[Marxism] NYT: Rethinking the Country Life as Energy Costs Rise
walterlx at earthlink.net
Wed Jun 25 08:01:51 MDT 2008
My brother John, who lives in New York City, has just sold his condo
and is moving to upstate New York. My one remaining cousin (the other
died a few years ago), is in the process of building a new home for
himself and his wife in upstate New York as well. I really wonder if
this will all work out for them. I wish them well, of course, but as
transportation prices continue to go through the roof, one wonders
how those who hope to escape the troubles of big-city living will
find life now out in the beyond-suburbs where they're settling in.
Personally, I find myself driving my automobile less and less and
trying to take public transportation in Los Angeles whenever that
most practical. The cost of parking, too, is more and more absurd.
What are other people doing about housing and transportation? I've
been fortunate to live in the same house now for into its third
decade. I'd hate to imagine moving these days.
Nice commentary on gasoline prices by Mumia Abu-Jamal to frame
what people are, and are not, saying and thinking about gas prices.
winding down my visit to
Vancouver, B.C., Canadia
REAL ROAD RAGE
Column by Mumia Abu-Jamal
June 12, 2008
THE NEW YORK TIMES
June 25, 2008
Rethinking the Country Life as Energy Costs Rise
By PETER S. GOODMAN
ELIZABETH, Colo. — Suddenly, the economics of American suburban life
are under assault as skyrocketing energy prices inflate the costs of
reaching, heating and cooling homes on the distant edges of
Just off Singing Hills Road, in one of hundreds of two-story homes
dotting a former cattle ranch beyond the southern fringes of Denver,
Phil Boyle and his family openly wonder if they will have to move
close to town to get some relief.
They still revel in the space and quiet that has drawn a steady
exodus from American cities toward places like this for more than
half a century. Their living room ceiling soars two stories high. A
swing-set sways in the breeze in their backyard. Their wrap-around
porch looks out over the flat scrub of the high plains to the
snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains.
But life on the edges of suburbia is beginning to feel untenable. Mr.
Boyle and his wife must drive nearly an hour to their jobs in the
high-tech corridor of southern Denver. With gasoline at more than $4
a gallon, Mr. Boyle recently paid $121 to fill his pickup truck with
diesel fuel. In March, the last time he filled his propane tank to
heat his spacious house, he paid $566, more than twice the price of 5
Though Mr. Boyle finds city life unappealing, it is now up for
“Living closer in, in a smaller space, where you don’t have that
commute,” he said. “It’s definitely something we talk about. Before
it was ‘we spend too much time driving.’ Now, it’s ‘we spend too much
time and money driving.’ ”
Across the nation, the realization is taking hold that rising energy
prices are less a momentary blip than a change with lasting
consequences. The shift to costlier fuel is threatening to slow the
decades-old migration away from cities, while exacerbating the
housing downturn by diminishing the appeal of larger homes set far
from urban jobs.
In Atlanta, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Minneapolis, homes beyond
the urban core have been falling in value faster than those within,
according to an analysis by Moody’s Economy.com.
In Denver, housing prices in the urban core rose steadily from 2003
until late last year compared with previous years, before dipping
nearly 5 percent in the last three months of last year, according to
Economy.com. But house prices in the suburbs began falling earlier,
in the middle of 2006, and then accelerated, dropping by 7 percent
during the last three months of the year from a year earlier.
Many factors have propelled the unraveling of American real estate,
from the mortgage crisis to a staggering excess of home construction,
making it hard to pinpoint the impact of any single force. But
economists and real estate agents are growing convinced that the
rising cost of energy is now a primary factor pushing home prices
down in the suburbs, particularly in the outer rings.
More than three-fourths of prospective home buyers are now more
inclined to live in an urban area because of fuel prices, according
to a recent survey of 903 real estate agents with Coldwell Banker,
the national brokerage firm.
Some now proclaim the unfolding demise of suburbia.
“Many low-density suburbs and McMansion subdivisions, including some
that are lovely and affluent today, may become what inner cities
became in the 1960s and ’70s — slums characterized by poverty, crime
and decay,” declared Christopher B. Leinberger, an urban land use
expert, in a recent essay in The Atlantic Monthly.
Most experts do not share such apocalyptic visions, seeing instead a
“It’s like an ebbing of this suburban tide,” said Joe Cortright, an
economist at the consulting group Impresa Inc. in Portland, Ore.
“There’s going to be this kind of reversal of desirability.
Typically, Americans have felt the periphery was most desirable, and
now there’s going to be a reversion to the center.”
In a recent study, Mr. Cortright found that house prices in the urban
centers of Chicago, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Portland and Tampa have
fared significantly better than those in the suburbs. So-called
exurbs — communities sprouting on the distant edges of metropolitan
areas — have suffered worst of all, Mr. Cortright found.
Basic household arithmetic appears to be furthering the trend: In
2003, the average suburban household spent $1,422 a year on gasoline,
according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By April of this year —
when gas prices were about $3.60 a gallon— the same household was
spending $3,196 a year, more than doubling consumption in dollar
terms in less than five years.
In March, Americans drove 11 billion fewer miles on public roads than
in the same month the previous year, a 4.3 percent decrease — the
sharpest one-month drop since the Federal Highway Administration
began keeping records in 1942.
Long before the recent spike in the price of energy,
environmentalists decried suburban sprawl a waste of land, energy and
tax dollars. Governments from Virginia to California have in recent
decades lavished resources on building roads and schools for new
subdivisions in the outer rings of development while skimping on
maintaining facilities closer in. Many governments now focus on
reviving their downtowns.
In Denver — a classic Western city, with snarling freeway traffic
across a vast acreage of strip malls, ranch houses and office parks —
the city has had an urban renaissance over the last decade.
A $6.1 billion commuter rail system has been in the works over the
last four years, drawing people downtown without cars, while
stimulating swift sales of densely clustered condos near stations.
Coors Field, the intimate, brick-fronted baseball stadium for the
Colorado Rockies, has transformed the surrounding area from a
desolate skid row into fashionable Lower Downtown, a neighborhood of
restaurants and microbreweries in restored warehouses. Along the
Platte River, new condos set on a park strip offer an arresting
tableau of glass, steel, and futuristic geometry, attracting throngs
of buyers at rising prices.
“This is a city where it’s fun to be in the center,” said Tim
Burleigh, 56, who sold his house in the suburbs and now walks to
Rockies games from his downtown condo.
To Denver’s mayor, John W. Hickenlooper, $4 gasoline offers a useful
incentive for such plans.
“It can be an accelerator,” he said during an interview inside the
imposing column-fronted City Hall. “It’s not going to be the dagger
in the heart of suburban sprawl, but there’s a certain inclination, a
certain momentum back toward downtown.”
Dollars spent at the gas station leave fewer for mortgage payments.
Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Economy.com, calculated that
the jump in gas prices from $2 a gallon to $4 has taken $50 a month
from the typical suburban commuter driving 25 miles a day.
“The fuel price change should be capitalized into the cost of
houses,” Mr. Zandi said. “Prices in the outer suburbs will get
Elizabeth is the archetype of a once-rural community sucked into the
orbit of the expanding metropolis, its ranch lands given over to
porches, picket fences and two-car garages.
Megan Werner, 39, a mother of three, moved here five years ago from a
dense suburb closer to Denver. She and her husband bought a home set
on a 1.5-acre lot in the Deer Creek Farm subdivision. The space
justified her husband’s 40-minute commute.
“We wanted more than a postage stamp,” she said, as her 5-year-old
daughter walked barefoot across the driveway.
It used to cost her about $30 to fill her Honda minivan with gas.
Now, it is more like $50, and she coordinates her trips — shopping in
town, combined with dance lessons for her children. But she has no
thoughts of leaving.
“I can open up my door and my kids can play,” Ms. Werner said.
For others, though, new math is altering the choice of where to live.
Houses are sitting on the market longer than in years past. “The pool
of buyers is diminishing,” said Jace Glick, an agent with Re/Max
Alliance in Parker, Colo., next to Elizabeth.
Juanita Johnson and her husband, both retired Denver schoolteachers,
moved here last August, after three decades in the city and a few
years in the mountains. They bought a four-bedroom house for
Last winter, they spent $3,000 on propane for heat, she said.
Suddenly, this seemed like a place to flee. “We’d sell if we could,
but we’d lose our shirt,” Ms. Johnson said. Recently she counted 15
sale signs. One home nearby is listed below $400,000.
“I was so glad to get out of the city, the pollution the traffic, the
crime,” she said. Now, the suburbs seem mean. “I wouldn’t do this
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company
Los Angeles, California
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