own the same size home in the burbs and pay $20/gallon and still come out way ahead on the mortgage savings.

Due to the oil patch Houston is still booming to some degree. Difficult to gauge, but I would say the prospect of higher fuel costs combined with urban housing costs are actually driving more relocation to the burbs with the expansion of these distal city centers. For decades Fort bend County (20 to 40 miles SW of Houston) has been the fastest growing county in the country. Lack of significant zoning restrictions has greatly aided this movement. Given the ability of Houston to annex even across county lines, the city is ever expanding as they gobble up the developed (and tax rich burbs). In this sense, Houston may be very unique compared to any other major US city. Suburbia is not only here to stay but is growing. Perhaps the term “suburbia” doesn’t apply to Houston’s current expansion. But, with mandated changes in zoning laws and tax capture it might be a model for transformation of other cities.

Ironically, out household (UK admittedly) has 2x 10 miles commutes at the moment.

Slight issue is the opposite directions.

If petrol went up by a factor of 2-3, I'd probably invest in some kind of EV - probably an electric pushbike. That would cut our usage in half and allow much higher household energy budgets to be maintained.

Jeff, one word, rationing.

Simple cost based numbers are OK, but its the availability question, coupled with the necessity of commuting that really cuts deep. Infrequent is OK, but if you have to be in the office 5 days a week for society to continue to work; that's when you get trouble.

And rationing is going to be early on in a governmental response to peak oil. As I've mentioned before in relation to rationland, its not necessarily the smartest move, but you can expect fuel for commuting to wither away within a ten year period.

Part of the difficulty is defining suburbia. I used to live in the southern end of Denver. Was that suburbia? Maybe so, but virtually everything I needed was within walking distance. Plus, I had access to great bicycle trails where I could easily ride my bike downtown and around the city without being in auto traffic. Now,that same area has great access to light rail.

I assume the kind of suburbia you are talking about is highly dependent upon the automobile. Regardless of the costs, this kind of arrangement is going a long way to wrecking the planet. Given the fact that we are already exceeding acceptable CO2 emission limits, steps should be taken to ensure that the current suburban arrangements are unaffordable. If one is only concerned about gas prices and the costs of owning a vehicle, then perhaps the suburban arrangement is viable for awhile. Otherwise, it just helps to hasten the day when our planet is largely unlivable.

For what it's worth, that's exactly where I live. Right by a light rail station that drops me off 1 block from my office downtown (though I still drive some of the time and pay the $10 to park, either because it's faster (saves me about 30 minutes round trip) or because it's more convenient (as in my work often takes me somewhere else mid-day). My house is within an easy walk of stores of all type (5 minutes to a coffee shop--admittedly, Starbucks--10 minutes to everything else), a park is literally across the street, the schools are great, and housing (my house is a "McMansion" by some definitions at 2300 square feet) is very affordable. We initially located here because my wife's job is right by us (in the suburbs), but it has worked out fairly well.

Sounds like you bought my house.

The analysis of suburbia is not as simple as it seems. Many jobs are now in suburban areas, as is shopping, health care and personal services. One can live in a suburb and never go into town.

My personal experience may be insightful. Two years ago my wife and I retired from jobs in suburban Atlanta, GA and relocated to Fairhope, AL, a small town in the ex-urban Mobile area. Living in Dunwoody we were within two miles of two regional strip malls, three miles of world class shopping, two miles of commuter rail to downtown Atlanta and the Harstfield airport, and 5 miles from Perimeter Center, one of the world’s largest suburban office complexes,.

In Fairhope I am two miles from a good hospital, versus one mile from one and three miles from three others in Dunwoody. As I leave home I now I pass a couple of fields of cotton, soybeans and peanuts on my 2-1/2 mile drive to the grocery store strip malls. The barber shop is now four miles away, versus 1-1/2 before, but I am closer to WalMart (2 miles versus 3) but further to a Target by 4 miles and Lowes or Home Depot by 8 miles. There is no world class mall in the metropolitan area, but there is a nice shopping center 12 miles away. The nearest Whole Foods or Fresh Market is 35 miles away in Mobile, but I don't neet them because local produce is sold at farmers markets. So in the end I am finding that ex-commuting to work, suburbs are fairly efficient places to live compared to small towns. The only reason I chose Fairhope is that the Mobile economy is booming (new $3.5 billion steel mill, new shipping container unloading facility at the port, offshore oil and gas) and that I feel that the suburban conveniences I left will soon be built here.

Back in Atlanta, the latest trend at Perimeter Center is a dispersed group of low and high-rise condos mixed in with upscale retail. So it is possible to live in a two-story condo over a retail storefront with across the parking lot from a Super Target, within walking distance to Perimeter Mall and MARTA rail and within a couple miles of jobs. The main drawback is that most of the thousands (perhaps 25-50 thousand) of people who work there, plus all the people who live in the area and work elsewhere people create huge traffic jams at rush hour.

Very true. I'm an engineer too, and in 40 years I've never held or even heard of, so far as I can remember, an engineering job in an urban area.

Engineering jobs can be found in urban areas.

Companies that need low-cost workers and pull them from urban populations fit this model. Older firms who've paid for the land/buildings - typically.

even heard of, so far as I can remember, an engineering job in an urban area.

HUH !?!

One Shell Square has hundreds if not thousands of engineers; all types.

The US Army Corps of Engineers HQ Uptown has a bunch of not very good engineers. Again hundreds.

A firm with over 50 engineers (name escapes me ATM) is a half mile from my home.

Plant based engineers as well.





Each of these three are stronger and more physical in a single family house with a car in the garage, than they are in a condo with a transit line outside. This means that the suburban housing model will continue in the western world.

There are two real tasks in the years ahead with regards to commuting energy and the suburbs: 1) Reduce travel demand. 2) Reduce the fossil fuel requirement of travel that does occur. I appreciate that this website is transitioning towards more general and realistic appraisals and solutions.

What is a suburb? Leaside? The Beach? How about Moore Park? Big difference between those and Newmarket.

Really now Scott,,,,what the idea I hear you say, as many other CONSUMERS here do, is " Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,,,,IT'S MINE, DAMMIT, YOU CAN'T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME,,,,ahhh, the American Dream. Keep dreaming Bucko. So sorry, but no, that "suburban housing model" will not be on the schedule for a ride stop, during your next 4 coupon ride. Sorry to inform you, as your coupons (FREE ENERGY) have run out and it's time to get off. You seemed to be really be looking forward to it. Did'nt you? Turn off the TV and read a little Kunstler, no make that a lot of Kunstler, and a number of others listed here on this webby site.

Soo many are so caught up in the idea that " I have to take little Billy to the school,soccer match, play date with his friend", etc, etc. etc, "I have to get a big car", cause the munchkins argue to much if they don't have their own dvd players in the back. Sooo much whining about the unimportant, the mindless consumption. "commuted to Boston for years", 80 miles one way? The days of free energy are over bud, hate to tell ya. Free energy built that POS "Suburban Housing Model", plain as the yuppie SUV sitting in your drive. It's gone and it ain't ever coming back.

Sooo, sorry, but no, Virginia there is no Santa Claus.

what a fantastic load of assumptions you have going there

Yeah, clearly he is assuming that what goes up must come down. 100 million net resource-sucking, environment destroying humans added to a finite globe EACH YEAR, while net energy flows are set to fall off a cliff. Try stepping back and spitting out the kool aid before you call realistic assessments of the future "fantastic." No, what is fantasy is the idea that walmart and the burbs can go on forever, without regard to the laws of physics and energy flows.

same goes for your empassioned assumptions. perhaps this is the level of discourse you find engaging, not me.

Empassioned? Yes. However, apathy is what got us into this mess to begin with, so a little excitement helps to wake people up. I'm all for rational discussion (prefer it, actually), so perhaps you have rational justifications for suburbia?

Shall I just let you in on a little secret you might pick up on if you read my other comments in this very thread - I do not live in suburbia nor do I defend it.

This is what is so not right about this little exchange right here.

Relax, take in the whole thread, or not. Mostly, have a stiff upper lip about these sorts of things.

If you cant yet, get busy making your own life a better place versus getting all tweaky online.

Just saying.

If you cant yet, get busy making your own life a better place versus getting all tweaky online.

Already there...

Who's tweaky? Look to your own posts first.

(deep breaths)

Have written this response three different times (all lost to browser mishaps).

I see no need for us to have a PO studfest where I up your 10 acres with my 16 or you then ante up from that with your solar panels versus my biomass boiler for our house and soon to be 4 season greenhouse. Yawn

I do not get where you and I ended up on “opposing” sides.

I am not troll rating you or anyone else here. I do think its important to retain an open and constructive stance and to never cop an attitude that I know more than someone else just because I know a thing or two about how to grow a garden or raise a chicken or butcher it or milk a goat or make some fresh chevre. These are things we all need to learn if our transition is going to be a quality one.

Its better to not get all prickly. Prickly is definitely what I am feeling here. But if this is what you chose, its not on me.

I would prefer to learn from you, hear about your successes going off grid or pushing excess electrons back out onto the grid for fun and profits.

Remember what Rodney King had to say.

Its better to not get all prickly.

It takes two, remember; I'll forebear.

Ok, sure.

Really now nika,,,,would you prefer my level of discourse to be chock full of references to every other report that has already been listed here? I could do that. Would you prefer I listed, as so many do, time and time again, reports that are out dated, un-referenced and/OR done by "THE GOVERNMENT"? I could do that. Would you prefer that I report on the work that your government is involved in, that being, the process of stealing your american dream, right out from under your nose, with the most overt Treason this country has ever seen? I could do that. But I won't.

You are a little miffed at my "level of discourse"? Sometimes I just get soo tired of listening to the whiners of the world...I know, I could read the Playboy website if I don't like what I see here. The issues, really are, life or death. Get off your ass and do something. Get engaged in it. Go a week without any food, see how it feels to be REALLY hungry. I have. I have been to ANWR. I have seen the devastation of the oil sands work in Canada. Do you have any idea how big the hole is now in the Powder River Basin? Ever been there, ever seen it? I have. Where do you think the electricity comes from for your little bit of suburbia heaven? Have you ever even written a member of Congress? How about a local agency? Are you involved? I am.

I do not make light of the death and destruction coming to a theater near you. It will come. My "level of discourse" could be like so many others, just chock full of Politically Correct statements and religious innuendo, just overflowing with numbers and graphs, but so many others here do such a fine job of the nuts and bolts. Just take a breath, and look past all the nuts and bolts, you'll see humanity in a whole different light. And sometimes,,,,it ain't pretty.

Perhaps we need a thread where each of us gets to define the American Dream. I would be particularly interested in what our Canadian neighbors perceive the Dream to be. Do the Aussies and Kiwies have their own national dreams? Just what did Cheney mean when he said the American Dream is non-negotiable?

I think you mean this?

In June, 1992, the Earth Summit was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. At this conference, 153 countries (including the United States) signed treaties to curb the damage to the environment from human economic activities. This conference was attended by George H. W. Bush, then President of the United States of America, who proved resistant to efforts to make deep and lasting changes that could ensure protection of the world on which all nations depend. His reasoning? "The American way of life is not negotiable".

The Lap dog Cheny, has repeated it frequently.

Energy wasn't free earlier this year - don't forget it was higher than most people's 'doomsday' level. What's the next one? 500 dollars a barrel? When exactly are we going to get there?

Besides if there is a new "emergent economy" then who knows exactly what will emerge? Maybe larger suburban homes will become MORE valuable (what exactly is left downtown when you relocate the white collar jobs to the burbs?). You could bet on Kunstler (btw I read and agree with much of his blog) but somehow I think we'll remember how to shave.

Yeah, I can walk to get groceries and I take transit to work. I'm also a big transit proponent. But the "death of the suburbs" continues to be a thought experiment - I'd start with Jane Jacobs, written in 1961.

Of course, if people living in the suburbs had good employment opportunities right there in their own suburbs, then perhaps they could walk or bicycle to work, or at least would only need a small NEV for commuting.

We have been assuming that what is needed is for all employers to cluster in urban central business districts, and for all residents to move into the cities and cluster tightly around the CBD in very dense residential districts served by mass transit.

The thing is, not every employer really needs to be located in a CBD, and there might in fact be advantages in operating a business in a more peripheral location. (Lower taxes, and ease in moving freight in and out are two that come to mind. If industries are eventually going to have to rely on their own solar or wind power, then obviously they are going to need the space for these installations as well.)

This is not an original idea, but it bears repeating: Maybe what we really need is not the abandonment of the suburbs, but rather their transformation into something that more closely resembles traditional small towns. If each suburb had its own little CBD and an array of employers, then perhaps a larger percentage of its residents would be able to co-locate their residence and employer within reasonable walking or bicycling distance.

I would imagine that such an archipelago of suburban CBDs surrounding each city would also double as obvious nodes for mass transit systems, preferable to the undifferentiated low-density sprawal that is presently more typical around urban areas.


If you didn't see it above, Houston has evolved into the format you've described. But it wasn't without a fight. The burbs didn't want to become a part of Houston but annexation has strong precedence here. The burbs were very wealthy tax wise and had the schools/infrastructure to prove it. Once annexed their taxes went into the general fund. Additionally, the relatively minor zoning restrictions allowed significant commercial development in amongst the subdivisions.

From what little I know of other urban/suburban rules in the country, it seems it would take a very tough legal battle to generate the Houston model elsewhere. The folks in the burbs probably won't care for a 30 story business building going up within sight of their backyard pool nor the additional road construction/traffic. Against my libertarian slant, it would seem gov't mandated change would be the only path to such an evolution.

This has value, and I appreciate the intent to address the
extent to which suburbia may cope with impending high prices.

The problem is that, given the reported cumulative sharp decline rate in the largest fields, the added problem of increased domestic consumption of oil exporters (export land model) and
the distinct possibility that we will have oil dominated in other currencies, there may simply be no oil to buy at ANY price.

Suburban commuters are at the end of the pipeline, should shortages appear and become chronic. I foresee long lines of cars, empty of fuel, and qeued up at filling stations in near
suburban future.


I'm not sure the suburbanites will be at the end of the pipeline in some cases...perhaps many. I can only speak to the Houston area where I live. If we're talking about gasoline shortages which are not addressed by rationing then I would think market forces would prevail: fuel would be priced and sold to those who can afford it. There is an affluent but small population in the d/t area. The great bulk of wealth is concentrated in suburban hot spots. Fortunately Houston is home to much of the refining capacity in the US so source would be no problem. Again, if there is no mandated rationing, even the affluent urbanites might have limited access to fuel as the bulk may be transported to the suburbs where higher profits could be earned. In addition, with access to commuter bus services, many suburbanites wouldn't need a lot of fuel as many of the necessities of life would be available within a few miles.

Even with this construct there are other anomalies. I live 25 miles east of Houston and currently work d/t. But last year I bought a townhome just across the highway from the largest refinery in the US (ExxonMobil Baytown). I would think our community might be adequately supplied in times of shortages as most of the refinery workers, including management, live here also.

Speaking from Experience

I agree with a couple of the other commenters in re: suburbia has gas intensive sprawl issues that invalidate the core thesis here. I also agree with the urbanite who points out that s/he has already achieved significant savings by having no car and wonders how this makes her/him less resilient?

I live at the edge of your graphs and I am sure I am not the only one. Because I am on the upper bounds, I know intuitively how the thesis fails.

I live in exurbia and commute 80 miles a day (400 miles per week, 1600 miles per month) into suburbia (going into Boston would be 120 miles per day, 600 per week, 2400 miles per month plus $300 - $400/monthly parking – did that for years).

My fixed costs have remained the same while the cost of commuting re: gas became critical this summer, VERY quickly. We are not a driving family. We homeschool our oldest (no bus, no driving, no crazy afterschool stuff, no soccer games or practice and tons of driving), we drive one mile for the middle child’s school and the youngest is not old enough. We entertain ourselves at home, always have. We live 20 miles from the closest grocery store and many more from any sort of entertainment (unless you consider grocery shopping entertainment). We grow our own organic veggies, raise and milk our own dairy goats, raise our own chickens for eggs and meat. All of that is off-set by the cost of gas for commuting.

A meager budget that had reached a homeostasis became unglued when the price shock came.

Here is my main point: In order to get to work and make money to keep the house and feed the kids – my commuting costs are critical and inelastic – I can not NOT work and my job (for now) doesn’t allow telecommuting. I can not keep this job and simultaneously drop the 400 miles a week commute – those are inelastic.

We have cut out all the fat (excess driving – all trips are 100% necessary) and now are operating on pure lean. Cutting into the lean impairs the homeostasis in a negative way.

As more Americans become fuel poor, they will cut more and more fat but they will hit lean soon enough. Then they will be hitting the inelastic barriers.

Anything that makes me unable to pay those commuting costs substantially impinges on my ability to go to work and make money. Its circular.

I feel that I am in a hard inelastic and non-resilient place and I feel that most people of modest means in suburbia have similar situations.

Trust me when I say I am always on the look out to relocalize into my home so that commuting no longer places us at extreme jeopardy. That is a long term dream of mine and I am still trying some 13 years after moving to our home.


Resiliency is a function of the ability to absorb shock. If an urbanite gets rid of their car and puts that $600 (wag) each month into a savings account, then that does build resilience. But if an urbanite trades that $600/month car expense for $600/month higher rent, then they are less resilient, not more. Precisely because, while it might be psychologically challenging, it is very possible for most suburbanites to eliminate one car from their budget, they have a built-in source of resiliency. They can cut that $600/month from their budget with only a few hours a week of inconvenience. How many urbanites can cut $600/month from their budget so easily? It certainly isn't a universal truth, but in general that is why I think suburban residents are at least AS resilient as urbanites (and potentially much more so, as I'll argue next week).

I look forward to the next installment. My ambient emotional reaction to the discussion is that I fear we all lack meaningful resiliency in the face of real price shocks. There are different pain points for people in different living/working arrangements. Maybe its because I value my personal space, I would prefer to make a relocalized exurban food secure solution work and not have to be forced (for me it would be forced) into a dense urban environment where I have no ability to attempt to grow enough food to meet short falls. But I fear that the urban environment will be the preferred one in terms of social engineering because scarce resources such as food aid can be distributed more effectively. I do not have a crystal ball for the suburban outcome. I think there are too many nonlinear parameters that dicate potential outcomes. I think that, after a significant powerdown period, there will be people living in all of these environments only perhaps not in quite the same way or densities as they do now. That would be my conservative guess, how it gets there, its my hope that we get to talk about it and participate but I fear that it wont go that way, too many people, too many egos, too much seemingly at stake.

Ok, I need to try to practice some optimism now!


To me it seems like suburbanites are indeed mostly concerned about the fuel costs related to commuting, whether rational or not. When we launched Cost2Drive.com in Oct. (an application that lets users determine the cost of driving places based on gas prices) we found that many of them we're using it just for that reason - to calculate the cost of commuting. I think it has to do with the fact that paying for fuel is a more tangible and frequent expense, and so that fact, combined with consumers being in shock from seeing triple digit numbers when they fueled their SUVs this summer - put major buzz around the 'gas price' issue. I also concur with the comment that suburbanites drive more place than to work - they do indeed drive everywhere, thus the term 'soccer mom'.

I do agree there are many other costs to consider, but people tend to focus on the tangible and immediate out-of-pocket cost.

Jeff -

I think you overstate the monthly cost of car ownership for most people. Most cannot afford $1394 month plus gas for 2 cars. Also I think the vast majority of commuters do not pay for parking at work, I never have.

Purchasing a 5-6 year old car less desirable (think Ford Taurus, for example) and running it for another 4 to 5 years can result in much lower costs.

I usually use this approach (although I splurged on my last vehicle). My approximate cost for my last vehicle (chrysler Concorde) were as follows:

Captital Cost (4K over 4+ years, depriciation)) $80/month
Insurance $50/month
Maintenance $80/month
Gas $100/month
Tolls/Parking/Other $30/month

So $340/month is my cost. This is for reliable transportation. Obviously driving a new car would be much more expensive, and I have been accused of drving a Grandpa car.



You make a good point--I am certainly overstating the necessary (and probably average) cost of car ownership, though for many people I am actually understating the cost of their car ownership (take, for example, the cost of leasing a new Escalade into account). Even using your numbers, however, I think my basic thesis holds: your fixed cost of ownership is $240/month and your variable cost is $100/month. Even if gas prices doulble, your 1) still won't have an unbearable increase in variable costs, and 2) your fixed costs will still be greater than your variable costs.

Assuming that if you paid for gas in exchange for ridesharing, you have the potential to cut $240/month from your budget relatively easily (I'm making a lot of assumptions about your personal situation that, while I think are valid to the general population, may not be to you).

Also, I should point out as it wasn't very clear above, the $1394/month is the base cost for TWO cars, so that's $700/month for one...

Roger that Jeff. Fixed costs are clearly much higher than the variable ones. For what its worth my latest car is a Prius. Ive estimated fixed costs at around $450/month for the first few years of operation, mostly depreciation. Gas is now running under $50/month. Still, the total is only around $500/month, fairly inexpensive for a relatively high priced new vehicle. Gas could double or even quadruple from where it is now without causing too much pain, and be largely offset by the decreasing cost of depreciation each year.

In general, while I enjoy Kunstler and have read two of his books, I do not agree with his prognosis for suburbia. There are so many ways to reduce suburban energy use while still maintaining decent living standards, that I think many Suburban areas will be able to adapt reasonably well to decreasing energy inputs. I think Suburbia could esily adept to using 50% less energy in a span of 5-10 years. My total direct energy use, for example, is down by about 40% in a few years effort, with mostly low cost energy saving investments (except the Prius, of course).

I agree that buying used cars can greatly reduces the fixed cost. I've done it ever since reading a 1978 article in one of the car magazines that said how long a car would last with proper care. Teoay's cars last even longer. My favorite is Toyota, but Honda is great also, and even a couple of US cars are acceptable.

The secret to getting good value is to go out the age curve 4 or 6 to where the major finance companies won't finance at low interest rates, if at all. You can look on Edmunds or Kelly Blue Book and see where the break is and note that a car that has been depreciaitng say $2000 per year all of a sudden depreciates by $4000. A five year old, well maintained quality car with rather low mileage can be expected to last another 5 to 10 years with no major maintenance.

I would like to add an element I haven't seen discussed so far: small children - a fact of life for many of us for 10 or more years. I have lived in urban areas for years, and my driving took off after I had my first child. We got a second car when we were expecting our third child. That's also when we bought the gas guzzler minivan, as three car seats do not fit in the back of a Honda Civic, or a Prius. I am not saying that this is inevitable - I could have chosen to have fewer kids - I am just saying that this is a common situation. I don't ride my bike anymore - there is always someone to pick up, some tight scheduling issue, the weather, yadda, yadda... Suburbanites who have to go to the store with, say, two kids in tow have to put aside a couple of hours if they are going to set up the bike trailer, get everyone's helmets on, deal with the whining, deal with the demands for candy in the store, then do it over again to get home with groceries to carry to boot (that may mean the end of those gallons of soda...). I was even hoping to make it to the farmer's market on my bike, but the weekly weight of vegetables and fruits, plus the 4 year old, 3 miles back up the hill to my house sapped my motivation. Given rationing, on the other hand, much will be accomplished. My point is, life as we know it will simply be entirely transformed.

On another note, I think many suburbanites could not buy a home at all if it were not in the suburbs. They then find themselves house-poor, and a 100% increase in the cost of gas (as the fixed costs are behind most people, at any given moment) causes credit card overload, month after month. The credit card companies track gasoline expenditures - I would be curious to see what a common gasoline budget is in the suburbs. and whether one could show that the recent increase in revolving debt is related. There was a commenter a couple of weeks back who quoted figures showing that suburban areas lost value faster - what was it about if not commuting costs (in time and gasoline)?

Two excellent points. Especially with children, whether founded in fact or not, there is a huge premium placed on the perceived safety of driving them in a car.

As for suburban home values, I think this is feedback loop that will keep people in the suburbs. I touched on this last week with regard to credit and financing, but think of it from a pure "cost of living" perspective: if it costs more commute from the suburbs, then there will be an increase in demand for urban living (or, like me, parts of suburbia near significant sources of employment). That will make housing and rental costs higher in these areas (simple supply and demand) RELATIVE to the cost of the same in suburbia. I don't have any hard numbers to point to, but my guess is that the increased cost of rent in urban areas will roughly parallel the increased cost of commuting. Or, the reverse, the decreased (relative) cost of renting or owning in suburbia will roughly parallel the increased cost of commuting from there. So, balancing cost of living and cost of commuting, I don't think there will be a financial incentive to leave suburbia.

Jeff my huge post touches on this but your completely wrong in this assumption.
Costs are not the issue its the perception of retaining or increasing value thats important.
Look at the ridiculous prices in California and its obvious its not the costs that drive
desirability. People can and will invest where property values are increasing regardless of cost.
Obviously this is balanced agianst peoples ability to pay but thats just market forces.

Are you going to spend 400k on a downtown condo that either increases or retains its value
or are you going to spend 400k on a suburban house that drops to 300k in value ?

Your completely missing the fundamental driver in real estate investment which is picking the desirable places to live its the direction of the vector and that all that matters.

This vector no longer points outwards towards suburbia.

Go read part 1. It is because the vector no longer points to suburbia that people who have already bought houses there will be trapped by upside down mortgages and unsellable homes. It isn't a question of where people will buy, it is a question of where they already have bought.

the increased cost of rent in urban areas will roughly parallel the increased cost of commuting

Demonstratively false analysis. Not only will the cost of commuting increase, but so will the cost of getting to and back from the grocery store, and 24 miles/49 miles RT to child's soccer game (I measured odometer to nephew's game in Phoenix), plumbers will charge higher trip charges, UPS will add a surcharge, the police will want higher taxes to pay for routine patrols, the Streets Dept will also want more $ to cover the increased cost of asphalt. And all of the other direct and indirect uses of oil that are higher in Suburbia.

In addition, Suburbia uses more energy of other types. They average about twice the direct electrical use/capita and likely twice (or more) indirectly.

Moving from Suburbia to an Urban TOD will save MUCH more oil and energy generally than just your isolated analysis of commutting costs.

I have long stated that the larger oil savings of Urban Rail are in changes in Urban form and the smaller savings are direct transportation You are looking at just one subset of direct transportation substitution.

An overly limited and hence false analysis !

So, balancing cost of living and cost of commuting, I don't think there will be a financial incentive to leave suburbia

The cost of EVERYTHING else (besides commuting) will increase more in Suburbia post-Peak Oil than in Urban TOD.

TODAY, 30% of Americans want to move to urban TOD (some from urban areas, some from Suburban areas). They cannot because there is not enough T for the desired OD.

Let us concentrate on building the T (Urban Rail Transportation) and developing the OD for the original 30% (and those that will follow afterwards) and worry about what to do with the residue left in Suburbia later.

You favor promoting energy intensive living patterns, I favor promoting energy efficient living patterns. One approach is better than the other post-Peak Oil.

Best Hopes for LESS effort salvaging Suburbia and more effort in promoting TOD,


Stating something is demonstrably false (which you did) is not the same as demonstrating something to be false (which you didn't). Yes, if we don't change the way in which we live in suburbia, then it takes more energy than does living in higher densities. However, you haven't provided one bit of empirical evidence--just conclusory assumptions--to support your argument that the increased cost of rent in urban areas due to suburban influx will not outweigh the increased energy cost of remaining in suburbia.

Analogy is not demonstration--listing trips to the grocery store, to soccer practice, and plumber surcharges isn't the same as demonstrating that the additional cost (at a given increase in the cost of gasoline) of living in suburbia outweighs the additional cost of living in urban areas due to increased demand relative to supply.

In many cases, it comes down to Econ 101: when there is more demand for urban housing relative to supply, the price equillibrium point goes up. When there is less demand for suburban housing relative to supply, the price equillibrium point goes down. The result of the desire to live in urban areas (in part, a function of the cost of energy) makes the non-transportation cost of living in suburbia relatively cheaper. My theory is that the decrease in non-transportation cost of living in suburbia is relatively equal to or greater than the increase in transportation cost of doing so. I accept that you theorize differently, but you certainly haven't "demonstrated" the reverse to be true... you point out valid reasons why the transportation-cost of life in suburbia will increase more rapidly than in urbia with rising energy prices. However, because you ignore the supply/demand issues that will make urban living more expensive, your analysis is necessarily one sided--what is needed is an inclusive balancing of costs on both sides. To the extent that we only look at one side of the equation, we necessarily produce myopic and poorly-reasoned arguments.

There is one point that I did not elaborate on, increasing urban rents (and condo purchase prices) will increase supply (both in total sq ft of urban housing and even more in # of units as sq ft/capita will drop with increased rents). Increased supply will moderate rents/condo prices (over time long enough for equilibrium) in urban areas.

My preferred model of TOD is where I live, mixed 1 to 3 story (a few 4/5 story) housing mixed in with commercial and retail. Mainly 28' wide streets and limited off-street parking (two rows of parallel parking on street, "interesting" driving where not one-way). Parks nearby and pocket green space.

Post-Katrina, additional housing "appeared". Basement converted to apartment to one side of me, attic on other side. 1.5 blocks away, part of parking lot got duplex (2x 1,000 sq ft), 3-plex that burned down during Katrina became "green" 4-plex when rebuilt.

But Portland may be the better model for modern US TOD. Early condos/apartments next to Light Rail stations were generally 3 stories tall (timber framed), later units were 4 & 5 stories tall (also timber).

"The Pearl" was largely abandoned warehouses until streetcar was put in. In general terms, first wave of condos was converted warehouses and factories (same thing happened in New Orleans next to CBD), second wave is 5 to 12 story newly built buildings (more concrete/steel framing).

US housing starts are divided into SFRs and multi-family. SFRs averaged over 2,400 sq ft in 2006/7 (memory), up from 1,000 sq ft in 1950 (for larger households back then).

The resources required for new TOD housing are small fractions of new Suburban SFRs. Much lower sq ft, shared walls and utilities, minimal new infrastructure (no new roads !) make four new 800 sq ft TOD condos/apts use less resources than one 2,450 Suburban SFR.

OTOH, converting an abandoned warehouse, an attic, a basement to an apartment, takes the resources of a tenth (SWAG) of a new 2,450 sq ft Suburban SFR.

I have personally seen over a thousand empty rowhouses in Baltimore. Rehabbing them will take some resources, but mainly labor.

Trees will continue to grow post-Peak Oil. There may be less effort to extend the lumber supply (OSB, engineered wood) but a large amount of wood for framing and finishing will still be available.

And steel, bricks and concrete will not totally disappear and some new housing will be built with these in urban areas post-Peak Oil.

Higher urban rents will increase supply and moderate the increase in rents over time. Urban building codes are generally stronger than suburban ones and will, hopefully, reduce the % of "bio-degradeable" new housing that will last 20 to 30 years before major repairs (stereotypical of Suburbia).

A decade or two post-Peak Oil I can see major home repairs forcing abandonment of much of Suburbia (asphalt shingles increase in price, roofing crews have to drive to work and not take urban rail plus large complex roofs make putting on a new roof "too expensive". See plumbing, electrical, windows and sills, slabs, painting for other expensive repairs that could prompt abandonment#). Meanwhile new TOD housing supply drops urban rents down from their peak.

Best Hopes for Seeing the Obvious,


# Picture 1989 built Suburban house, spec built (i.e not quality), 3,150 sq ft, VERY energy inefficient, on cul-de-sac, 1/2" topsoil to support lawn, far from anywhere.

In 2017, roof is leaking (minimal interior damage so far, just stains on one wall), as is the plumbing (one slow leak). New paint needed on soffits, etc (brick exterior). Window sills rotting, some windows cracked and leaking, perhaps a crack in the slab. Central a/c died years go, owner went to window units. Carpet worn, parquet flooring scratched. Granite countertops in good shape. Two year old hot water heater (inefficient model). Third of subdivision is empty already. Widow hanging on there dies, will her estate be able to find a buyer for this "fix 'er upper" ?

I currently live in Japan and you mentioning the difficulties of moving three children reminded me of something I saw last week. Here it is not uncommon to see a mother with one or two kids on a bike as she goes about her daily tasks. Of course, biking is very popular here and there are many more pedestrians here than you see in the US. But, I digress, what I saw was a lady on a bicycle with an infant on her back, one on a seat over the back tire and a third child on a seat over the front tire. Now I don't know how she would go about getting groceries in this manner but it is far from uncommon to see mothers here with one or two children on bikes and with a bag of groceries.

Make the kids carry the groceries in their hands.

Keep in mind that she probably lives in an apartment not much bigger than an average American bedroom, and the fridge is the same size that I had in my dorm in college, so it isn't like she is going to buy a weeks worth of milk in this shopping trip. The entire society is a just in time inventory system.

Not to mention that Japan places a very high value on fresh milk, and so milk at the grocery store was in the cow the day before, and it will be drunk the day it was bought. Nobody stores a week's worth of milk in the first place, even if they could, they just don't want to...

And I have to admire their values, fresh milk tastes better. I get my milk delivered straight from a farm, (unfortunately, they only come once a week,) and in a side by side taste test, most people can taste the difference between the stuff that was delivered that day, and the stuff that is a week old. It isn't that it goes bad in a week, but the new stuff is just so much better.

Another issue is that "fixed" costs are not truly fixed. Once the average suburbanite gets off the "new car every 2-3 year" treadmill, a lot of cost can fall away. For example: collision insurance can be dropped once payments are done, depreciation costs trends toward zero, tag/excise taxes are often tied to blue book, etc. In my own experience, repair and maintenance costs on older cars have trailed off significantly since the mid to late 90's, which had always been the offsetting expense. My true marginal mile cost has got to be under 20 cents a mile now. Migration of the avg. suburbanite toward the "use it till it dies" paradigm could offset a lot of the variable cost of gasoline for a very long time. Of course, the credit collapse may drive many in this direction whether they subscribe to it or not.

"Mass transit is another option for most suburbanites."

That certainly doesn't click with my observations. Here in Northwest Indiana and Chicago, we have one of the few regional passenger rail systems, the South Shore Line, and it's electrified. But it's also currently rather limited, essentially running along the Lakeshore, when there are cities to the south of it. We have a few bus systems, some of which are in danger of being stopped due to lack of funds (gotta love that great American foresight!). So yes, we have some mass transit, but I wouldn't say it's an option for most suburbanites.

My observations about suburbia are the following: if you don't drive, you don't matter. This is clearly seen in every parking lot in every strip mall from sea to shining sea. Ten hundred million spots for cars, and not one place for a bicycle. Six lane highways, yet nowhere to walk. Anyone who wants to travel on bike or on foot, for whatever reason, has to play "dodge the car". Our infrastructure is totally broken. We did this to ourselves. Nobody - not the oil companies, not George Bush, not Saudi Arabia, forced us to live this way. I like and voted for Barack Obama, but my jaw dropped open in amazement when I heard him recently state that the American Auto Industry is key to reducing our dependence on foreign oil. What?? Is this a joke??

Why didn't your post mention what I see as the biggest threat to suburbia - gasoline shortages? Suburbanites truly believe that there's no way to get around without their car, so just imagine what will happen to those economies. All of the carpooling and all of the Priuses in the world won't do a bit of good.

In conclusion and in my spirit of trying to be a constructive force of good in this world, I'd like to offer my view of what we should be doing:

Transition to more walkable, mixed-use, compact development ala New Urbanism. I know this is a huge ordeal, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't get started and do what we can to this end. As in, right now. My ideal city layout is one where daily transport can be done on foot or at least on a bicycle. More special, longer-distance transport should be done with electrified passenger rail. I think we simply need to get over being so lazy and get off our asses and walk or bike for most of our transport. Electrified rail is nice, but I don't think we need stops in every square mile.

Speaking of bicycles, it still amazes me how little they are discussed as a tool for mitigating a multitude of problems. They even can work quite well in suburbia. They are inexpensive, efficient, clean, and largely recyclable. They are the best tools, in all modes of development, we can implement right now to mitigate both our continued shocking destruction of our planet and peak oil. Hats off to my fellow bicycle commuters - in a country that claims to want to be responsible yet really wants to keep doing the same thing, meaning driving everywhere, you folks don't beat around the bush and make sincere efforts at making our air cleaner, reducing our dependence on foreign energy, and setting an uplifting example on living more responsibly and more sustainably.

"Mass transit is another option for most suburbanites."

That certainly doesn't click with my observations. Here in Northwest Indiana and Chicago, we have one of the few regional passenger rail systems, the South Shore Line, and it's electrified. But it's also currently rather limited,...

I agree. I live well outside of Boston. Like many cities, rail access exists, but in a hub and spoke model. The further from the hub that you live, the greater the distance from a spoke you are likely to be. Even a few miles outside the city it is easy to find yourself more than walking distance from rail access to the city.

Further, since rail access is hub and spoke, it is designed to move people in and out of the city. As noted in a number of other comments, this doesn't help move people between suburbs. In our area, most of the jobs are actually located along the "ring highways" surrounding the city proper. That is not to say that there are not lots of jobs in the city. It simply points out the reality that, as currently built, at least as many jobs are outside the city. Boston is an old and fairly densely constructed city. This makes it very walkable for people who can live and work in the city. However, it also means that there is not a lot of available space to place additional businesses or residents.

I know quite a few working couples in our area and, at the moment, I cannot think of a single one in which both members work in the city. In fact, in what is probably just a strange quirk of fate, most of these couples seem to work in almost opposite directions from each other (true for my situation as well). Moreover, because of the dispersed nature of suburban employment, it can be very difficult to find reasonably convenient car-pooling alternatives. [Note: There are a number of car-pooling options and technologies available. However, car-pooling does entail certain social, psychological, personal adjustments that not everybody is comfortable with. To the extent that this can be changed over time, car-pooling can certainly be a valuable tool.] I don't claim that this is representative, only that it may be a more common situation than Jeff allows for in his discussion.

Finally, one of the great tragedies of suburban life, a side-effect of our assumed reliance on cars, is the general lack of effective, efficient public bus service in the suburbs. In many areas these systems were never created. In others, they were allowed to atrophy or cut to the point of irrelevance in previous economic downturns.

Many of us in suburbia are too far from rail to walk. Our rail systems have no provision for bicycles, even if our weather conditions and working environments allowed for year round use of this wonderful transportation option. Bus systems are either unavailable, infrequent (generally due to lack of funding), or inconveniently located. We live in households where working couple may work many miles apart in different directions. We live in neighborhoods where our neighbors may also work a long way away from us. Many of our jobs are in companies populated by people commuting from entirely different areas yet. As a result, many of us in suburbia find ourselves in the precarious (and increasingly uncomfortable) position of being highly reliant on not just one, but two cars. Ouch!

Many of these problems can be addressed. However, most of the solutions require substantial capital investments and political will, neither of which seem to be, for the moment, forthcoming. Until that changes, I think it might be substantially more difficult for many suburbanites to give up a second car than Jeff thinks.


In fact, because there are so many viable (if inconvenient) options for suburbanites to reduce base commuting costs (outlined above), it may be easier for suburbanites to adapt to a sharp economic downturn than urbanites. Cutting down from two commuter cars to one could cut a suburbanite's total expenditures by 10-20%+ per month without great change. That's a large chunk of suburban budgets that is quite elastic, and lends a great deal of resiliency to suburbanite finances. How many urban households can cut expenses by this much merely by doing something as simple as carpooling?

I do not understand this reasoning at all. I live in an urban area and I sometimes go weeks without using my car. My wife drives slightly more often than I do, but overall we probably average 2 miles per day of car use if that. This is only possible because we are able to walk or ride our bicycles everywhere we need to go, which is in turn only feasible in an urban area or suburban town with a dense downtown retail area. I have a large basket on my bike and this permits me to do all of my errands without getting in the car. I live less than a mile from my workplace, the grocery store is four blocks away, the BART (public transportation) is two blocks away and everything else (for the most part) can be accessed by foot, bicycle, public transportation or a combination of the three.

Your question "how many urban households can cut expenses by this much merely by doing something as simple as carpooling?" seems incomplete. As I detailed above, my wife and I have cut our costs significantly more than 10-20% by living in an urban area, walking and riding bikes (which for some reason you don't mention in your article) and hardly using our car at all.

Walking and bicycling are extremely impractical in most suburban areas where people live several miles from work, retail, their children's schools, etc. Suburban dwellers will almost always be dependent upon cars - barring a complete retrofit of the burbs - whereas many urban dwellers could get by without any car of their own or without even "carpooling" in other people's cars. This is obviously a greater energy savings than a suburbanite would get by simply using their car less.

As someone else pointed out higher in the thread, suburbanites take 10+ car trips a day. Urbanites probably take fewer, but the more crucial difference as I just said is that the suburbanites must use their cars for those trips because of the distances involved, whereas the urbanites do so for convenience and perhaps out of laziness. Laziness and convenience are much easier to overcome than the considerable distances involved in suburban living.

Don't get me wrong, Jeff. I agree that the suburbs can and will continue to be viable places to live for some, but I strongly disagree that suburban dwellers will have an advantage over urban dwellers when it comes to commuting. That makes no sense at all.

Maybe this will help clarify: if my hypothetical suburban family was forced to cut $500/month from teh family budget, they could eliminate one of their two cars and deal with the inconvenience of ridesharing and limiting trip. What would you do if you had to cut $500/month from your budget? I think it's great that you've already reduced your expenditures, but what would you do if you had to cut it further? How does the ease of your $500/month cut compare with the relative ease of the suburban family's cut? I don't disagree that urbanites are less dependent on cars, but right now suburbanites have already (largely) budgeted for commuting with two cars. The ease and potential of cutting that expenditure represents resiliency that, I argue, the average suburbanite enjoys to a greater degree than the average urbanite.

If you accept my argument -- it's the fixed costs, not the variable costs of commuting that endanger suburbia; general economic conditions, not energy prices per se, most threaten suburbanites ability to pay these fixed costs; deteriorating general economic conditions threaten urban and suburban dwellers equally; suburbanites have more resiliency to deal with declining general economic conditions -- then suburbia may be a more viable living arangement in a future economy threatened by peak oil (setting aside individual preferences for living in urban, suburban, or rural areas).

Jeff, what I believe you forget to add in is the extra money the suburban commute/errands/etc cost per month on top of all the other expenses. So if the urban family had to cut $500, the suburban family might have to cut $1000; and exurban family might have to cut $1500.

Jeff how are you going to keep property values up and fresh meat entering the housing ponzi scheme ?

Its a impossible problem maintaining and increasing property values for suburbia as potential entry level new home owners face rising expenses and uncertain employment does not work.

Falling property values allowing new people to enter even as they have less money does not work since it puts the current suburbanites underwater on their home loans.

You can't solve this problem and without new people entering the suburban housing market the entire suburban house of cards comes falling down.

I'd say two simple factors makes urban or close in suburban living desirable over the outer suburbs.
If your renting your flexible and close to job opportunities. If you own then the value of your property has a far better chance of retaining more value then the suburban homes.

All thats required to pop the suburban housing bubble is a fairly small shift in the direction of migration once its obviously headed by towards the city centers suburbia is doomed.

Expansion stops and valuations return to value the center over the fringes.

All you need is a change in direction the magnitude of the change only determines the rate at which suburbia declines.

Jeff I agree with a lot you right but to ignore the possibility of changes in the direction of decision making at the lowest level or entry level participant in a market thats and obvious pyramid scheme is a mistake.

The very first and most important discussion that has to happen is discussing what decision will be made not by the suburbanite making 100k a year but by the young families living on 40k a year.
Are they going to choose to rent or buy a condo or small house in town or are they going to move out to suburbia ?

If the young families decide moving towards the center is the best move then thats it.

Supply and demand will, again, rule this debate: if there is a preference for the young family making 40k to move downtown, then demand relative to supply for downtown living will increase and so will the price. Concurrently, demand relative to supply for suburban homes will decrease. The result: downtown living will go up in price (even if there is credit available to build new housing there) and the cost of suburban living will go down in price. In the end, it isn't a question of whether young families want to live downtown or in suburbia. It's a question of what sacrifices they're willing to make to live in either location. If they can more easily afford a home in suburbia because those prices have gone down, over a condo in the city where the prices have (relatively) gone up, then there's a strong incentive to stay in suburbia. It doesn't matter how much the average family would rather live downtown--there is so much inventory that already exists in suburbia, it will decline in price until it is filled. At $300/month, you would have no problem renting almost any suburban home--especially when the comparable home downtown is $2000/month. Our housing choices will boil down to an "inventory" issue...

If they can more easily afford a home in suburbia because those prices have gone down

And rarely is the cost of transportation figured into the comparison between housing costs. Note that urban homes tend to be small and more efficient with their space. So it wouldn't make sense to compare a 2500sf urban home with a 2500sf suburban one.

Jeff then suburbia is dead using your argument how on earth can suburban housing prices fall ?

I don't know of anyone that can handle more than a 10k drop in housing value without it being a devastating effect. Declining prices in suburbia also kill suburbia.
Assuming that urban living becomes unfordable makes no sense urban prices are bounded buy the ability of people to pay. Also for urban living the differential between renting and buying is even more important since renting a condo vs buying it if prices are way out of whack is a pretty easy decision. The point is in a urban setting comparable rentals vs owning are very competitive.

And finally assuming ability to pay whats important is if the home can act as a store of value paying 2000 a month for a inner city home that maintains its value vs one in the suburbs thats declining in value is a pretty easy decision.

Your thesis that suburban housing can survive with steadily declining values is weak its never happened and the whole premise of suburbia surviving as it faces deflationary valuations makes zero economic sense.

Just considering secondary factors such as the tax base alone makes it obvious that any region facing declining property values is doomed.

Your same argument would have worked fantastically in the 1970's as our inner cities declined in fact real urban renewable did not happen until the city centers became incredibly cheap allowing building to be demolished and rebuilt and making restoration profitable. If you look the inner city regions that experienced regrowth initially sold for less than the value of the land.

Even on that note the city centers had a huge advantage over the suburbs given that the buildings themselves generally where very well built the quality of suburban construction has declined dramatically over time. As you get into newer and newer homes they become less and less viable to refurbish. Rebuilding a house built after the 1980's is questionable.

And back to the argument itself it has a logical flaw why would urban prices increase without demand I've already stated that if demand is stronger towards the center the natural flow will be in that direction. Arguing that because the desirability of living turns towards the city center means suburbia will survive makes no sense. Its completely illogical.

Where the money goes is where the taxes go where the taxes go is where schools and social services go where the schools goes goes the future.

This bring up yet another factor one of the number one sales for suburbia is the schools falling property values completely destroys the schools argument. One thing thats not going to change is people are always going to try and send their kids to the best schools.

Suburbia is dead no if ands or buts about it. And further more if you spend a bit of time researching suburbia then you will realize it was already dying by the early 1990's the trend back towards the city center was already in place.

Once you understand that then you would understand that the no-doc loans and McMansions where actually one last ditch effort to keep suburbia growing the real forces that would lead to its death where already established.

And finally and normally ignored the real underlying factor that drove suburbia was racism especially in the south but it was true nationally. I think it should be fairly obvious that racism no longer controls America and as the racist generations lost control the real underlying force driving suburban expansion lost steam.

To publish anything about suburbia and ignore the racism intrinsic in fueling suburban expansion makes no sense.

Sorry Jeff but your support for suburbia is incredibly poorly researched and does not even cover the intrinsic historical factors that caused and sustained suburban expansion.

And last but by no means least banking starting with restrictions on the GI loans after WWII played a huge role in driving expansion. If banks don't see that suburbia will make money then the loans are gone and I mean gone immediately. The moment banks realize that suburban housing is declining in value and urban housing is rising the speed that willingness to loan will shift will surprise everyone. As far as I can tell suburban house loans are history right now. The moment the bubble is over and urban housing drops back to affordability it will be clear to everyone that banks are only lending in town. Wait for the dust to settle from the housing bust and the underlying trend will be clear. Or explain to me how banks will be willing to lend money to people for a declining asset because the same people don't have enough money to purchase homes that are maintaining or increasing in value. Your hypothetical suburbanites will feel the sting of bankings ruthless logic just like the poor trying to buy up cheap urban property felt in the 1970's.

The fact your not even taking this into account shows even more that you have not done your homework.

One more thing Jeff you normally do fantastic work all I can guess is that somehow some sort of innate love of suburbia has clouded your judgement. The death of suburbia is so increadibly obvious its not worth debate.

What we should be talking about is the cost of revitalizing suburbia and how many structures are worth salavaging and what to do with the poor that have moved into empty suburban homes.
Once we reach this point then we will finally be able to talk about how suburbia will be reborn.

To be honest what I find even more stunning are the number of posts that feel your article has merit that just goes to show how delusional people are and how painful our future will be.

Of course given whats happened its fairly obvious that few Americans have even the most rudimentary understanding of our banking system so small wonder.

Would you lend to someone who is buying a declining asset because they cannot afford a similar asset that stable or increasing in value ?

Answer that and you know the future of suburbia.

I think it should be fairly obvious that racism no longer controls America and as the racist generations lost control the real underlying force driving suburban expansion lost steam.

What of racisms' bastard stepchild - classism?

(and racism isn't dead. If there is a large black/hispanic community there is usually a black/hispanic owned business phonebook.)

Where your argument doesn't make sense to me is that it assumes that most urbanites do not have the same two cars that most suburbanites do. Where I live - in a fairly urban area - almost every family still has two cars and uses them regularly. Just because they could get around on foot and by bicycle and public transportation, that doesn't mean they do.

Now, if you compare this average urban family with two cars to the average suburban family with two cars, I argue that not only will the urban family incur basically the same cost savings by ditching one of their two cars, they could do so much more easily. In fact, they could probably ditch both of their cars if they were willing to put up with the inconvenience.

Sure, you could say that the suburbanites would save a little bit more because they drive further, and thus their gas costs would be higher than the average urbanites. However, using your own argument (that fixed costs are more significant than variable costs), this wouldn't make much of a difference.

Perhaps part of the confusion is what's being defined as an "urban" and "suburban" environment. It may be true that in NYC the average family probably has fewer cars than the average suburban family; but that's not true in cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles. In those places I still see urbanites as having a distinct advantage, using your criteria.

I'm not sure if most urbanites have two cars, many of them only have one, but ditching it, and/or driving it less is a lot more realistic/easy than for the suburban residents.

Speaking of bicycles, it still amazes me how little they are discussed as a tool for mitigating a multitude of problems. They even can work quite well in suburbia. They are inexpensive, efficient, clean, and largely recyclable. They are the best tools, in all modes of development, we can implement right now to mitigate both our continued shocking destruction of our planet and peak oil.

Exactly my point in the post right below yours! But in general bicycles are much more viable in urban areas than in suburban areas, because of the density of land use (workplaces, grocery stores, schools, etc. all nearby).

Thank you. However I disagree with your assertion that bicycling in suburbs isn't viable, or that retrofitting would be required for it. I am a suburbanite and my bike commute is about 7 miles each way. It takes a half-hour, meaning I get an hour of exercise in the day - precisely what is recommended for good health. I have to get to work anyway, so this is a great way to spend my time (though you already know that!). In fact, being a member at bikeforums.com, which is a great place to learn, I've found that if anything my commute is mid-range or even slightly on the short end. Some folks ride 50 miles a day. With that being said, would I say my situation is ideal? No, I would like to live at least a little closer, and if things go as planned in my city, of which I'm not at all certain given today's conditions, I'll be able to live 5 miles from work in transit-oriented development within walking distance of the aforementioned South Shore Line's stop, and that would be the cat's ass.

But considering that when I bought my house 5 years ago I wasn't concerned with energy and climate as I am now (though I at least chose to not live terribly far from work), I think I'm doing well. And there's no reason why others can't do the same. Bicycles are the epitome of efficiency, and there's no reason whatsoever that a person in average fitness couldn't ride 5 miles to work or to a store. This is precisely how suburbia can adapt to oil's decline. For the folks who have longer commutes? Park and ride. Work up to it. I know it's possible because I wasn't in anything better than average health when I started. Now I ride an estimated 93% of the time, and that's including in the winter on the shore of Lake Michigan.

This all may seem contradictory to what I posted prior. The existing accomodations for anything besides cars in suburbia is indeed shameful, but the idea here is adaptation and changing attitudes. My hope is that we can do both before we have serious problems such as significant shortages. Cyclists can use the existing roads, and the more who do, the fewer cars there will be to compete with, and hopefully the more accomodations we'll have available, such as actually having a more appropriate place to lock your bike to than a street sign!

Thank you for setting a good example - it's people like you and your wife that have given me inspiration to do the same.

Kevin "Conservation, not Cars" Crawford


I didn't mean to say bicycling wouldn't be viable in all suburbs for all people. I meant that it is not nearly as viable in the suburbs as it is in most urban areas.

A seven mile commute (fourteen round trip?) is certainly doable for most healthy people in decent condition. But I think a large majority of the American population, 30% of whom do not exercise at all and 32% of whom are obese, would have a very difficult time hopping on a bike and riding fourteen miles to and from work. If you add a few trips to the grocery store, bank, hardware store, etc. throughout the week (and assume that these establishments are 1-2 miles from their home), then those folks would be riding over 125 miles a week. That's no small task for someone who is obese and hasn't exercised in years. As a matter of fact, it's downright dangerous.

Of course they could (and should) work up to that distance over time, but that's hard to do when you have to get to work. How do you commute halfway to work on a bike? Do you have someone pick you up halfway there and put your bike on top of the car?

I still don't see how the suburbs can compete with urban areas when it comes to getting to and from work.

Oh, I completely agree that urban areas are better for getting to and from work. I wished I lived in an urban area. That wasn't my point, which was that cycling in suburbia has every potential to be practical... especially with reduced car-craziness, IMO the main thing keeping folks from starting, and the latter would be driven by the former.

Commuting part of the way: drive part of the way and park. Get out the bike and pedal the other half. Do the reverse on the way home. I used to do this when starting, mainly in the winter, so I could adapt and see what equipment I should have bought to cope with various weather conditions or to night riding (my favorite!). Or one could do what you mentioned, but I imagine that's less common. There are all kinds of ways, including multi-modal, to travel that don't involve cars, or involve cars part of the time, but Americans and American landscape is conditioned to drive everywhere without even giving it a thought.

The point is that there is every opportunity to replace or partially replace driving with cycling, including in suburbia, using the same roads and streets.

What is so hard about working up to getting to work on a bike for at least part of the trip? Just leave early when you're unsure how long it may take. Since the average American somehow finds time to watch 3 hours of TV per day, I don't think this is a real problem. We are clearly going to have to sacrifice some level of our comfort and convenience heading into the future anyway, though personally I don't see bike commuting as a sacrifice at all - I see it as a responsible and enjoyable way to do something I have to do anyway. Besides, biking is extremely efficient. Start with a two mile ride, for example, which is about what my partial commutes were. I can't see this possibly taking more than 20 minutes. Even 15 minutes would be a stretch. Afriad it might take longer? Leave ten minutes earlier. Afraid you can't ride two miles? Try it out around the neighborhood first. This is not directed at you, but some of the excuses I hear for not wanting to ride are shockingly pathetic.

Frankly we need to get over the belief that we "have" to drive, even in suburbia. Man got around without cars for much, much longer than we've had them available. If we can't learn to get around without them now, it would be a pathetic end to a species that claims to be superior.

Of course they could (and should) work up to that distance [123 mile/wk] over time, but that's hard to do when you have to get to work. How do you commute halfway to work on a bike?

By driving your car halfway, and then taking the bike off and riding the rest. Drive less each week until you are not driving anymore.

An excellent balanced report.
It is clear that the gross inefficiency of cars/trucks is what really makes suburban living unaffordable, but cities are worse.

According to the site below , mass transit is much less efficient to hybrid cars. Despite the hype he's got a point.


He's pushing a high tech gitney solution as others are like Smart-Jitney( GPS plus cell phones plus willing drivers in a network) for transport(carpooling). No grand capital schemes needed.

If I lived in a city I wouldn't drive a car because of the unbelievable congestion and air pollution, not all of which comes from cars.

The choice has been between cars and cities and cars is the usual choice.

The streets are already there in the suburbs and there is no way that mass transit is cheaper to maintain than cars. We already know that mass transit(except buses) costs +5 times more in capital than roads.

I would agree that mass transit is necessary for overcrowded cities but hugely populated cities like NYC are unlikely to survive an energy drought even if everyone rode bicycles.

One argument for cities is that they save on cropland. This doesn't makes sense if suburbs/suburban population density are actually able to provide enough food to sustain themselves.
Cities grow because they generate jobs, not because they
are more efficient than suburbs.
As population growth rate declines so will the need for cities.
Decaying cities won't feed themselves.
They will be abandoned.

Modern American Suburbs cannot feed themselves either (especially those 1970+ where the top soil was scrapped off and sold) AND, unlike cities, they perform no significant or important economic functions.

In my favorite city, we perform several important economic functions; major world port, center for support for offshore oil & gas drilling and production, medical center with two medical schools (Tulane & LSU), several universities, food manufacturing (coffee roasting & packaging being the largest, see large addicted population :-), ship & barge repair and tourism.

What do suburbs do ?


Alan, as I'll write about next week, I think you're incorrect. Suburbia has the potential to provide its own food, water, and energy to a significant degree, and to a far greater degree than do urban areas. While it is more labor-intensive to maximize production per square foot, it is very realistic for suburbia to provide 50% of its needs on average, and possible in many areas for that to reach 100%. I also disagree that suburbia performs no significant or important economic function--a great deal of economic production and coordination actually takes place in the suburbs (which, coincidentally, is also where most of the jobs are). It isn't just malls and grocery stores. There are economies of scale and place that better suit urban densities to certain types of economic activity, but the potential for distributed coordination, manufacturing, and servicing is increasingly shifting this balance. Our sunk/stranded cost in suburbia and the increase in energy prices will only continue this, not reverse it. To illustrate this point, there is no function of New Orleans that you listed that can't function under a decentralized/networked model of economic activity performed partly or largely out of suburbia--in fact, you will find that most places where those precise functions are being performed, a significant portion of that activity is already operating from suburbia. I don't deny that urban areas perform valuable functions--they always have and always will, in my opnion. However, they can't feed, water, or power themselves. Surburbia has that potential with the right modifiations/adaptations--the potential for a distributed, "flat" networked economy that is locally minimally self-sufficient is, in my mind, both a very viable economic model for an energy-constrained future AND will prevent the accretion of modern-day latifundia. An urbanized (and thereby highly DEpendent) world scares me from a civilizational perspective. But, then, that's the topic of my 4th and final post in this series (in 2 weeks).

Forcing a square peg into a round hole.

Yes, with enough effort it CAN be done.

But it not what neither the hole or the peg were designed to do, and it requires "extra effort" to make it happen. Extra effort that is not justified when those efforts are needed elsewhere.

Best Hopes for Using rural Areas as they were designed for and Cities for what they were designed for,


The way suburbs are now they can't feed themselves obviously.

But they could.
An average american eats
1)300 #/yr of meat,poultry and an acre of land produces about 150# of meat (2 acres-meat/poultry)
2) 250#/yr of fruit and an acre of land can produce 20000# of fruit (.0125 acres-fruits)
3) 150#/yr of vegetables and an acre can produce 25000# of veggies (.006 acres-veggies)
4) 50 gallons of milk products and an acre can produce 800 gallons per year (.06 acres-dairy)
5) 200#/year of baked grains and an acre can produce 4000# of flour per year (.05 acres dairy)

Forget the meat,poultry (at 2 acres)and total you have [.0125+.006 +.06+.05]=.1285 acres supporting a person or 7.5 persons per acre or 4800 people per square mile of cropland.

The average suburb in the US has ~2700 people per square mile or 4.5 people per acre.

Assuming 500 square feet per person for living(1 floor homes)space, people would take up 2300 square feet per acre leaving +40000 square feet, .9 acres for agriculture--enough to feed +6 people (.9 x 7.5 = 6.75).

OTH, most urbanized/core acres areas are over 10000 people per square mile or 15 people per acre, unsustainable in food IMO.

The amount of effort people put into ridiculous landscaping
could be directed into sustainable agriculture instead especially in fruits, nuts and vegetables which are so productive per acre, even meat and poultry with controls(though I don't favor suburban barnyards).
The alternative is even more industrial agriculture(which I believe you detest)to support the unsupportable city cores.

The pattern is always the same people move to the city to escape the country and move to the suburbs to escape the city. Suburbs are an acceptable level of density for permiculture IMO.

You also seem to think that NOLA will continue past oil/gas depletion and the eventual end of oil based worldwide shipping.
Is that likely?

In 200 AD, walls of Rome contained 1,200,000 people in about 25 square miles, centuries later it barely reached 120,000 people for the next 1000 years (4800 people per square mile) though it was the religious center of Christian Europe.

You can do a lot per square foot: http://www.squarefootgardening.com/

Not without topsoil !

Scrapped and sold off most of post-1970 (?) Suburbia,


The whole idea of Square foot gardening is to raise the food in a rich compost. Thus 'soil' will be brought in almost every case.

You also seem to think that NOLA will continue past oil/gas depletion and the eventual end of oil based worldwide shipping.
Is that likely?


Shipping is the most energy efficient means of transportation (except pipelines) and shipping uses the lowest grades of fuel oil (Venezuela tar could be easily upgraded to #5 bunker fuel oil). So long after civil aviation is scarce, oil based shipping can continue.

The expanded Panama Canal (2014) will be large enough to take nuclear powered commercial ships (economic with current technology and $200 oil). New Orleans is the closest northern Gulf port to the Panama Canal (Mobile is close).

5 masted schooners remained economic into the 1930s for time insensitive cargo. Coffee will have a steady demand, as it did before oil.

Barges (E-W from New Orleans on Intercoastal Waterway, N on Mississippi River) can run on oil or coal or ammonia or ...

Six of the seven Class I North American railroads come to New Orleans.

New Orleans supported a population of almost a half million before oil powered shipping was common.

I forgot to list in the economic functions; cultural center.

New Orleans is now hosting the largest contemporary art exhibition in US history. We also have the official WW II museum.



Putting the diverse economic activities into Suburbia is forcing a square peg into a round hole.

More Later, City Master Plan meeting tonight,



Thanks for the very helpful post. May I ask what your source is for the food consumption / agricultural production statistics?

They're in many places.
Here's one site.

Small Problem: If you cut out the meat, without eating more of the other stuff, you'll starve, so your land estimate is low.

Medium Problem: 1/3 of suburbia is covered with asphalt and concrete. Removing the driveways is easy enough, (I've seen asphalt or concrete driveways turned into gardens. It doesn't happen overnight, (the topsoil is missing,) but it can be done.) But removing the streets takes the help/consent of all the people nearby, (you can't just take out the street in front of your house and plant food, or people will continue to drive through your garden.) And I expect that that consent may be hard to get in the beginning of peak oil, (people will assume it is just a "temporary thing") and by the end of peak oil, I expect that a lot of people will have died, (starved/froze/diseases/etc,) so taking up the street will not be needed, just take over your neighbor's yard. In other words, the transition time is pretty bad.

Big problem: Suburban buildings, as currently built, take up up a lot more than 500 sq feet per person. We could rebuild the suburbs so they didn't do that, but we lack the ability[read: money] to do so, which is what this thread is all about. A long term solution is to put all the people in one house, and then remove the other houses, (which is easier than building smaller ones) and take over their land, but the transition time is pretty rough because people will still think that there is a hope of going back to the old ways. (I don't imagine you are going to knock on your neighbor's door one day and suggest that you move in with them, burn your house down, and then farm the land where your house once stood, are you?)

There are a couple issues about this Key Post as regards commuting and doing away with all but one car/family.

First its not the miles driven during commuting. One has to consider the time spend in traffic jams, time at traffic lights, gridlock and many other factors. While in a parking lot out on the interstate you are achieving ZERO mpg!

The other factor is whether its 2, 3 or 4 vehicles. If you then cut down to only one then that lone one vehicle has to do a whole lot more traveling and might tend to equal the same amount of mileage overall as the others put together.

As a previous suburban resident in several states I recall that huge amounts of traffic was due to just running to the store for a single item. Just because someone wanted a bagel, or ran out of pepper.

IMO when suburbanites don't have the mobility they are used to then there will be hell to pay via the economy , as is already happening.

On another subject it was the Auto Manufacturers who mostly are to blame for the huge waste of fuel by making , advertising and selling such ridiculous vehicles. Remember "Built Like a Rock"? Total bullshit advertising since they will fall apart rapidly if used as the ads show.

It was dishonest advertising and gimmicks that led Americans to spend our precious fuel on such idioticy and NOW???

We are supposed to bailout the very Auto Execs that did this?

What kind of nonsense is about to foisted on the taxpayer now?
To reward stupid businessmen with saving their sorry asses by just giving them money that has to be repaid by the PEOPLE!!!

These execs need to spend some very serious time in jail or bankruptcy court and paying for their outstanding ignorance.

Ohh...folks here will , in their never ending googleinfomania, will say " Oh they just gave us what we wanted"...implying that its OUR fault.

Oh so the same is now said about the corrupt politicians..."Well we elected them and we get what we deserve".....along those lines.

We are screwed...suburbs will die....I would really .like to hear JHKs take on this Key Post.


There is one assumption in the argument that seems to be unwarranted. That is the assumption that the economic impact will be distributed equally between suburb and city.

However, under Peak Oil, a city with a higher mode share of public transport and, especially, a city that has a substantial portion of its public transport electrified, will see a smaller increase in leakages in its local-income multiplier, and a suburban area that is more dependent on oil-fired transport will see a larger increase in leakages in its local-income multiplier.

So the first order approximation of the economic impact should not be that it will be equally distributed, but rather than the economic impact in suburbia will be higher. Secondary employment in suburbia ... at least, classic sprawl suburbia ... will be harder hit than secondary employment in areas that have more alternative transport options to take up.

A resiliant suburb would be one that has retrofitted to provide a "coarse grid" access to dedicated transport corridors with most suburban residences in the local hinterland of a suburban village providing access to the dedicated transport route matrix, which would not be as exposed to crude oil price spikes and supply interruptions, because of the opportunities for shifting transport mode and greater opportunities for trip sharing for commute and retail and leisure.

Good post Jeff however the relationship between suburbia and driving is indirect.

It has absolutely nothing to do with the cost of gasoline or the cost of cars directly.
The mistake I think a lot of people make is not realizing that two things are happening in suburban life.

1.) Incomes are well in excess of whats needed for a reasonable life.
2.) Suburban life style is based on the concept of ever better/larger home and cars.
3.) Suburban life style plays on latent or open ism's racism, elitism etc

Its a cooperative business between buyers and sellers and builders etc selling what we often call the American dream.

Many consider it a virtuous cycle starter home, chevy cars -> McMansion BMW.

Lets consider what happens when this cycle becomes vicious. The feet of clay of suburbia is the ability and the need to have people enter at the bottom so current suburbanites can move up chain to a better house. This in and of itself is a big weakness. Next to make matters worse since housing costs increase by 20-50% as you move up the ladder you need strong price support.
The entry level suburban 3/2 SFH good neighborhood costs say 100k next the 4/2 200k first custom home 300k McMansion 400k.

So for the upwardly mobile suburbanite say moving every 10 years they need appreciation to cover inflation and they have the problem that the equity in the last house barely covers the down payment on the next house.

So lets consider what happens when a society based on expansion of debt via fiat currencies and expansion of resource usage hits a hard limit. In our particular case oil.

First the fiat currency based will probably continue to expand but resource constraints work to slow growth resulting in inflation with a lower and lower growth rate for the GDP. Salaries for a lot of reasons won't grow the most basic is that labor is not in short supply because real growth is not taking place and the society can only divert so much to the secondary economy i.e insurance salesmen. I think all of us will agree that you cannot run a functioning society based on selling real estate, insurance and writing computer games. At the base real plain old industrial growth is needed to create wealth.

Thats enough on the subject but the net result is that two problems arise for suburbia the entry level player has less income to devote to housing and the overall economy becomes unable to inflate.

Thus the suburban cycle goes into vicious mode. Housing prices fall upward mobility is stalled as equity disappears down payment requirements climb. This leads to higher foreclosure rates empty houses and more rentals that barely cash flow. This directly blows out the suburban lifestyle since the blight of empty houses and lack of stability rapidly erodes the suburban veneer. The Jones are no longer flaunting their wealth but worried about making the house payment.

Now its critically important to understand the role expensive oil plays in this it has absolutely nothing to do with the prices of gasoline or cost of suburban living it simply and only plays the role of reducing the disposable income that entry level players can spend on housing.

This can be seen by substituting gasoline for any other basic expense say electricity started becoming expensive or food or steel. The point is if the overall economy hits some sort of base constraint the suburban ponzi scheme fails simply because it can no longer bring in the required new homeowners using inflated fiat currencies. The actual cause is not important.

Actions such as car pooling if your a new home owner or buying a more fuel efficient car at the same time you try to purchase and expensive home are dubious. And they don't address overall price inflation or instability. In fact almost all advocates of suburbia turn a blind eye to how they can keep the flow of people into suburbia and maintain a virtuous cycle in the face of ever lower disposable incomes.

The reason you have to ignore this is simply because its impossible to keep suburbia going. In fact its worse then I'm outlining. The reason its worse is that home prices are very sticky and homes are not liquid. Thus regardless of the current price for a home home prices are always to high vs where they should be esp if you look forward to a society thats shrinking. For example given most of the scenarios we have for peak oil the free cash flow of someone wanting to buy a home in two years will be significantly less than now and the number of potential buyers lower.

And we can always bring up retiring baby boomers and how we are going to maintain services. These problem alone pretty much assures that taxes will increase even as home values decrease.

Even without bring in increases costs of gasoline it becomes clear that the great American suburban expansion was reaching its limits for a host of reasons.

Can suburbia overcome this vicious cycle and manager to survive in close to its present form without undergoing some sort of major change ?

I don't see how the economy and entry level players have to have stability at least before suburbia can even stabilize until the number of people willing and able to enter into the long term commitment of buying a home stabilizes suburbia cannot break out of the cycle. It simply cannot overcome the intrinsic need of new entrants to replace those who exit the suburban life style via death downsizing etc. And I've not even considered the recent housing bubble.

Car pooling is not only not going to save suburbia its barely relevant to suburbia's real and obvious problems. In fact I'm surprised that so many people cannot see that given efficiency is the issue simply not moving out into suburbia solves the problem. The real problem is obviously ensuring that when you make a long term commitment to buy a home that it retains its value. Given the current and future state of the economy its fairly obvious that its a safe bet that once the city center prices stabilize and reach affordibility the natural flow is towards the center at all costs since property values would stabilize first where the ability to find work is highest.

This is simple geometry scattered business parks are cool but if jobs are tenuous buying a home next to your current job is not a safe bet better to get near some place that offers multiple job opportunities. The natural migration towards the city centers has a lot of drivers and if you look at the problem its actually surprising that suburbia developed in the first place. Of course we know the history of suburban expansion and it was indeed some serious intervention that allowed the suburban cycle to start in the first place.

Justifying the existence of suburbia based on sunk costs is ridiculous we had no problem abandoning hundreds of years worth of infrastructure in a few decades during the initial suburban expansion. Beautiful well built homes where left to rot along with the commercial structures.

And last but not least the right answer is probably reestablishing city cores and again proponents of the survivability of suburbia completely ignore the ramifications of this. Cities require people working at a variety of wage scales from poor to wealthy this means housing for a range of wage levels. If you think that suburbanites would willingly allow the poor to come anywhere near them your insane. Much less have to mingle with them in public places. Ignoring the real ugly truth that the real foundation of suburbia was its ability to allow people to hide their ism's does not change the truth and this truth ensures that suburbia will destroy itself before it allows the taint of poverty anywhere near its fertilized lawns and white picket fences.

Additional problem with suburbia: Infrastructure is much more expensive ($ and energy) to build and maintain in the suburbs. Asphalt requires copious amounts of petroleum to keep in workable condition. Water and sewer systems run much farther, require much more digging, and the materials (steel, etc) require substantial amounts of energy.

Addition transportation mode: You didn't mention biking. I've biked to various job locations over the years, mostly 9-12 miles away. I also bike to errands when the weather is cooperating.

The 2x20 mile commute shows $1800/month for a 20mpg vehicle at $5/gal. Even if the person carpooled with a neighbor, the cost is still $900. The money above and beyond what the commuter had budgeted back in 2004 is no longer going towards other goods, so the economy automatically shrinks in areas other than liquid fuels (same goes for natural gas and propane). So to say that there is no impact from surburbia neglects to address this point.

Another point is the cultural inertia that Americans possess, "Everybody important drives to work alone, so I'd be silly not to." With dropping gas prices come a lower percentage of fuel efficient vehicle purchases, so just because a commuter could carpool/etc, doesn't mean that many will. Job loss has decreased commuting and gas consumption in the recent past, and certainly will for the foreseeable future, so we should not be tempted to look at current consumption levels and say, "It's because people are voluntarily reducing their driving habits".

Other than that, I am enjoying this series.

"I would agree that mass transit is necessary for overcrowded cities but hugely populated cities like NYC are unlikely to survive an energy drought even if everyone rode bicycles."

This "holier than thou" city dweller crap is disgusting.

I'm amazed that city people who consider themselves "smarter than everyone else" (eg. than suburban dwellers) don't look at the support requirements for their own lifestyles. When gasoline becomes too expensive for suburbanites to afford even a single auto with thrifty usage, will city dwellers be able to afford to pay for the intensive transportation systems on which they depend? Food transport? Hey, city people, when was the last time you hired a taxi? Rented a car? How often do you do that? Yeah yeah, "I never do, always use my bike, and so too every other city dweller." So why hundreds or thousands of taxis almost always costing double the fuel for every trip? (One trip there, then the driver comes back.)

How much fun will that 25th or 50th floor condo be to live in when the grid goes down and elevators don't work anymore? Of course NONE of the elevators are powered by fossil fuels are they? Sure, separate nuclear reactors dedicated to each one.

And BTW, I've gone without the car myself for a couple of long periods when I was able to live near enough work, one three-year stint with bicycle only, another 4 years using only shared rides in my wifes 1000 cc Geo metro to get me to the train station, but it doesn't always work out. I like living in the suburbs. And I've biked down enough high-density city streets and seen the parking garages to know that not all those big gas-guzzlers threatening to run me down belonged to suburbanites.

Suburbia is the result of central planning. Here is a comment I found on the Mises institute blog, which very well sums up the urban sprawl.

People who talk about how the government is this beneficial, benevolent master have no idea what really goes on.

For the moment, let's disregard the mafia-style wars that governments start (both internecine and imperialist -- just go read Smedley Butler and you'll see how long this has been going on). And let's disregard the pernicious, veiled tax known as "inflation," engendered by our central bank and its fraudulent currency.

Even when we focus strictly on the various forms of domestic economic regulation at the local level, there is a VAST web of control by the State that 99.9% of people never see or even think about.

The roads are a perfect example. Governments (from local to federal) control the placement and location of all of the roads. This means that the State controls where EVERYONE lives and works.

The State controls the location of all buildings, both business and residential. Zoning is only one small part of that control mechanism. There are things called "comprehensive development plans," mandated at the state level, and implemented at the county and local level.

These plans, obviously, are affected to a large extent by the placement and construction of various kinds of government roads. Just ask a "Land Use attorney" about what he does all day and you'll get an inkling of how much control governments have over our lives.

The ordinary person sees the strip mall, the freeway and the quickie-mart going up on the corner, and doesn't give it another thought. People never think about all the other possible economic uses that this land could have been used for -- the businesses that will never be started because they will never be built there.

Consider the money that we all spend on cars to travel around these government-designed cities. Think of all the things that are NOT bought because this money is spent on cars and tires and gas and repairs and insurance, etc. The oil, car and tire industries bought off local governments a long time ago to destroy light rail service and build ever-larger roads, and ever-expanding cities. We are now 100% dependent on cars, and therefore dependent on the oil, car and tire industries as well.

Government has such a pervasive control over our physical space that most people don't even see it. Most people alive today grew up in a time when all there was were subdivisions, and you went to your suburban schools, drove your cars on your artery 8-lane highways to get to your megaplax grocery store and thought that this way of life is perfectly normal.

It's not normal. It's by design. There is a whole other way of living -- ways of living that people would build voluntarily, if they could.

How is it remotely possible to claim that government creates wealth through its various forms of control, subsidies and land use regulation? To do so, you would have to account for what is UNSEEN -- the things that never exist because government decreed that they wouldn't exist.


Von Mises Institute?
Pah-lease. Lew Rockwell, Murray Rothbard.
Economist nut-job central.
To the far right of Milton Friedman.
They make Ayn Rand look sane.


Wow, that post hit a raw nerve some where. It set off an ad hominem.

Yes, Mises.org is a nut job central that attrats more visitors than most other economic website. It is ranked 16th by alexa under economi category with most of the 15 that are ahead being governtment econ stats sites.

18 of the top 20 econ sites under schools of thought are Austrian School related. Does that make you further mad? Pah-lease say yes.


After the utter collapse of the world credit system from years of Freidmanite deregulation you have the gall to recommend Mices.org?
If your object is to shock and mock, well, mission accomplished, oilshock-jock!

Rothbard is an anarchist-capitalist--the worst of all worlds.

Are you?


Wow, Mission Accomplished. Another ad-hominem. No ideas only personal attacks. LOL.

Friedmanite Deregulation - LOL. What departments were eliminated? What laws where repealed? Did they get replaced with something else? There are more parasites working for the government than at any time in history. What are they doing? Why is the federal budget going up year after year, with all the deregulation?

You couldn't put together one cogent criticism of Austrian Economics or Libertarianism or Rothbard. BTW, I am not an anarcho-capitalist.

Austrians have been predicting the collapse of credit system based on creating credit out of thin year. Austrians are hard money advocates. Some of the biggest proponent of the current monetary system backed by nothing tangible was John Maynard Keynes himself.

In fact, Hayek won a Nobel Prize in economics for precisely explaining credit bubbles and their eventual bust - it is called Austrian Theory of Business Cycle.

Dude, Banking is one of the most regulated industries. In fact it is so regulated and centralized that it works as a cartel under the auspices of the Federal Reserve. There are no bigger critics of the federal reserve system than the austrian economists themselves.

Start here, you might learn a few things?

Good stuff, oilshock.

Majorian, intellectually serious people read the other side as well, instead of just calling them names.

Of course, it's far more pleasant to swap your views only with those who share them. Being opinionated is far more fun than being informed.

The von Mises community may get it all wrong when it comes to energy depletion and environmental issues, but they have a lot to say about government overregulation in the banking sector impersonating the 'free market' --- so that government failure is wrongly interpreted as market failure. The sub-prime scandal, for example, was the undesirable but predictable outcome of a government cheap-loan policy designed to protect impecunious minorities. We see now what 'affirmative action mortgages' have led to.

The sub-prime crisis was caused by a LACK of regulation of the mortgage market.
Fanny/Freddie were originally a government sponsored enterprises but both Freddie and Fannie Mae have been private corporations since 1968! Freddie was originally started to give Fannie market competition in selling mortgages.

1. Freddie/Fannie are PRIVATE CORPORATIONS. They produced bonds (CDO) used to finance mortgages for homeowners. They made money on fees charged for providing the bonds.

2. A subprime loan is a loan which does NOT meet Fannie or Freddie standards for loans and cannot be sold on the primary market. In 1995, Freddie was allowed to participate in the subprime market despite the above regulation.

3. In 2004, as regulators warned that subprime lenders were saddling borrowers with mortgages they could not afford, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development helped fuel more of that risky lending. (That's the free market Bush administration's HUD.)

Eager to put more low-income and minority families into their own homes, the agency required that two government-chartered mortgage finance firms purchase far more "affordable" loans made to these borrowers. HUD stuck with an outdated policy that allowed Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to count billions of dollars they invested in subprime loans as a public good that would foster affordable housing.

Housing experts and some congressional leaders now view those decisions as mistakes that contributed to an escalation of subprime lending that is roiling the U.S. economy.

The agency neglected to examine whether borrowers could make the payments on the loans that Freddie and Fannie classified as affordable. From 2004 to 2006, the two purchased $434 billion in securities backed by subprime loans, creating a market for more such lending. Subprime loans are targeted toward borrowers with poor credit, and they generally carry higher interest rates than conventional loans.

4.Officially, Freddie Mac is not given any backing, insurance, or statutory support by the US Government. Unofficially, it has long been assumed that the corporation, along with its sister GSE, the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae), were "too big to fail". Both companies often benefited from an implied guarantee of fitness equivalent to truly federally-backed financial groups.

but they have a lot to say about government overregulation in the banking sector impersonating the 'free market' --- so that government failure is wrongly interpreted as market failure.

Oh really?
So who was impersonating who?
It looks like private corporations Fannie/Freddie were pretending to be back by US gov't when they clearly weren't.
The market failure was bond rating agencies like S&P rating subprime garbage as AAA gov't backed. The government failure
was letting them get away with it to keep housing prices rising and the real estate party going.

The sub-prime scandal, for example, was the undesirable but predictable outcome of a government cheap-loan policy designed to protect impecunious minorities. We see now what 'affirmative action mortgages' have led to.

Let me guess; you've never had a mortgage, right?
Mortgage companies and banks APPROVE mortgages. You have to wait to get approval from THEM.

Your bottom up example doesn't make sense.
What happened is that rich white bank and mortgage company managers at the tops APPROVED teaser ballon mortgages for people who couldn't afford them because they made money on the FEES and then passed the mortgage backed securities onto the Chinese and other chumps who thought they were gov't backed.

See, it was top down, not bottom up.

I get the impression you don't understand the way the world works. The guys on the top are smart.

In the word of Al Capone,

Those Wall Street guys are crooks.

Stop worrying about poor people, dumbass.

You don't understand economics. Start with "Economics in one lesson" by Henry Hazlitt. It is an easy read. Then you can move on to more serious one's like "Man Economy & State"

Fanny/Freddie were originally a government sponsored enterprises but both Freddie and Fannie Mae have been private corporations since 1968!

LOL. Government Sponsored Enterprise (GSE).

the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development helped fuel more of that risky lending.

LOL. Yet it is not the fault of the government.

(That's the free market Bush administration's HUD.)

That gave me a good chuckle.

two government-chartered mortgage finance firms purchase far more "affordable" loans made to these borrowers.

LOL. Yet it is not the fault of the government.

Officially, Freddie Mac is not given any backing, insurance, or statutory support by the US Government. Unofficially, it has long been assumed that the corporation, along with its sister GSE, the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae), were "too big to fail".

Government did nothing to correct that assumption. Do you know the economic reasons why? Do you know why that not correcting that assumption is a fault of the government?

Fanny/Freddie were originally a government sponsored enterprises but both Freddie and Fannie Mae have been private corporations since 1968!

LOL. Government Sponsored Enterprise (GSE).

These are private corporations. Don't you guys believe in privatization?

the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development helped fuel more of that risky lending.

LOL. Yet it is not the fault of the government.
That's the free market Bush administration's HUD.)
That gave me a good chuckle.

You think that the ideologically anti-government Bush administration is the government.
The fundamentally evil government corrupted good Bush, right?
At heart you're an anarchist. You should never run for office.

two government-chartered mortgage finance firms purchase far more "affordable" loans made to these borrowers.
LOL. Yet it is not the fault of the government.

You have a reading comprehension problem. These are private corporations. Don't you guys believe in privatization?

Government did nothing to correct that assumption. Do you know the economic reasons why? Do you know why that not correcting that assumption is a fault of the government?

You have a reading comprehension problem. I wrote

"The market failure was bond rating agencies like S&P rating subprime garbage as AAA gov't backed. The government failure
was letting them get away with it to keep housing prices rising and the real estate party going."

Those are the economic reasons for the collapse.

The fault is with the Bush administration not following established government policies against subprime lending by Fannie/Freddie.

Keep watching for those black helicopters,dude.


You believe everything you hear from the media. I think that is your problem.

What makes you think that Bush is a government hating anarchist?

Is it the Patrior Act that increased the government powers ? The one that lets big brother peep into your private life?

Is it the Department of Homeland Security, a massive new government bureaucracy?

Is it the U.S government's war on Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with 9/11?

Is it the massive new 700 billion Medicare Part D ? THe one that increased long term liabilities of the Federal GOvernment by trillions?

Is it the Keynesian play book of deficit spending during economic downturn, like he did ever since 2001?

Is it the government bail out of Private Companies, banks, autos, insurance companies?

Is it the first 2 trillion Federal budget?

Is it the first 3 trillion Federal Budget?

Is it the first 1 trillion Federal Budget deficit?

Is it the doubling of the national debt?

WHich one is it?

Which one of the above made you believe that Bush is a government hating anarchist?

As for me, I am a big L libertarian. I am no anarchist. I am for a small non-coercive government. Governments role mainly is national defence ( not offence ) and a judial system to enforce contracts. People should be left alone.

Are you a creationist? Creationists have a hard time believing that something as beautiful as the world can happen without design. Most non-libertarians are creationists when it comes to civilized society. The want to force conformance to their vision of the world.

BTW, Do you have a list of all the departments that were eliminated under the Friedmanite reforms that you talked about? How about all the laws and regulations that were repealed? I would imagine that over the last several years, no new law was written by the congress, at least that is what your statements imply. Let me know, we can discuss this deregulation meme.

"The market failure was bond rating agencies like S&P rating subprime garbage as AAA gov't backed. The government failure
was letting them get away with it to keep housing prices rising and the real estate party going."

Rating agencies are not a creation of the free-market. It is a cartel of 3 companies, setup under government regulations.

There are more than three and they are and always have been private companies.
You don't even realize that you're making things up.



I didn't say anything about when the companies that do rating started. I was only refering to their current rating business. I recommend the following:

The rating agencies were originally research firms. They were paid by those looking to buy bonds or make loans to a company. If a rating company did poorly it lost business. If it did poorly too often it went out of business.

Low and behold the SEC came along in 1975 and ruined a perfectly viable business construct by mandating that debt be rated by a Nationally Recognized Statistical Rating Organization (NRSRO). It originally named seven such rating companies but the number fluctuated between 5 and 7 over the years.

Establishment of the NRSRO did three things (all bad):

1) It made it extremely difficult to become "nationally recognized" as a rating agency when all debt had to be rated by someone who was already nationally recognized.
2) In effect it created a nice monopoly for those in the designated group.
3) It turned upside down the model of who had to pay. Previously debt buyers would go to the ratings companies to know what they were buying. The new model was issuers of debt had to pay to get it rated or they couldn't sell it. Of course this led to shopping around to see who would give the debt the highest rating.

link here

here is an internet cached version of a senate document on the "breaking up the credit rating cartel"

link here

Your point is that the SEC requires ratings on securities
interferes with the market. Apparently you think it is better
if nobody bothers to rate anything(you can't imagine how idiotic this sounds to me).

Your source states,

There has been no official federal statutory or regulatory definition of NRSRO. • To obtain NRSRO status from the SEC, a firm must be “widely accepted” in the United States as an issuer of credible and reliable ratings; but, in practice, to become “widely accepted,” a firm needs the NRSRO designation. The Justice Department opposes the NRSRO designation and believes it “is likely to create a nearly insurmountable barrier to de novo entry into the market for NRSRO services.” • Federal laws and regulations and corporate bylaws require the use of ratings fromNRSROs.

Here the Justice Depart(government) is concerned about the SEC(government) is allowing a non-competitive atmosphere to occur.
How can this be...can the one devil(gov't) cast out the other devil(gov't)?
A house divided against itself cannot stand, etc.

Your fear of government tolerated credit 'cartels' is countered by real events. The government did investigate itself. The problem is that the Republican politicians whose job it was to monitor the situation were content to leave it to nobody (aka market forces) to do that and guess what it didn't get done. What a surprise!

Then your source concludes,

It is appropriate for Congress to intervene to encourage competition in this market.

What! And have the heavy hand of tyrannical government interfere in magical market making?

A fiendish plot by SOCIALISTS must be afoot!

No. Markets need control and that's provided by laws and regulators. If you never noticed them before I'd conclude that you weren't paying attention to how the system actually works.

You don't understand economics.

If you are claiming others lack an understanding, that means YOU much have an understanding. So Demonstrate that understanding.

Want to explain using repeatable, proveable experiments all about 'economics'?

Feel free to show actual functioning free markets while you are at it.

Extra bonus points if you can explain why the US constitution says a dollar is defined as a weight of metal, yet I can't seem to get that metal weight for a hunk of paper refered to as 'a dollar' (or the lack of said defined metals in the $1 US coin)

Given *YOUR* response is 4 'laughs' and then 2 questions - you have not demonstrated understanding in your response. So you are now on record to actually explain.

Oh my God! I forgot to get government permission to move to Iowa from Michigan. How long until the Federal Home Assignment Police drag me back to face trial?

Libertarian theory such as this ignores the crucial fact that our government is run by the capitalists; they are both part of the same capitalist ruling class. Suburbia was created by the big oil, rubber and automobile companies to expand their businesses and profits. After the war, they forced many of us who wanted GI loans to buy in suburbia, by making the purchase terms too onerous to buy in the city. The banks and the government pushed the suburbs as the only good place to live. Remember the World of Tomorrow at the 1939 World's Fair? I wanted to buy a simple house in town, but I couldn't because they made the down payment ridiculously high, and it was too hard to get a mortgage loan for that. So I was forced to live in the suburbs. Which wasn't bad, but you had to use your car to go anywhere.
This is supposed to be a reply to oilshock 3:58 PM.

I would like to comment from our experience over the last 5 or so years as a one-car family. We live in a suburban-style neighborhood in a small city (a midwestern college town). By that I mean that our neighborhood is not very dense, and all single family houses. We have pretty complete services, including two grocery stores, within a mile and a half or our home, and we specifically chose our house because we have access to a bike trail that takes us straight into downtown and campus, 3 1/2 miles away. We are a family of four. I work part time with a 7 mile each way commute; my husband works full time and works downtown 3 1/2 miles away. Our children are 12 and 13, and attend schools several miles from home.
One of the concerns about changing to more bikes/ less cars was that it's hard to do with kids. I would say, yes, but only for a few years. Maybe most people will need more than one car for the handful of years when the children are infants and toddlers, but that doesn't mean that you are condemned to ALWAYS needing one car per adult. We found that once they went to public school, and could use the school bus, we no longer needed the second car. Another concern was that you may get rid of a car, but you will just add the miles to the car(s) you keep. We did not find this to be the case. Simply by not having the choice of both taking the car at the same time, we saw a dramatic reduction in miles we drove. We are working harder at limiting our driving intentionally now, and are down from 20K miles per year to less than 10K, and the biggest change was simply not having the second car available. I often hear people say that biking isn't practical because the weather is sometimes inclement. I consider this to be an absurd complaint. People still build decks and patios even though the weather isn't always perfect. If most people left their cars behind only when the weather is nice, it would still have a HUGE impact on VMT, even here in the 4-season midwest. And once you start to do it, you continually expand your ideas of what weather is okay for biking. You also expand your ideas of what distances and roads are bikeable, and I think it is perfectly fine for that to happen gradually, so I agree with the poster who started out by driving part of his/her commute and biked the rest. That's a great way to start.
The final point I would like to make is that the improvement in health by staying active is something that is going to be incredibily important for adjusting to a lower-energy future. My parents have 2 cars, but have always stayed fit and healthy, and now, at age 70, my mom just took a road cycling class so that she can start riding her bike to more activities on her own--she already rode quite a bit on bike trails and on a tandem with my 75-year-old father, and walks a lot. This simply would not have been an option if she hadn't taken care of her health.
Finally, the fact that in our town there are activists really pushing for better bike and pedestrian facilities, and because people are out there using the facilities that we do have, we are starting to see a real tipping point. Of course, gas prices this summer had a lot to do with it, but even as gas is now under $2/gallon here, and winter is setting in, there are conspicuously more people out there on bikes and on foot, and that pressure and that example mean that now, while we have the resources to do it, we are seeing some movement in public policy away from constant road-building, and toward more non-car infrastructure. So I say, those who are peak-oil aware can be preparing themselves and helping their communities to prepare by just doing it--get out of your car and show that it can be done at least some of the time!

On expanding your idea of what is reasonable weather for biking, I quite agree (cf. Occasional Bike Blogging: Getting Ready for Winter)

Thank you for the post, this is a great furtherance of the discussion on ways of life and peak oil! I, also, have often wondered similar things in various forms. For instance, people accuse the United States of being extra-vulnerable to the realities of running low on oil, but using resources inefficiency in our daily lives gives that much more ability to reduce consumption when crunch time comes, does it not?

One way or the other, the assertions made in this post must be seriously addressed for any argument about the social consequences of peak oil. I look forward to the second part of this post.

I agree--the very fact that we are so wasteful currently may end up being our salvation... more on that in my article: Demand Destruction & Brittle Systems

The whole thread is great Jeff, but this is a pure jewel. "I agree--the very fact that we are so wasteful currently may end up being our salvation". I'm pretty well set, almost say catbird seat. Tiny house, heat with wood, garden, no mortgage, low taxes. Great community.
We sold our business a couple of years ago, and the folks who bought it defaulted on the loan and payments. Our financial situation changed over night. If you really need to cut, it sure is possible. In fact it is amazing how much you can cut and still have "a wonderful life". I do suppose it depends on how you define "wonderful". I suspect this is easier to do in a rural setting than an urban setting though.

Again, easy for me somewhat as I did my homework years ago, but I walk around and still see areas that we could cut. Don't really have to yet even though for some months we had no income at all. It's the things you need to make $$ for to have that weight you down.

I see the spiritual references, good as well. I have the wind in the trees, and the stars at night and I am a rich man.


You assume 48.5 ct/mile as a fixed cost and take mileage as variable.

However, Small cars are much cheaper than big cars.

You can buy a 50 mpg ordinary car (no hybrids or anything) for less than $10k

Next thing: suburbia is currently unlivable without a car. But that can change very quickly. Rebuilding the road so it includes a bicycle path only takes a can of white paint and a few roadsigns.

Last but not least: Where I live (the Netherlands), gas is about $8 a gallon (it dropped a bit), we still have a lot of traffic jams, people use a lot of bikes (I cycle to work every day, rain or shine), people drive small cars (big cars are rare, we have a 50mpg that my wife uses for work), every community is walkable (we have a cargo bike for shopping and that is not uncommon here), population density is high, houses are much smaller than in the US and people still don't use public transport very much. The only time the train is crowded is during rush hours, and even not that much.

I think you should give up on public transport: it will never work.

I think that one of the effects of a declining economy on a suburban lifestyle is longer commutes on the average.

- Less jobs to choose from within an optimal radius
- Inability to sell your overprice property.

One of the advantages an urbanite has is effectively being in the center of the job radius as opposed to the edge. As someone earlier pointed out not all or even most jobs are located in the center of an urban area. However, someone living in the center has much more job opportunity within a specified radius. Worse case scenario is not commuting from the edge to the center, it's commuting from one edge to the opposite edge.

The point is well made though. The gas price equilibrium point where higher property value meets commute cost is likely north of $20 a gallon. Even if that point was reached, telecommuting becomes far and away a more achievable solution then dismantling suburbia. I for one live urban as a quality of life choice, not a coast savings choice, just cannot stand being cooped up in a car that long...

I want to propose an alternative of refueling an Electric Vehicle (EV) indirectly using solar hot water panels. Home Power (HP) in their Oct-Nov 08 Issue had an article on the payback of solar hot water panels. The payback, without subsidies, was roughly 50 to 80 years. Most of the US is in this group or worse. I found that to be very disheartening.
Now for the idea. My family and I use 30 kwhr of electricty a day on average. If I can save a third of that using solar hot water and pump the savings, 10 kwhrs, into a battery pack, the economics may work favorably at current gasoline prices. On Page 45 of HP, there is a table that says the cost of a solar hot water system costs $8-9K and saves 3,100 kwhrs of energy annually or roughly 10 kwhr daily. So far so good.
If we use the following assumptions:
Electrical rate: $0.10/kwhr
Electric Vehicle usage: 1 kwhr/4 miles
Internal Combustion Engined (ICE) car: 20 miles per gallon
Round trip commuting distance: 40 miles (or 20 miles and put in some mileage for errands or a 2 commuter family with 20 miles each, etc.)
Cost of Solar Hot Water System: $7K (because I'm cheap and it makes the numbers work out easier) ;^))
Cost of gasoline: $4/ gallon
Cost of an EV commute: $1.00=$0.10/kwhr*40mi*1 kwhr/4mi
Cost of an ICE commute: $8.00 = 40 miles * $4/gallon * 1 gallon/ 20 miles
Payback = 1000 days = $7K * 1 day/($8.00-1.00)
= 1000 day/ 200 commute days/ year
= 5 years just on commuting alone.
This is a lot better than 50 to 80 years based on electrical rates alone.
Some would argue and rightly so that gasoline prices are now down in the $2.50/gallon range and that pack depreciation versus auto maintenance would incur an additional $0.02 to 0.03/mile to the EV numbers; creating a more realistic cost of $1.00 + 1.20 = $2.20 for the 40 mile commute. Thus instead of saving $7.00/day, the savings becomes $2.80/day or a payback of 12.5 years.

Does this sound reasonable framework to do payback calculations?

Home Power (HP) in their Oct-Nov 08 Issue had an article on the payback of solar hot water panels. The payback, without subsidies, was roughly 50 to 80 years.

This claim is in contrast to previous claims by home power on solar hot water.

I sent an email to Home Power and the reply was the above mentioned graph's key was in error .

Home Power's reply was:

However, in the current issue's Mailbox feature, we reprinted the correct key for that map. Payback does look a whole lot better than it did. Sorry to put you through such a disheartening period, but things are rosier than they seemed.

A properly sized solar domestic water heating system will save 50% of your heating bill($200 per year)in most climates. A 60 sf solar collector costs about $600 plus $600 to install yourself. That would be a $1200/($100 per yr) or ~12 year payback without subsidies. That's about
12000 scf of natural gas or 90 gallons of gasoline.

Obviously we need more subsidies.

I'm afraid most posters are only looking at the negatives of living in surburbia. I live in a rather sunny area. And some engineers estimate that we have 15 gallons a day worth of electricity falling on our single family home roofs. Solar contractors are plentiful in the yellow pages. More and more roofs are being covered with solar panels. All we need now are plug-in vehicles. Of course there are already many out there with many more on the way. And if you just can't wait for a plug-in from Detroit, there are specialty shops that will convert your existing hybrid to plug in - saving many miles per gallon.

Now here's an energy tip that I discovered by accident: I am currently using many older 8' T12 2 lamp assembly fixtures in my office. Using 60W cool white bulbs, they draw about 80 watts total (measured). By switching to a T8 ballast (from Advance), they only draw about 1/2 that or 40 watts. I discovered this because my solar systems modified sine wave inverter doesn't seem to like magnetic ballasts. It likes the electronic ballasts just fine.

I've been in houses that are over 350 years old. Suburbia could still be around for a loooong time.

How will we view suburbia in 50 to 100 years? Will we tear down and replace suburbia over time? We will find substitutes materials for tires? Will 60% efficient solar electric panels and batteries that don't wear out over a lifetime be the norm?
http://www.a123systems.com/technology/life (7,000 cycles of one a day is 20+years)

Will we have electronically chauffeured vehicles that will arrive at our door step at an appointed time and pick up others along the way and efficiently drop everyone off in a timely manner? Will half or more of suburbia be decimated by the effects of Peak Oil? Will these same vehicles take us on long efficient trips by automatically ganging vehicles together in a train?

Will we have peace and prosperity or will Big Brother become a reality?
Will we find that the solar cycle weaknesses and volcanic activity have more effect on the earth's temperature than carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapor?

Don't know the answers but should be interesting.

I've been in houses that are over 350 years old.

Said houses had not been glued together and carefully "value engineered" to last 20 years before major repairs.


My proposal to the obama admin .....

1.Stop building new cars and trucks.

2.Start training mechanics to service the machinery we currently have.

3.Then .....jobs for sustainable positive EROEI ventures

But at least stop the new cars ???

Building new energy efficient plug-in hybrid cars and trucks is about the only thing Obama has been pushing that makes sense. It's the existing ICE vehicles that need to be banned (or converted to battery powered electrics).

Clearly, some of suburbia has already been severely impacted by peak oil. Take a look at foreclosure maps. Here in Southern California, foreclosures and declining property values are by far most concentrated in the most far-flung suburban areas. The bursting of the housing bubble combined with $4/gallon gas delivered a double-whammy to places like the Antelope Valley and the Inland Empire. At some point, somebody will do the research to determine the direct role that rising gas prices had on rising mortgage defaults, but it's not hard to believe that when people were already stretched to the limit on their house note, a doubling of the next biggest household expense (transportation) within the space of a year surely took them past the breaking point. I think we're set for a long-term decline in new development on the suburban fringe.

Now that does not mean, however, that existing suburban areas will be abandoned any time soon. The imperative there is not whether or not to live there, but how do we transform them into more resource-friendly places. After all, let's keep in mind that every urban area was once either a suburb or a small town. They were transformed into the places that we see now. We can and will do the same for existing suburban areas. Jobs and shopping have already migrated to many suburbs. The spatial arrangements still lack connectivity sans auto, but new bus and train routes, bicycle paths and pedestrian amenities can be built.

In the end, I'm not sure that suburbs are all that much worse off than anywhere else, if the additional space is taken advantage of. The larger property sizes allow for bigger gardens and more renewable resource availability (i.e. wind, solar, biomass). Low-rise buildings are more likely to not need air conditioning, and so and so forth.

Yes, personally, I've lived in cities for more or less my entire life, so that's my preference. But I'm not going to get too smug about my lower energy usage requirements, because it's still far from sustainable...

Okay ... no new houses .. Only repair /service jobs for existing structures.

Your statement;
"Clearly, some of suburbia has already been severely impacted by peak oil. Take a look at foreclosure maps."
Many at TOD accept this statement, but I think it needs more detailed consideration.
Four points to consider
1)was outer suburbia where most sub-prime loans were made?
2)if the financial problems leading to foreclosure were due to high gasoline prices, is the problem now solved with lower gasoline prices? if not why not?
3)jeffvail has made the point that gasoline prices( $2 versus $4/gallon) are not a very big part of the expense of owning and driving a car, even allowing for longer distances in outer suburbs.
4) Interest rates on mortgages, credit cards and personnel loans are going to be more important than gasoline prices for new home purchasers, but less so for older home owners who have smaller mortgages.

You may be correct that it was the double-whammy of high gasoline and a housing bubble. I suspect that housing bubbles can burst without any additional stimulus. The sub-prime resets in interest rates appear to have been the trigger in mid 2007 before the last oil price spike.

I would agree that gas prices were far from the only the only factor in the bursting of the housing bubble. I would answer all of your questions there by pointing out that although gas prices may or may not play a large role in any individual case of foreclosure, I watched the bursting of the bubble at fairly close range and it was not the resets that caused it. The resetting mortgages work fine given an ability to refinance at the time of the reset based on an appreciated home value. For at least a decade, and much longer in many places, this had been a valid assumption and it worked for millions of people. No matter how questionable the terms of the loan, as long as home values appreciated, the borrower could get out of it when they needed to.

Again, the subprime borrower only goes subprime because they cannot buy the house in question with a regular loan. In other words, they stretched themselves to their very limit in order to buy the house, with either zero or negative discretionary income beyond their regular monthly expenses. When people in that situation got hit by a doubling of gas prices, already a relatively large part of their expenses due to geography, it pushed some of them over the edge. Once some of them went over, it was enough to start a downward trend in local home values, which meant no more refi's, and without refi's the whole thing came crashing down. For most of the people in the wider housing crash, gas prices have nothing to do with it. Falling home prices are enough of an explanation.

But I would agree that more broadly, for the average person in suburbia, gas prices are not going to be significant enough to force them to sell and move somewhere else. I'm really more focused on the people on the margins. Keep in mind, even in the midst of this housing "crash" the foreclosure rate is still barely above 1%, and most predictions don't take it above 3%.

This does not seem to take account of leveraging or absolute limits to oil production.

For oil production, it is clear that the amount of oil will decrease rapidly.
To ration this, either prices must rise or demand collapse.
In either case, people will not continue to drive around suburbia in anything like the current fashion.

In the case of collapsing demand, which is what is going on at the moment, you are on an escalator, as job losses have hardly begun to bite.
The rate of foreclosure under those circumstances will soar, with insecurity of employment leading to a collapse of the demand for credit, and massive rate hikes on such lending as does occur due to the high default rate.

The lower density of USA suburbia is being addressed as we write - 2 million immigrants a year will fill it in to a nice urban density. With the addition of commercial buildings suburbia will reach the same conditions as cities. Within 30 years time, if things go as planned, we can replace suburbia with "sub-cities".

suburbia ( like a new England witch hunt, listen to yourselves? What's with that ?

Why the panic the cry?

I live far into the woods, bought the property and built a 3 bedroom home here for $80k land and buildings.
Where I work the prices are 5 times that rate.

My energy costs are nothing.
$2 or $4 /Gal.
I have no mortgage, no debt, and it's no accident.

During the last two oil shortages 73/79 , I used my other 2 cars (even and odd plates , no accident again) for fuel storage depots, and drove my motorcycle.
I enjoyed that so much ,I did that for 15years, the driving of the bike.

What you seem to ignore, is the vast flexibility of people.

Fast forward, I see friend and coworkers parking the gas hog in the back 40 and driving the wife's rice burner.
My best friend just got a smart car, (took 1 year to get)
Many car pool and others ride share.

Most just avoid Star bucks and pay the price,after all it's a great deal, all that energy density, so cheap!

So don't worry yourselves to death , we WILL figure all out ourselves.

You got Ivory tower disease. Don't yah?

So throw up another 100 floors and stop carping.


The Resiliency of Suburbs

Great posting for stirring up so much discussion! I think it misses the mark in several ways, however. A key one is the notion that it is one's amount of variable costs that determine one's "resiliency" to rising variable costs. I think this is incorrect in more than one way.

It seems wrong, first of all, on the face of it. The claim made is that the higher the proportion of one's costs that are variable, the less vulnerable one is to increases in variable costs. When stated that way, it might become a little more obvious why this doesn't make sense, but to make it even more clear, look at the extremes: 100% fixed costs vs. 100% variable costs. If someone's costs are 100% fixed, then by definition they are not impacted at all by rises in variable costs. Their risk in this thought experiment is precisely zero. Now imagine someone's costs are 100% variable. If variable costs double, their total costs double. They are supremely vulnerable to rises in variable costs. What they might be more resilient to are reductions in income, since they may have opportunity to economize, whereas someone whose costs are all fixed does not.

So on the face of it, the claim that higher variable cost exposure reduces one's vulnerability to rises in variable costs is untenable, and thus this proposed definition of "resiliency" will not fly. However, what of the increased ability to weather to losses in income? Surely this counts for something.

I would say, yes, it does, and this shows again why the definition the article poses for "resiliency" is flawed not only by including things that are the opposite of true resiliency, but also by excluding things that do represent true resiliency.

Will this second kind of resiliency save the suburbs? My thought is, "Unlikely." This is because there are still more important dimensions of resiliency we have not considered in this discussion yet, and one of them does not bode well for many suburbanites. In industrial societies, one very large component of financial resiliency is a person's ability to delay gratification. In fact I have read that the strength of this ability is the single best predictor of economic success in such societies. People who cannot deny satisfying their every urge immediately tend to be poorer than those who can. For one thing, they tend to buy things using future earnings (credit, aka debt) rather than past savings, which means they pay interest on everything, which means in the end they pay more for everything. Add to this the fact that many of the urges they are satisfying more immediately this way are for the possession of material things that decline in value over time. Cars and houses are two important examples. (Contrary to popular wisdom, houses on average are declining assets, not appreciating ones, because they wear out over time. The law of entropy always applies to material goods. For houses to maintain their value, money has to continually be poured into repairs -- the reason they are fondly referred to as "money pits." The value of a house that receives zero maintenance for 50 years itself approaches zero, or even negative, since it costs money to bulldoze it to make it possible to build a new one. It is the land underneath the house that is the true appreciating asset in the mix, and that only if demand for land in that area does not experience a decline.)

A lot of what suburbia is all about is satisfying material urges more immediately. People move to the suburbs because they can afford to have it "all" and have it "now." The up-front costs are lower in the suburbs, and for people who have difficulty delaying gratification, the up-front costs are the only ones that matter. They can move into a 4,000 square-foot house on a half-acre lot with a new SUV and minivan in the three-car garage *right now*. To afford this in a traditional, walkable urban community would require them to delay gratification for ten years, perhaps. But delaying gratification is not their strong suit. They want it *all* and they want it *now*. And they can have it all, now, out in the suburbs.

Thus the debt profile of many suburbanites is such that they have variable *and* fixed costs that are both very high relative to their incomes. Long ago as a young-un, I had a summer job in the mortgage department of a bank in a suburb near where I grew up. That was back when banks did not give mortgages unless the lendee could provide pretty solid proof that they would, in fact, have an extremely high probability of being able to pay that mortgage back. One of the main things I learned at that job that has stayed with me all my life is that nearly every single applicant for a mortgage is gunning for the biggest mortgage they could ever possibly hope to afford. (This tendency carries forward to the modern era, where combined with the destruction of necessary banking regulation that led to banks giving out mortgages *without* proof of ability to repay, it produced the current host of problems wherein many people actually took out mortgages they had little or no hope of being able to repay, due to unfettered greed from both ends. And Wall Street acts surprised by this. Banking regulation *is* necessary because human nature never changes....)

The same holds true for car loans. How many people do you know who got a new job that paid more than their old one, and *instantly* -- I mean within the next week -- they had a brand-new, expensive, and usually overlarge, gas-guzzling vehicle in their driveway? Did they buy that new vehicle out of past savings? Or did they go out and get the biggest car loan they could ever possible hope to afford?

My belief is that the suburbs generally contain a higher proportion of people who have weak abilities to delay gratification. This means they have proportionally more families that are up to their eyeballs in fixed costs they can already barely afford: mortgage payment, two car payments, home equity loan for that new patio and hot tub, maxed out credit cards because they just had to get that gorgeous solid hardwood dining room table with eight matching hand-carved chairs, plus a plasma TV for football Sundays, and of course eating lunch out every weekday instead of packing one to work, and eating dinner out at least three times a week because they are too busy driving back and fourth to their distant jobs to have the energy to cook for themselves.

Families in this situation are *extremely* vulnerable to the least little financial disruption. If their gas costs double, they feel it right away. If one of them loses their job, they are immediately in deep doo-doo. They have essentially built a great big house of cards they call the "good life" -- or "The American Dream" -- out of debt, and now the slightest bit of inclement financial weather is apt to blow it all down.

In the end, the suburbs are really not all that resilient.

Utopia in Decay

Kevin Cherkauer

There are voluntary and involuntary variable costs. As you indicated in your last couple of paragraphs, there are voluntary variable costs like eating lunch out every day that can easily be discontinued and the money saved can then pay for an involuntary variable cost increase, as in the price of gas rising.

I could not agree with you more about the incredible problem society has with the need for immediate gratification. The credit card companies are a perfect example of this. By simply delaying purchasing by 30 days and never purchasing more at any one time than you can afford to pay in full each month, no one has to pay 10, 15, 18, or 25% interest for the rest of their lives. Let's not forget late fees. There is a reason credit card companies offer 0% interest for one year. The majority of consumers are like a brown trout looking at a nightcrawler on a hook.

Big problem: Sidewalks.

A lot of suburbs don't have sidewalks. You can walk on the shoulder of a low traffic street, but often times there is no place to walk to anyways, there is no store or school or anything within walking distance. And if you do have someplace to go, chances are good that other people are going there too, which means that there is traffic, and the street isn't so low traffic. So walking is at best useless, and at worst difficult/dangerous.

Putting in sidewalks shouldn't be that difficult you say, right? Most streets that don't have sidewalks don't have curbs either, they have drainage ditches on the sides of the streets. If you put a sidewalk and a curb in on top of the drainage ditch, then the street floods every time it rains, (which is only a problem in places where it rains, i.e. places where the suburb has a chance of growing it's own food/collecting rainwater.) So you have to build a storm sewer. That requires ripping up the street, and running pipe all the way to someplace where you'd like to dump the water, i.e. a drywell, or a river or something like that. And that costs a lot of money. Estimates for installing sidewalks in Portland OR range from $10k/house on easy streets, to $40k/house on streets in the SW hills, (which are clay and can't use drywells, and need pump stations to make the pipes follow legal right of ways instead of down the middle of people's property.)

And that is just the sidewalks. You still may not have anyplace to walk to.

Nice comment about RideSharing - it will be increasingly useful when wireless devices and other computer systems help with location matchups. Most important they can enable trusted verification. Probably inevitable. www.ithumb.org

Hello Jeff,

Fascinating keypost as evidenced by the numerous TODer follow-on comments-->Huge Kudos to you!

I hope this will make more TOD engineers, urban planners, human bio-metricians, scientists, and other professions take a closer look at my numerous SpiderWebRiding postings in the TOD archives.

IMO, light, narrow-gauge track laid quickly and cheaply from the urban core and/or from Alan's standard-gauge RR & TOD depots, then extending outwards thru the suburban permaculture to the rural acres offers the best chance for optimal resource utilization & recycling for efficient postPeak job specialization as we transition to 60-75% manual labor.

As posted before: the steel can be sourced from the top 35 floors of a forty story skyscraper, or the structural steel from a closed factory or big-box store. Here is an example of what I envision:


As you can see in these photos: some simple 90 degree angle iron can be put back to back, then bolted to concrete and/or fastened to a simple roadbed. Or else, minimal energy inputs to reshape this steel vs the massive energy required to make heavy standard-gauge track.

I doubt if the engine in this cute loco is more than 500cc yet can move 36 people [2/row,12/car,3 passenger cars].Thus a recycled Prius engine and battery setup might easily move 100 people. Parents w/toddlers, or handicapped people can easily embark/disembark at any point because no elevated stations need to be built at any point trackside.

In earlier postings: a human-scale containerized freight train could be rolling along down the middle of an asphalt street with a double or quadruple stack on each flatcar [picture each container as 2x3x5]. Commuting bicyclists could free-ride hitchhike by holding onto these containers as the train went 10-15 mph.

If the containers are ideally designed: they should fit precisely in the standard overseas shipping containers, yet still be light enough so that they can be mostly human lifted onto these narrow railcars, or pedal cargo-bikes, or Spiderbikes, then lifted off to fit for easy maneuvering on a wheelbarrow or garden cart.

The easy bidirectional movement of resources should lead to a relative equalization of the urban, suburban, and exurban dilemma.

Recall my earlier example of a rural farmer trying to get his fresh eggs to the urban market with the least amount of breakage risk.

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

As one might expect, the suburban business center (The Mall) is quite vulnerable. In my region, LinensNThings are now dark and empty - eery.

Today CNN reports "No. 2 mall operator warns of bankruptcy", in this case its reducing sales and more importantly the credit crunch.


"NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- General Growth Properties Inc., the No. 2 mall operator in the United States, has warned that an ongoing slump in retail sales, combined with the credit market lockdown, has pushed the company to the brink of bankruptcy."


"Store vacancies at regional malls are up 6.6%, the largest increase since early 2002, according to real estate research firm Reis.

In some malls, store occupancy rates are falling below 75%.

"You can keep a mall open with 60-70% [store] occupancy," Friedman said. "But if it falls to below 40%, then the weakest malls could be forced to close."

"We are in a real retail tsunami right now," Friedman said"

Circuit City's bankruptcy will also hit retail rental rates hard - who is going to be dumb enough to buy goods from a store that will not be around to honour it's guarantees?

This is going to be a massive blow to Pension funds who are heavily invested in American malls.
Europe is particularly badly exposed.

Yea, CC is indeed a big blow. On Marketplace last night, the frame was that CC is generally considered poorly run more than a casualty of the recent market instability. Its both to be sure.

There are some $76 million in gift cards for CC yet to be redeemed and likely to be unredeemable as other higher status creditors get in line before Joe Shmoe.

Thats not a fun news item, a month before christmas.

Mish called this one a long time ago. The retail square footage per American consumer is gigantic compared to anywhere else.

I suppose that the upside is that darkened malls will drastically reduce energy consumption,
One thing Bush was right about: 'This sucker is going down'.

Something that gets overlooked is that urbanites commute to work to the suburbs, not just suburbanites commuting to the city.

On my commute, I pass many cars leaving Philadelphia, going in the opposite direction from me, to take their drivers to suburban work locations. In fact, I believe there are MORE people leaving the city to work in suburban locations than commuting INTO the city (based upon my overall experience watching the traffic and listening to traffic reports over the past ten+ years I have been commuting). This may be atypical, but there has definitely been a very significant exodus of business from downtown Philadelphia to the suburbs over the past several decades. It's not just homeowners who wanted out of the city, it has been businesses, too.

Pay special attention to the bright red jacked-up pickup truck in the lower right quadrant of the picture - i.e. the one that's towing a personal watercraft. With all focus on commuting, we ignore the phenomenal amount of oil we burn in Amerka just to play and amuse ourselves in life-size Tonka toys. And top this off with the added amount of fuel we burn to propel overweight status symbols such as the full-size crew-cab pickup trucks and SUVs one sees elsewhere in the photo. Where I live (a bedroom suburb of Madison, Wisconsin), these 12 MPG-15 MPG behemoths are the most popular single-occupancy commuter vehicles around.

We remain willfully, stubbornly blind to our gluttony; we have not begun to conserve and restrain ourselves as thought the future mattered.

This is great anecdotal evidence of suburbia's ability to "get skinny" and economize quite easily if price pressures demand it. Double the average fuel economy of suburban vehicles over the next 10 years and negate the impact of a doubling of fuel prices. Put two passengers in each car tomorrow and negate the impact of a further doubling of fuel prices. Combine trips and cut discretionary driving to reduce total miles driven by 50% and negate the impact of a further doubling of fuel prices.

Driving a Honda Civic or equivalent with two passengers in it on average isn't that difficult. If we did this (on average), then suburbia would face the same variable costs it faces today at $480/barrel oil (and may well reduce fixed costs in the process).

While it can be fun to endlessly point out the inefficiencies and waste of suburbia, it is (as another commentor pointed out above) precisely the degree of that current waste that makes suburbia able to more efficiently adapt to future challenges.

Suburbanites waste a lot of energy driving around. This can be quite easily reduced.

Suburbanites waste a lot of land with lawns and driveways. This can be quite easily transformed into food or resource-producing land. Urban areas don't have this advantage.

Suburbanites waste a lot of space in oversized homes. This can easily adapt to clustering in the most viable parts of suburbia. The large amount of roof space and solar exposure per person can easily be adapted to gather all the domestic water required, and to provide (albeit not cheaply) all the electricity, hot water, and hot air required. Urban areas generally (though this depends on density and building height) don't have ths advantage.

I'd just like to reiterate that I don't think suburbia will survive as though a frozen-in-time amusement park--it will survive precisely because it is more capable of adaptation and shock-absorbtion than urban areas. It will survive because it can make such dramatic change with such relative ease...

Yeah. I think the overall thrust of your argument has a lot of merit.
The thing is, "suburbia" is too general a term. There are a lot of "residentially zoned" locations which could or could not fit under such a loose term.

I think that "remote suburbs" might experience some specialized difficulties. But many suburban locations are concentrically located close enough to small towns and other types of areas with strategically necessary functions to be able to not just survive, but thrive. For example, take where I live in southeastern PA. I'm equidistant between the Pennsylvania German and central PA agricultural community and the port of Philadelphia. Regardless of what happens with Peak Oil, a lot of people will still need food and we will also be making use of ports and water transportation. Being right in between the two is probably a pretty good place to be whether you have a typical suburban tract house, or live in a small town.

This thing isn't going to play itself out in any one simplistic way. The complete system is far too complex for that.


Thanks for the excellent post. I have enjoyed reading everyone's comments. I do believe that most of the comments miss one critical point; as our world slides into a post peak oil situation, the vast majority of jobs will go the way of the dodo bird. In the U.S. the majority of "white collar" jobs consist of people sitting in front of computers all day. Most other jobs are in the service sector. My sense is that after the crash, if you are a computer jockey, a paper pusher, if you are in the services industries, even if you actually help manufacture something useful (toilet paper for instance) if you don't have access to the basic resources used, you will be out of work. So the argument pitting living in an urban vs. suburban environment and continuing to work as in the past is a pipe dream. The whole money based class system is going to go bust. What will be important will be what you can do for yourself and others that produces something that meets all our basic needs. Working in an insurance claims office, no matter how close to home, just doesn't seem that productive to me.

Will Rogers once said; "Buy land, they ain't making it anymore." I agree totally.

My bottom line is that I reject the idea that somehow people will be able to work just as they are now should the worst of peak oil come about. Instead, we should all be working to create a habitable environment for our extended families and neighbors. My family is sticking with the suburbs and it doesn't have anything to do with the present price of gas or commuting. At a rate of 5-10% decline in available petroleum supplies each year in the coming years, commuting will be irrelevant. So will most of the jobs we now take for granted that are supported by our present petroleum based society. I suggest that continuing to expect everything to stay the same if we only switch to mass transit, riding bicycles, or walking, is not realistic.

But how do you buy a new car when your old car isn't worth anything on the used market, and you have no spare income with which to finance it? And how do you do this when everyone else is trying to do it at the same time? It could easily take 20 years to transition everyone, and we don't have 20 years to do it...

Specific claims:

Double the average fuel economy of suburban vehicles over the next 10 years and negate the impact of a doubling of fuel prices.

Difficult to do with an average fleet turnover of 16 years (actually longer with reduced new auto sales, 20+ years is more likely with near term future auto sales volumes).

It will take several years of retooling (now on hold with $2 gas) to even produce enough economic cars and new car sales are certainly not supporting such a radical change.

2030 might be an aggressive/unrealistic goal for a doubling of fleet fuel economy, not 2019.

Put two passengers in each car tomorrow and negate the impact of a further doubling of fuel prices. Combine trips and cut discretionary driving to reduce total miles driven by 50%

The diffuse and car-dependent nature of Suburbia make this much of an improvement impractical. Unless two car-poolers live with-in walking/bicycling distance of each other (unlikely in Suburbia; "hooking up" with potential car poolers is unlikely in the social isolation of Suburbia) then the car driving half has to drive to the other car pooler (extra VMT driving alone) to pick them up (and drop them off).

To assert that ALL trips will average two people that need to go (Mom's dropping off kids do not count since they are unpaid chauffeurs, not travelers) is completely unrealistic

"Combining trips" will help, but a 50% drop in VMT is totally unrealistic. Again the diffuse nature of Suburbia works against that. 5% to 8% drop in VMT would be my SWAG.

Suburbanites waste a lot of land with lawns and driveways. This can be quite easily transformed into food or resource-producing land.


The ground under a driveway (where do you put the scrap concrete/asphalt that was the driveway ?) is impossibly far from fertile topsoil suitable for high productivity "square foot gardening". Gravel and subsoil that will not properly grow weeds will be what is underneath that driveway.

pre-1970 Suburbs (before scrapping off topsoil became common) may have some farming potential in the lawns (if site was not built-up with fill or construction debris was not buried on-site).

If the topsoil was scrapped off, forget about it ! Growing food in hard pan clay, or gravelly subsoil is a path to starvation.

The large amount of roof space and solar exposure per person can easily be adapted to gather all the domestic water required, and to provide (albeit not cheaply) all the electricity, hot water, and hot air required.

Requiring twice as much electricity/capita does not help Suburbia. The best and most economic renewables are hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. Good grid ties to cities (much easier than Suburbia) are the way to use these "best sources".

Most urban areas get enough solar insolation to heat domestic hot water.

because it is more capable of adaptation and shock-absorbtion than urban areas

The social isolation of Suburbia works against it adapting.

Cities are historically more used to change and adapting (and interacting with each other) than are Suburbs. A significant and overlooked advantage !

Best Hopes for Cities and Rural Areas post-Peak Oil,


Reasonable personal mobility can be maintained by the use of this sort of scooter, together with three wheel variants for icy roads, cover of a basic sort for inclement weather, etc.
The resulting way people got around would resemble Vietnam more than thee present usage in the suburbs, with toddlers perched precariously etc, but they could still get about, and cheaply too:

At a retail price of £999, the scooters are cheap to buy, cheap to run and cheap to insure. The bikes can be fully recharged for around 8 pence, giving a maximum range of over 40 miles. One of the key markets for the scooter is universities where students and staff currently use a car to commute.


Montreal is currently developing a system so that bikes, and so presumably scooters, could be stored at rail stations whilst you travelled into the city.

I doubt that many would attempt to dig up their driveways to grow vegetables, but there seems no good reason why they should not build raised beds to grow produce - it would probably happen gradually anyway, a bed at a time.

It all sounds a bit more practical for many than trying to cram everyone into city centres, where the rents will presumably rocket.

The cost of commuting is more than just the cost of gas. Here are several other costs that need to be included when estimating the cost of commuting:

  • The cost of constantly upgrading roadways to meet commuter demands.

  • The cost of dependence on foriegn oil (political costs).

  • The impact of putting thousands of tons of carbon into the air every day.

  • The cost in time. Commuters in large cities may spend 20% of their work day commuting. If time is money, this may be the biggest cost.

Most office workers could just as easily work remotely as long as they had support from management and adequate facilities. Working from Remote Office Centers makes more sense than commuting back and forth to work every day. ROCs lease individual offices, internet and phone systems to workers from different companies in shared centers located around the city and suburbs. Remote Offices allow workers to work from an office down the street so they can skip the long daily commute.

Even the most efficient hybrid uses more fuel than going to work on the internet.

ROCs will not be down the cul-de-sac street in Suburbia, but several miles away. Although I could see the two commutes (urban to HQ, Suburban to nearest ROC being roughly equal).

Due to interactions, the urban HQ worker is likely to be seen as more valuable and the remote ROC worker easier to lay off.


The heavy congestion is not in the small cul-de-sac roadways. The traffic is in the corridors that lead to downtown. There are always thousands of alternate paths to addresses in the suburbs. The idea is to take the sttrain off the traffic in the heavy corridors.

I have heard many complaints from people who are afraid that they are more likely to be layed off if they work remotely. The truth is that layoffs are determined by upper management and they probably don't know you personally anway. The way to avoid layoffs is to be as efficient as possible. ROCs help support an efficient economy. If US firms want to avoid layoffs, then they need to be profitable - which is dependent on efficiency. Remote Office Cetners reduce the cost of roadways and fuel consumption - which everyone (including your employer) all pay for.