Out of Control Policy Blog

Higher gas prices = more suburban growth!

Metropolitan types who think expensive oil will drive people into cities face a rude awakening. Burbs will be the big winners.

So argues Joel Kotkin in Newsweek, "Hail to The Suburban Oasis."

For evidence, look at the experience of the 1970s. In that decade, Americans, Europeans and Japanese faced an even steeper price rise than the one we face today. Worse, we were hopelessly unprepared for it, and far more jobs, particularly high-paying ones, were located in the urban core.

So what happened? People adapted, eschewing the long commutes into the central city for generally shorter ones to new office and industrial parks on the periphery. Worldwide, almost every country continued to suburbanize, from Orange County, California, to Grand-Couronne around Paris. In the United States, the '70s proved to be the only decade in the 20th century in which overall urban population dropped in actual numbers.

. . .

There were other significant changes as well. American drivers abandoned gas guzzlers for fuel-efficient cars long favored by commuters in other countries, where the price of petrol runs two to three times higher. The 1970s also saw builders begin to adapt energy-saving methods, including a greater emphasis on better insulation, thicker windows and more-efficient appliances.

. . .

"The biggest jolt the Industrial Revolution administered to the Western family," suggests historian Peter Stearns, "was the progressive removal of work from the home." The Internet revolution now gives us the opportunity to reverse this historic trend, allowing the postindustrial community of the future to function something like its preindustrial counterpart.

Joel makes some good points. The modern history of reacting to oil price changes is chock full of things people didn't predict. I expect this to be true in the coming decades as well. Congress is gearing up to crank up the cost of energy with alternative energy mandates and greenhouse gas limits and they are not expecting the kind of things Joel is pointing out to result.

Adrian Moore is Vice President, Policy


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