The car: burden of suburbia

This article from the Guardian picks up on an important consequence of rising oil prices – the private car, once a symbol of freedom is now becoming a burden. The inherent unsustainability of car-based suburbia is being exposed and they even go as far as to suggest that the suburbs may become the new slums:

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.

An interesting point is that no amount of persuasion has led to a shift in travel pattens such as car pooling or using public transport, its only when costs start to bite that we see changes in behaviour.

The question for engineers and urban designers is: how are we going to manage this shift?

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