Tidepool‘s top story today offers a local angle on the headline dominating the news: “$3 a gallon.” The Oregonian examines the current energy policy debate in Congress, highlighting the roles Republican Gordon Smith and Democrat Ron Wyden are playing in the U.S. Senate. There are plenty more “$3-a-gallon” articles today. The Los Angeles Times publishes a dispatch from Alaska, where oil greases government, industry and residents’ pocketbooks. In the commentary section, a member of Portland Peak Oil argues that cities need to play a role in keeping consumer costs down by investing in housing density and mass transit.
I recommend a national article with some eye-opening findings on a regional trend: The New York Times discovers that California is full of horribly unaffordable places to live. In fact, Santa Rosa, California makes the no. 3 most-expensive spot on the list. (There’s great map with the article, FYI). This is not just a California problem, of course. The Post-Intelligencer reports that home prices have hit record highs in Seattle. And let’s not forget that Vancouver has the highest housing prices in Canada. Hmmm … Kansas City is sounding more appealing to this Northwest transplant—I know someone who bought a house in there (needing serious work) for $25,000. Of course, you can forget about density and mass transit in that city.
Perhaps some of our region’s walkable and public-transportation-friendly cities, like Vancouver and Seattle, are more affordable than you might think if you don’t have to drive or own a car.
Not owning a car, of course, is not possible for 99.5% of people in this country. Alright, I exaggerate: 98.5%. So taking that away, our cities are desirable places to be, hence prices are bid up by the people who can afford to choose to live where there are amenitites and who can stand density. Coastal cities are desirable, and so prices are bid up. Nothing new there. Until decent, timely transit is re-funded (replacing that which was removed post-WWI), and our live-work spaces are separated, folks won’t have much choice but to drive autos.
Sigh…that should read and our live-work spaces are no longer separated. DS
Actually, about 10% of US households don’t have cars, as of the last census. See: http://www.trbcensus.com/newsltr/sr0103.pdf.That said, it’s likely that many of those households are poor, and would likely choose to have cars if they could afford them. But not all of them. Plenty of middle- to upper-income folks in major US metro areas with good transit decide that they can get by without cars.
Living closer in may mean you only need one car, not two, which could save around $500/mo. for those who have car payments on two cars for commuting and lots of gas. That could explain some of the premium on city housing, though of course there are zillions of other factors.
.Clark,About 1/5 of all US carless HHs are in New York metro area (pp 1-13+), and transit usage has declined in every census since 1960 in the ABAG report (Fig 1.18).While I appreciate the sentiment that carless is great, it’s just not realistic for normal people – I’m an avid bicyclist, but I bought a vehicle about 3 months after I moved out here because I just couldn’t do it any more. And I hate driving. And our current separation of live-work space conjoined with poor transit options means that unless most normal people have extra time to spend on transit, they won’t make that trade-off, because gas is too cheap [we can see this trend to SOVs in the link I provided]. When we get to more expensive gas, then you’ll see a certain percentage of people moving to the city, and those people who can afford living in a place with lots of amenities demanding space there, not before (as no one will invest in a building that will sit empty). The others – those who can’t or won’t move to cities (~30-50% who don’t like cities**) – won’t, and we’ll need to think about them too as cities depopulate in a low-carbon future, as these folks will be the people building our stuff and growing our food*** and teaching our children. Dan Staley** I can’t seem to find that large preference survey that someone had recently that showed 40% of folk don’t care for density…where is that…*** Unless something radical happens and we actually pay the people who grow our food what they’re worth, instead of what the market will bear..