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  1. #1
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    The Car Becomes a Burden of Surburbia

    This is a good article folks. I think the best part was the comment made by Professor Bill McKibben when he states, "Distance is now an enemy". This is going to be very true for the motor dependant in the very near future. Any activity that requires an extensive amount of travel will require a major financial commitment. Without inexpensive oil, the world is about to become a large planet again. Quite profound.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    It is known as the Inland Empire: a vast stretch of land tucked in the high desert valleys east of Los Angeles. Once home to fruit trees and Indians, it is now a concrete sprawl of jammed freeways, endless suburbs and shopping malls.

    But here, in the heartland of the four-wheel drive, a revolution is under way. What was once unthinkable is becoming a shocking reality: America's all-consuming love affair with the car is fading.

    Surging petrol prices have worked where environmental arguments have failed. Many Americans have long been told to cut back on car use. Now, facing $4-a-gallon fuel, they have no choice.

    Take Adam Garcia, a security guard who works near the railway station in Riverside. Like many Inland Empire residents, he commutes a huge distance: 160km a day. He used to think nothing of it. But now, faced with petrol costs that have tripled, he is taking action. He has even altered the engine of his car to boost its mileage. "I have to. Everyone does. I can't afford to drive as much as I did," he said.

    Recent figures showed the steepest monthly drop in kilometres driven by Americans since 1942. At the same time car sales are collapsing, led by huge SUVs.

    General Motors, once the very image of American industrial might, is in deep trouble. Cities are now investing in mass transit, hoping to tempt people back into town centres from far-flung commuter belts where they are now stranded by high petrol prices.

    Jonathan Baty used to be a pioneer. The lighting designer has cycled to work every day since 1993. It's a 14km round trip through the heartland of a car-based culture once famously termed "Autopia". But now Baty has company on his daily rides as others choose two wheels rather than four to navigate southern California's streets. "We have seen a whole emergence of a bike culture in this area. There is a crescendo of interest," said Baty, who does volunteer work for a cycling group, Bicycle Commuter Coalition of the Inland Empire.

    In Riverside, bus travel is up 12% on a year ago, rising to 40% on commuter routes. Use of the town's railway link is up 8%. A local car pooling system is up 40%. It is the same in the rest of the US. In South Florida a light rail system has reported a 28% jump in passengers. In Philadelphia one has shown an 11% rise. Even nationwide scooter sales have shot up. At the same time car sales are hitting 15-year record lows. Last week major American car-makers reported a devastating 18% drop in car sales.

    Route 66
    The numbers point to a more fundamental shift. In America car sales carry a symbolic value that transcends the wheeler-dealering of the showroom. This is a nation of fabled road trips and Route 66. "There is an American dream of mobility and freedom and wealth. The car is part of all that," said Professor Michael Dear, an urban studies expert at the University of Southern California.


    In the 1950s the confident nation that helped win World War II was expressed in classic car designs of huge fins and open tops. By the 1990s it had become the Hummer, a huge bulking car born from the military. Now there is to be another shift. For, hidden within the car sales figures, is a more complex story than a simple fall. Sales of big cars are plummeting while smaller vehicles, especially fuel-efficient hybrids, are replacing them.

    GM has now closed SUV production at four plants. Its Hummer brand is up for sale, or might even be closed. GM is ploughing huge resources into its 2010 launch of the Chevy Volt, a hybrid car that may get up to 240km a gallon. It needs to. GM's share price recently hit a 54-year low, prompting one top investment bank to warn that the firm could go bankrupt.

    The Volt, and cars like it, could become symbols of a new more conservation-minded car age. As Americans enjoyed the July 4 holiday weekend, increasing numbers of them were staying at home rather than hitting the road. Newspapers were full of tips for "stay-cations", not weekend breaks away. Customs once scorned, such as car pooling and cutting out trips to the mall, are now commonplace. The fact is, the vast majority of Americans cannot give up their cars altogether. Too many cities lack any reliable public transport.

    Adam Garcia is one of those caught. He does two jobs and his daily road trip by car is a necessity. "We don't have much of a choice. I have to drive," he said. Sacrifices come elsewhere, in giving up trips to the cinema and to see friends.

    But America's changing relationship with the car is just part of the story of how the most powerful nation is changing in the face of the oil price rise. America has been built on an oil-based economy, from its office workers in the suburbs to its farmers in the fields.

    Since the 1950s and the building of the pioneering car-orientated suburb of Levittown in Long Island, the American city has been designed for the convenience of the car as much as its human inhabitants. People live kilometres away from jobs, shops or entertainment. If you take away cars, the entire suburban way of life collapses. To some, that development is long overdue.

    Cheap oil
    "Suburbia has been unsustainable since its creation," said Chris Fauchere, a Denver-based filmmaker who is producing a new documentary on the issue called The Great Squeeze. "It was created around cheap oil. People thought it would flow easily from the earth forever."

    Fauchere's film, due out later this year, aims to tackle the profound changes caused by a world where oil is becoming scarcer. He does not think that it is going to be easy for America to make the adjustment. "It is going to be tough. It is like a chain reaction through the economy. But if you look at history, it is only crisis that starts change," he said.

    The suburbs are already being hit. As cars become more expensive, the justification for suburbs seems to disappear. Some commentators have even suggested that suburbs -- once the archetype of an ideal American life -- will become the new slums.

    In the face of expensive fuel and crashing property prices, the one-time embodiment of a certain American dream will become crime-ridden, dotted by empty lots and home to the poor and unemployed. That is already happening as crime and gang violence has risen in many suburban areas and tens of thousands of homes have been reposessed because of the mortgage crisis.

    In effect, suburbs will become the new inner cities, even as once-abandoned American downtowns are undergoing a remarkable renaissance. Even malls, the ultimate symbol of American life since the war, are undergoing a crisis as consumers start to stay away.

    But there are even deeper changes going on. The car, the freeway system and cheap air travel made America smaller. Everywhere was easily accessible. That, too, is ending. Higher fuel prices have dealt a terrible blow to America's airlines. They are slashing flights, raising costs and abandoning routes. Some small cities are now losing their air connections.

    In effect, America is becoming larger again. That will lead to a more localised economy. To many environmentalists that is a blessing, not a curse. They point out that cheap fuel for industrial transport has meant the average packaged salad has travelled 2 400km before it gets to a supermarket shelf.

    "Distance is now an enemy," said Professor Bill McKibben, author of the 1989 climate-change classic The End of Nature. "There's no question that the days of thoughtless driving are done."

    The worst hit parts of the US are not yet the suburbs or the freeways of southern California, but the small towns that dot the Great Plains, Appalachia and the rural Deep South. Even more than the Inland Empire, people in these isolated and poor areas are reliant on cheap petrol and much less able to afford the new prices at the pump. Stories abound of agricultural workers unable to afford to get to the fields and of rural businesses going bust.

    Even farmers are not immune. They might not need a car to get to their fields but their fertilisers use oil-based products whose prices have gone through the roof. A handful have started using horses again for some tasks, saving petrol on farm vehicles.

    Frontier of endless mobility
    The American dream of the last half century is thus changing. The car and its culture is now under a pressure unimaginable even a few years ago. "The frontier of endless mobility that we've known our entire lives is closing," said McKibben.

    America's excess has had many imitators. Recently a delegation of Chinese government officials and architects visited an Arizona suburb near Phoenix. Approving notes were taken as they surveyed the luxurious car-driven suburban lifestyle on display. This was just one of the many delegations that regularly come from the Far East or South America.

    Even as America is sobering up from its excess of cheap oil, other parts of the world are seeking to join the party. They, too, want homes far from dirty city centres, huge open roads and fast cars. It is still a beguiling vision of freedom, mobility and bountiful riches.

    McKibben spent last week on a visit to Beijing. He was worried about what he saw. Even as America's obsession with the car lifestyle is ending, others are embracing it. "The Chinese have spent the Bush years starting to build their own version of America. A key question for the planet is whether they still have time to build a version of Europe instead -- global warming will probably hinge on the answer to that question," he said.

    http://www.mg.co.za/article/2008-07-...en-of-suburbia

  2. #2
    Senior Member maddyfish's Avatar
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    I'm sure this stuff is happening somewhere, as I read about it here alot. But here, downtown is still ghost town. A supermodle could run naked through downtown Cincinnati after 6:00pm and nobody would even notice, as long as the Reds were out of town.
    Not too much to say here

  3. #3
    Recumbent Trike countersTrike's Avatar
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    An inner Los Angeles area with around $4. a gallon gas? When was this article written? Overall a great article but gas topped $4.50 gallon in San Francisco I think, so L.A. must be about that. Population comes to CA by the millions, runs around in circles in their air conditioned cocoons screaming about real estate falling, gas prices, food prices sky high, hundreds of fires, drought....... etc. Good reading!

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    In the right lane gerv's Avatar
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    The article mentions the concept of a "stay-cation" where you spend July 4th hanging around the house. Still, several of the people I work with took off to Chicago for the weekend. I guess the price of gas wasn't enough to dull the glow of the big city. For my part, I enjoy hanging around town on this weekend. The local streets are pretty quiet and the bike trails aren't too full either.

    Yet, this wonderful description has a long way to go before it dawns on people that you don't need to be in constant motion to have a good time.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Newspaperguy's Avatar
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    For the last five years, all my vacations have been quite close to home and most have been by bicycle. I've discovered all sorts of great places, scenic views and small towns fairly close by. These are places within reach, yet just far enough from town to let me get a change of scenery.
    Life is good.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Newspaperguy View Post
    For the last five years, all my vacations have been quite close to home and most have been by bicycle. I've discovered all sorts of great places, scenic views and small towns fairly close by. These are places within reach, yet just far enough from town to let me get a change of scenery.
    This is a problem. For years I've enjoyed local vacations but this year the local spots have become crowded. See people come from all over to see the main sites in DC and the locals like to travel far away. So there has been a doughnut of overlooked sites within bike distance. Not this year.

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    Thanks for the morning laugh. That's one of the funniest articles I've read in a while. Of course, out here in the "poor and isolated" Great Plains, we don't get much to read and we have to save the paper to use in the outhouse. I'll be sure to read it to the horses while I'm hitching them to my JD combine.

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    Senior Member grayloon's Avatar
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    The good professor greatly exaggerates the death of the car. Not dead, just waiting for resuscitation with a new fuel.

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    Senior Member cutman's Avatar
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    Take a look at real estate values. Home prices in the outer suburbs are dropping precipitiously while city condos and houses closer in (and near transit) are keeping their values. That's the trend around here anyway.

    I guess I got back to New England just in time. When I was living in NC, I'd make the 1500-mile (round trip) drive to Boston to see my family and friends about a half dozen times a year. Long road trips and long commutes will be the first casualties in the post-cheap oil world. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw my cousin's SUV that he drove to Cape Cod from Ohio last weekend.
    When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race. - H.G. Wells

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    Pedal pusher... alicestrong's Avatar
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    I just recently watched this, even though it was made a couple of years ago. Are we closer to that reality now?

    http://www.organicconsumers.org/arti...icle_13347.cfm

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    Quote Originally Posted by grayloon View Post
    The good professor greatly exaggerates the death of the car. Not dead, just waiting for resuscitation with a new fuel.
    Too bad very few of these "alternative" fuels have anywhere near the efficiency/energy density of fossil fuels nor any conceivable economic models of making it scalable for mass consumption. Many of these "alternatives" require just as much energy (if not more) invested in producing and bringing the final product to market than the actual energy yielded from the end product.

    This might be a bit enlightening:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EROEI

    The future isn't going to be just the same old song and dance with some magic technofix allowing our current lifestyles to carry on unimpeded.

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    You can't get something from nothing. Oil was the planet's battery, formed over billions of years. Our demands on the battery are fast outstripping supply. Alternative energy sources require a great deal more effort and energy to obtain, and come at a trickle compared with gasoline. Folks (like GW) who imagine some magic new juice replacing cheap oil and gas are going to be sorely disappointed. There will of course be alternatives, but they will be expensive and hard to get.
    ''On a bicycle you're not insulated. You're in contact with the landscape and all manner of people you'd never meet if you were in a car. A fat man on a bicycle is nobody's enemy.''

    Tom Vernon.

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    Senior Member cutman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cosmoline View Post
    You can't get something from nothing. Oil was the planet's battery, formed over billions of years. Our demands on the battery are fast outstripping supply. Alternative energy sources require a great deal more effort and energy to obtain, and come at a trickle compared with gasoline. Folks (like GW) who imagine some magic new juice replacing cheap oil and gas are going to be sorely disappointed. There will of course be alternatives, but they will be expensive and hard to get.
    Well said. I'll add that those who imagine a miracle "alternative" fuel also don't realize how large and important a role oil and its derivatives play in our lives.

    To quote Jim Kunstler, "We are not going to run Wal-Mart, Walt Disney World, and the interstate highway system on hydrogen, coal synfuels, tar sand or oil shale distillates, bio-diesel, ethanol, recycled french-fry oil, solar electricity, wind power, or nuclear fission. The stark truth of the situation is that we are simply going to have to make other arrangements."
    When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race. - H.G. Wells

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    Quote Originally Posted by alicestrong View Post
    I just recently watched this, even though it was made a couple of years ago. Are we closer to that reality now?

    http://www.organicconsumers.org/arti...icle_13347.cfm
    This was excellant!

    I had no idea we were running out of natural gas because most articles tend to center around oil. If we run out of natual gas, then everyone will simply fuel their homes with oil adding more users to a natural resource that's running out!

    I didn't think about it but they predicted (two years ago) we could not continue to grow once we are over the peak. It seems like everyone from the airlines to the automakers are in contraction. Interesting.
    Last edited by Dahon.Steve; 07-14-08 at 09:10 PM.

  15. #15
    tired donnamb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cosmoline View Post
    You can't get something from nothing. Oil was the planet's battery, formed over billions of years. Our demands on the battery are fast outstripping supply. Alternative energy sources require a great deal more effort and energy to obtain, and come at a trickle compared with gasoline. Folks (like GW) who imagine some magic new juice replacing cheap oil and gas are going to be sorely disappointed. There will of course be alternatives, but they will be expensive and hard to get.
    Amen, brother.
    "Real wars of words are harder to win. They require thought, insight, precision, articulation, knowledge, and experience. They require the humility to admit when you are wrong. They recognize that the dialectic is not about making us look at you, but about us all looking together for the truth."

  16. #16
    Cries on hills supton's Avatar
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    That's funny, as I've been thinking about moving *to* the suburbs lately--but it would be to cut down on the commute, and possibly start biking to work instead of driving. I guess the 'burbs I've seen are much smaller than elsewhere, having lived in NH and Maine since college.
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  17. #17
    Custom User Title cowtown_cowboy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CW Spook View Post
    Thanks for the morning laugh. That's one of the funniest articles I've read in a while. Of course, out here in the "poor and isolated" Great Plains, we don't get much to read and we have to save the paper to use in the outhouse. I'll be sure to read it to the horses while I'm hitching them to my JD combine.

  18. #18
    Custom User Title cowtown_cowboy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by grayloon View Post
    The good professor greatly exaggerates the death of the car. Not dead, just waiting for resuscitation with a new fuel.
    The problem is you're looking for new ways to keep having the same problems, rather than trying to live differently. It doesn't matter whether cars are filled with gas, diesel, or whatever, it's still a problem

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    Senior Member TuckertonRR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cosmoline View Post
    You can't get something from nothing. Oil was the planet's battery, formed over billions of years. Our demands on the battery are fast outstripping supply. Alternative energy sources require a great deal more effort and energy to obtain, and come at a trickle compared with gasoline. Folks (like GW) who imagine some magic new juice replacing cheap oil and gas are going to be sorely disappointed. There will of course be alternatives, but they will be expensive and hard to get.
    oil hasn't been the earth's battery, it's been mankind's for the past 100 years. the earth's battery is the core magma & the sun. we'll have to max out both if we hope to survive in any recognizable way in the coming century.

  20. #20
    In the right lane gerv's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bowcyclist View Post
    The problem is you're looking for new ways to keep having the same problems, rather than trying to live differently. It doesn't matter whether cars are filled with gas, diesel, or whatever, it's still a problem
    Few seem to recognize that a frenetic lifestyle being married to an automobile is much more of an issue than the price of gas. I recall as a young boy (I'm quite ancient now...) that a trip of 7 miles to a neighbouring town was considered a long trip. Nowadays, I ride that on my bike every morning. As a youth, I was able to live a good lifestyle. I read War and Peace. I saw the astronauts on the moon. I listened to rock and roll. But I did it all from a very small locale. I didn't drive to Chicago every other weekend...

  21. #21
    Recumbent Trike countersTrike's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by alicestrong View Post
    I just recently watched this, even though it was made a couple of years ago. Are we closer to that reality now?]
    Thanks for that link! When it first came out I saw a 'trailer' of it; and I thought "seen it all before" so I missed it. Now it seems very appropriate- forced downsizing- especially in CA.. Terrific watching financial downfalls and mortgage mess on TV news this morning and watching this- what perfect timing!

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