Oil Prices Aren't the Only Reason Sprawl is Dying

In this column, Richard Florida argues the decline in the popularity of suburbs is not just a product of rising oil prices, but a result of a new "spatial fix" that is reorganizing how and where people live their lives.

"One of the few things increasing as fast as the price of oil lately has been the amount of commentary linking higher energy costs to the death of suburbia. Clearly, higher gas prices have affected where people want – or can afford – to live. Just as the demand for SUVs plummets and consumers have finally begun to see the point of hybrids, people are turning away from sprawling exurbs toward urban neighbourhoods and inner suburbs."

"But what's happening here goes a lot deeper than the end of cheap oil. We are now passing through the early development of a wholly new geographic order – what geographers call "the spatial fix" – of which the move back toward the city is just one part."

"Suburbanization was the spatial fix for the industrial age – the geographic expression of mass production. Low-cost mortgages, massive highway systems and suburban infrastructure projects fueled the industrial engine of postwar capitalism, propelling demand for cars, appliances and all sorts of industrial goods."

"The creative economy is giving rise to a new spatial fix and a very different geography – the contours of which are only now emerging."

Full Story: The days of urban sprawl are over ...



Urban patterns don't die, they rise, decline, or evolve..

Not to be nitpicky, but I think planners and planning theorists need to start being more responsible with our terminology. Saying that Sprawl is dead or dying just leaves us open to critique by thinkers in the Joel Kotkin, Bruegermann camp. What if after a year of declining housing prices we see little or no change in movement?

Housing patterns take a long to time to evolve and adapt. People change jobs much more frequently than they change houses. Moving involves transaction costs, and considerations far beyond gas prices (schools, property taxes, community). If we, as planners, irresponsibly do a little happy jig at the prospect of rising gas prices, or sub prime meltdowns than we are no better than our intellectual adversaries who start spouting internal migration patterns that can be twisted into saying that everyone is moving to Phoenix!

If sprawl is dying it could be in its death throes for 10-20 years. My personal reading has lead me to feel that settlement patterns change quite incrementally. As researchers we should base our conclusions on observable data, and as advocates we should consider, as much as we can, adapting existing conditions to mitigate environmental degradation.

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