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The Post-Suburban World

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I normally post pictures of architecture on this blog, and rarely take the soapbox. In today’s post, I am getting on the soapbox, and very well might offend a few of my readers. Regardless, I feel I need to say it.

The economic viability of suburbia is officially dead. I always believed that it would happen, but never in my own lifetime. It happened quickly, and unexpectedly in the last year, and will culminate this summer.

I am talking about gas prices hitting an average of $4.00 this summer. Friday evening, after sitting in traffic trying to get home, I actually had to stop and get gas so I didn’t have to worry about running out the rest of the way home. It cost me $40 to fill up; when I was in high school (which was not that long ago) I could fill up my car for under $10.

To put it bluntly, most Americans will no longer be able to afford to drive wherever they want and live wherever they want. You will no longer be able to flee to greener pastures when the paint starts to peal a little bit on your house: new houses, once a luxury purchase for all people except the very wealthy, will return to being luxuries. You might have to live in a house that is 10, 20 or even 100 years old. Do you realize some people in Europe have to live in houses that are 400-500 years old? Quite frankly, you might be forced to move to a neighborhood that requires you to take mass transit to work. I know it will be rough, but remember 95% of the world’s population already has to deal with public transportation, so you’ll survive.

I read last year when I just moved back to St. Louis that Lincoln County has become the next hot place for St. Louisans to move. Do you realize how far out Lincoln County is?! America once had a surplus of farmland, meaning that we could produce more food than the population needed, allowing us to ship grain to countries wracked by drought. Because of suburban sprawl, we no longer can feed ourselves; the best farmland in the word is being covered with concrete. My family has owned a farm near Peoria, Illinois for over 130 years. There is a real possibility in my own lifetime that the farm, 30 miles from Peoria, will be surrounded by sprawl; land prices are already spiking in the area in anticipation.

Sell your gas guzzling SUV, unless you really need it. I know people with physical disabilities, musicians who play the bass violin and parents with children with wheelchairs that actually need SUV’s, but let’s be honest, you do not need an SUV. People who park next to you can’t see to safely back out, and SUV’s have proven more deadly to people who are hit by them than regular cars.

Stop getting perverse joy out of watching the city of St. Louis fail. It is literally a spectators’ sport for many St. Louis suburbanites to talk about how horrible the city is, and how run down it is. Have some pride in where you live, and realize that the suburbs are literally like parasites, sucking the lifeblood from the city. The reason the city doesn’t have enough money is because government subsidies now favor the suburbs, and St. Louis literally has one third of the population it did in the 1950’s. Likewise, the citizens left behind in the city make less money, so the city of St. Louis literally has somewhere around 25% of the tax revenue it earned in the 1950’s.

Earlier this year a mother committed suicide and murdered her children after her car was towed. She could no longer get to work without a car. Do you realize how absurd this is? The idea that someone could not get to work without a car would have been totally unthinkable 100 years ago in the city of St. Louis.

I do not consider people who live in the suburbs monsters, and I realize issues of safety and good schools that are not full of criminals are major and valid reasons to live in the suburbs. I likewise do not expect anyone to have to worry about their children getting beaten up at school just so they can live in the city.

But the next time you’re filling up and complaining about your commute, realize that your way of life will probably not outlive your children. Gas prices are not going down–ever–because the reasons they went up can’t be fixed. China and India are growing exponentially, and Iraq is not going to be pumping at capacity any time soon. Besides, why the heck should oil producing countries undercut their own countries’ revenue for the benefit of oil junkies?

Today, not tomorrow is when everyone needs to start thinking about living in a world where gas is $10 a gallon. Trust me, it’s not far off.

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