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The St Louis Region Over The Next 50 Years

July 3, 2008 Economy, Environment, STL Region, Suburban Sprawl 42 Comments

The last 50 years saw our region (and most regions nationally) flee the inner city, and eventually inner ring ‘streetcar’ suburbs for the newly developing auto-centric sprawl of suburbia. The coming 50 years will be radically different. The following are my thoughts on the changes we’ll see by the close of the first half of the 21st Century.

We already know that by 2050 the U.S. is expected to grow by a third, going from 300 million to 400 million. We have no reason to believe the desires and values of the 1950s will be the same in the 2050s, the 1950s were certainly different than the 1850s.

The decision makers in 1950 were likely born around 1900. The cities of their youth were a polluted places. Many cities in the first half of the 20th century could be as dark as night due to think smoke from coal fired furnaces. Cities were literally dirty places. All the jobs & retail were in the city so one had little choice but to go to the city.  That generation changed everything to get themselves away from the city center.
The American dream of the single family detached home surrounded by a lush lawn and two cars in the garage will cease to be the dream for most Americans by 2050. The further we get into the period of high energy costs the more people will realize the folly of hoping in the car to head 3 miles to a big box supermarket, or anywhere for that matter. Of course in the future that big box supermarket may not exist.

Agribusiness, I believe, will collapse as the cost to produce and ship food great distances will cripple their business plan. Food will become more local out of fiscal necessity.

As we transition from a world a cheap energy to one where energy is very costly much will change.  Wal-Mart too will collapse as they struggle to offer consumers cheap goods shipped from halfway around the world.  Their vast parking lots in suburbia will be increasingly empty, just like their shelves.

Alternatively I think by 2050 we’ll see the 200,000sf Wal-Mart Supercenter break up and be replaced with the Wal-Mart main street. One walkable street connected to adjacent residential and lined with a number of Wal-Mart specialty stores such as pharmacy, grocery, clothing, electronics and so on.    This won’t happen in some corn field but along an arterial currently lined with fast food shacks and cinder block & dryvit strip centers.   Municipalities will see this as the only way to create main street type retail to serve their residents.  It may be Wal-Mart or it might be whatever retailers come along after they crash & burn.
Rolling blackouts to deal with demand for electricity will shape generations being born now.  They will also be shaped by the high price of gas.  Just as the generation from 1900 looked with envy at the wealthy who had large homes in places just outside the city like Webster Groves the generation being born now but raised in car required sprawl will be envious of those with the option to walk a few blocks to work, or to get daily goods & services.  Indeed it will be the wealthy who will first place themselves in the new emerging urban enclaves.
Over the next half century manufacturing will return to the U.S. As transportation costs mount we will begin to see that the cheap item made in China or the head of lettuce grown in Southern California will be more costly than the same thing made or grown closer to home.

As a future Urban Planner this is an exciting time. The next decade or so will be rough but beyond that we’ll see the re-urbanization of the St Louis region and in regions across the country. I’m not suggesting the entire population of the region will live & work with the boundaries of the City of St Louis. What I am suggesting is that in addition to the city our inner-ring suburbs and a few after that will add population and will take on new forms to reflect the market demand for “walkable urbanism.” The single-family detached homes may remain but the commercial arterial roads, now littered with fast food joints, will get mixed-use urban form buildings.

The large vinyl-clad McMansions of suburbia may get reconfigured to house more than one single family.  Lawns will become vegetable gardens.  Those places farthest away from a main street and/or transit (ie: requiring a drive to get there) will be unwanted.   Children raised in these conditions will long for urbanism when they seek places on their own.
The municipality of Dardene Prairie in St Charles County is already taking the right steps to stay relevant.  They are in the process of creating a walkable downtown on vacant commercial land between existing cul-de-sac subdivisions.  When built out in say 20 years that will serve to connect now disconnected subdivisions.  Creve Coeur is also working on a downtown plan.  Much of what Urban Planners will be doing over the next few decades is retrofitting sprawl with mass transit and walkable urbanism.  These places won’t have 10+ story buildings for blocks but they will have 2-5 story buildings opening directly to the street.
Future road projects will not center on how much traffic volume can be accommodated but how to make stretches of road more hospitable to pedestrians and cyclists, the opposite of today’s big projects like I-64.

In 2050 I will turn 83 years old.  Thus I may only see the start of this transformation.  Hopefully I will play a role in the process from suburbia to urbanism.  In 2050 my great-niece will be 52 and her younger brother will be 46.  Their adult lives won’t be about driving everywhere.   They may never need a car.

The problem is that today’s leadership is stuck on fulfilling the dreams of their grandparents generation, only making it bigger and more sprawling.  The mounting energy crisis is going to test everyone’s idea of the ideal built environment.  Those municipalities that embrace the increasing demand for urbanism will fare better than those that don’t.  As a region our growth will depend upon the actions within tons of small municipalities on both sides of the river.  How we are perceived by those outside our region will become important as we try to get manufacturing jobs that return stateside.

The City of St Louis divorced itself from St Louis County in 1876 and in the coming decades that may prove to benefit the city.  If, in the coming decades, we rebuild much of our now-vacant areas in a dense urban model we can repopulate the city and attract great new jobs.   Not being part of a county will give the city the freedom to go its own direction while ignoring potential sprawl holdouts in the balance of the region.  Of course I’m afraid the pro-sprawl holdouts may still be in charge in city government.

As we face an uncertain future regarding energy I’m nonetheless optimistic about the future and the role I may play in shaping cities over the next 40 years or so.


Currently there are "42 comments" on this Article:

  1. John M. says:

    Bring on the change, I agree with some of what you say andI hope I am here to see it. Damn futurists got it wrong again, where is my flying car?

  2. stlmark says:

    Awesome post. This could be your “I have a dream” speech.

  3. James R. says:

    I share your optimism for the quality of life after cheap and easy oil. I just wish I could skip the whole transition part. Maybe I’m just more pessimistic about the pain involved in that change. I don’t think people will give up on their suburban American dream and private motorized transportation until every single option (ethanol, ANWAR, Nukes, Iran/Iraq, hydrogen, electric, used french fry oil, etc.) is exhausted. And the world will be a much poorer place by that point.

  4. john w. says:

    We’ll still be dealing with Wal-Mart in 2050? Damn.

  5. megamike says:

    I too am not upbeat about the foreseeable future. I lived in St. Louis between 1978-98 than left for Florida and will be returning to St. Louis next month. Florida is a disaster. Yes the beaches are nice (at least here on the west coast) but the economy is in shambles and the people, well the people are not cohesive by that I mean there is little or no neighborhood feel. Than there are the cars, millions of them with little no alternative transportation. It was very sad to see the mayor of Tampa recently going on a fact finding tour of other cities light rail systems. Ha! The Tampa bay region is at least ten years behind in any realistic mass transit plan. So I sold my home here in Florida (yes I sold) and being the typical boomer I am downsizing and reinvesting back in St. Louis (near a metro link station) I know what I am up against the crime, politics’s, et-ctera. But after ten years in “paradise” I have had enough.

  6. southsider says:

    It took 50 years to destroy the City and will take a similar time to restore some glory. Reordering the excessive taxation would make things happen a lot faster (earnings tax, licenses and business taxes). In regards energy, recall the mass access to auto only occurred post WWI to mid century. I assume an alternative will present itself should oil become permanently expensive. I am doubtful of that right now. Large expansion of clean coal and nuclear seem to be the most realistic alternative right now.

    Our future will depend largely on intellectual prowess (education, biotech, hitech, and medtech) not manufacturing. And thank godness for it, these are clean operations as well as high paying.

    Safe to assume whatever the future holds our wealth and standard of living will be unimaginatively larger then today.

    [slp — manufacturing must come back to the US, we won’t be able to afford to ship stuff in anymore.  New manufacturing facilities will be cleaner than those long ago shuttered.] 

  7. ted funkhouser says:

    That was very very interesting. I wonder what role Race and Class will play in 2050. People want very much to feel safe. It will not help much to have a “walkable area” to live, work, and do business, if it is conceived to be or virtually is not safe to walk! I truly love my neighborhood, Dutchtown/Mount Pleasant, but I think the Racial animosity and distrust is palpable when I walk. One can actually see in the stares of the people passing by, or at the bus stops, or on their porches or in their yards. Sometimes, I feel like an intruder, making me want to say this is your neighborhood, mine also, our neighborhood! One sees very few White people walking, although I imagine they make up at least half of the residents, maybe more. I do not have the statistics on that. I also wonder what you think the Public School System will look like in 2050. As it is now, basically, the only White people in the neighborhood, who enroll their children in Public School ,do so because they financially cannot do otherwise. Maybe that is true of Black people also. I am not saying that is right or good, but, it is just the reality of it all. I guess I am digressing, but, this all fits into the concept of a viable, walkable community. I try not to dwell on the negatives. I wish I some good ideas how to make it better.

    Recently a friend from Tennessee, who, in her suburban neighborhood really enjoys taking walks around dusk, asked me if I felt comfortable walking at that time of day in my neighborhood. My reply, ABSOLUTELY not. I don’t feel too comfortable even in broad daylight! Her response, “well, I certainly would not like that”! That sort of summed my thoughts on the matter.

    Keep up the good work.

  8. Jim Zavist says:

    Successful urban areas continue to evolve. I wouldn’t bet on St. Louis being the only success and the suburbs just whithering away. More likely, you’ll see more Claytons and St. Charles’s and even the O’Fallon’s, where former crossroads and farm towns “grow up” and become more dense, creating employment and commercial nodes across the region. Much like how agribusiness may be a flawed model, so is the need for 30+ story highrises, either for office or residential uses. Greater density at an appropriate and sustainable human scale is likely the best answer.

    [slp — agreed, I think the older inner ring suburbs will come out of this better than today.  It is the far away sprawl of suburbia that is not going to do so well.  I’m thinking places like Wentzville which is 40 miles from downtown.] 

  9. john w. says:

    Large migration out of or into another area isn’t likely to happen, but rather the fundamental change in form that provides the truly sustainable qualities of 100+ year-old railroad suburbs like Webster Groves and Kirkwood, will happen. A large migration out of the ‘burbs on the scale of the exodus from the inner cities that followed WW-II and the new attendant federal programs (G.I. Bill individually, Interstate Hwy Act collectively, et al) would have the ‘burbs ironically suffering the same fate of the inner cities before, and our existing cores couldn’t hope to contain in the influx. Life in the inner city had become aggravating for many, in a time largely devoid of the type of land development and building safety regulation that now governs (both good and bad, but mostly bad), and the aggravations that led most to take advantage of the new federal programs and their relative economic mobility don’t really exist in present-day suburbs, save for any long auto commutes for those whose jobs remain afar. The inarguable unsustainability of current sprawl pattern development is what will drive the transition, and with the apparently permanent shift from cheap gas the U.S. so recently took for granted to fuel prices closer to the European par we’ll be seeing the inevitable transition speed up. I live in the Maplewood area, and this re-emerging 100+ year-old municipality exhibits exactly what was right about the balanced interrelationships between residential and commerce, and its walkability, desirable housing type, and attractively historic core is eminently what has many people moving there. I would expect those sprawled exurbs like St. Peters and certainly ‘burbs built by developers in the more recent decades (Ballwin, Chesterfield, et al) to identify nodes comprised of existing street intersections that have the ability to be captured and redefined in the form Steve describes in his author post above, and these nodes will visibly take shape long, long before 2050.

    [slp — Agreed, there will not be a huge shift in population but the growth will happen in existing areas, not on the extreme edge as has been the case for too long.  There are countless places in the city, in inner ring burbs and among the sprawl where densification will occur.] 

  10. john w. says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few upcoming journall issues from the ULI in Urban Land magazine focusing on just such existing street intersection nodes that could credibly evolve quickly into merchant cores within walking distance of established housing subdivisions. My parents live in the Clarkson Woods subdivision in Chesterfield, and I can see a few instances where the current mode of driving the 4-lane collector street to Dierberg’s in the strip center could be augmented by bringing smaller merchant buildings up to the street edge along those collector streets leading to the strip centers on busier arteries. Simply building out to the street edge in present mercantile developments (strip centers OR enclosed malls) obviously won’t change much behavior because the connectivity of home to merchant will still be nonexistant. What we should want, and need those living in developer-built subdivisions to understand, is that the connectivity of parts of a larger whole should be attractive, accessible and safe. Think of Baxter Road between Clayton and Clarkson Roads being lined with SMALLER merchant buildings, ultimately connecting the many single-family homes in the immediate subdivisions to both the east and west of this winding route to the commercial center at the intersection of Clarkson and Baxter Roads (where the Dierberg’s and Starbucks is located in the strip center). This is the type of suburban infill that will most likely enable the existing ‘burbs to appropriate the form that will allow them to endure.

  11. I seriously doubt that manufacturing will come back to the United States. You believe that the cost of shipping will outweigh the benefit of cheap labor and relaxed regulation which exists in China and India? What about places like Taiwan which manufacture a lot of our computer circuits? Do you see that coming here?

  12. john w. says:

    You seriously doubt the manufacturing jobs that have already left will return to the U.S. If our patterns of consumption shifts toward things that could conceivably rely solely on American technology, extraction, manufacture and implementation then it’s a different story.

  13. Jim Zavist says:

    Two words – Tysons Corner
    We’re gonna grow – the question is how. One of the densest areas (people per square mile) in the country is the LA basin, yet little of it is perceived to represent leading edge urban planning. And while we’re certainly not LA or Orange County, our recent history suggests that more people are buying into that kind of “solution” (Wentzville, Chesterfield, both O’Fallons, etc.) than are moving back into the city.
    Personally, the one big challenge I see to kick starting an urban renaisance here is simply a lack of, in industry terms, interesting product. Whether it’s new mid-rise condos, office buildings or senior living options, most everything being built now seems to be boring, “safe”, traditional, and, many times, cheaply made. I don’t know if it’s because we’re in the midwest or because we haven’t seen any real boom over the last couple of decades, but I can find a lot more interesting stuff being built in places like Atlanta, Chicago, San Diego, parts of Florida, Phoenix and Denver, to name just a few, than I can find here.
    If there’s no reason to think outside the box/take a risk simply because you’re “playing” in a market that isn’t overly competetive, what you see is what you get. The nearest thing we’ve seen recently, at least that’s affordable, is New Town St. Charles, and I can’t stand the location, even though the designs are creative, in a Stepford Wives sort of way. The one project that I wish we would see a lot more of is 4545 Lindell (http://4545living.com/), only at about half the price. And as I’ve said many times before, we have to figure out how to grow our public transit system – untile we get people out of their cars, the need for parking will negatively impact too many local design decisions!

  14. john w. says:

    Imagine if the rail travel industry, perhaps assisted analogously by freight shipping over rail rather than OTR as competitive alternate, were to grow rapidly in the U.S. as competitive alternate to private automotive transit as a direct result of permanent high fuel prices. This rail travel industry would include the full hierarchy of service (high speed national and regional, light rail urban and suburban commuter, and even streetcars. The new systems would obviously include the construction of corridors and the laying of the many thousands of miles of tracks, but also the service and maintenance positions, and the cottage industrial innovations that will spring about as a result of the regularity of business commuting. The local business (around TODs, for instance) sustenance, system maintenance jobs and service position offerings would obviously be domestic, but I’d like to believe that the so-called enterprising American spirit would keep the technology of the types of vessels domestic as well. Rail transit is only one aspect of infrastructural redevelopment, other than automotive transit roadway expansion, that is a real viable channel of economic reinvestment. Are we, as a nation, honestly saying we’re no longer capable of having and sustaining a manufacturing-based segment of our economy that would allow those without high tech and professional degrees equitable access to stability?

  15. southsider says:

    A related article in the WSJ today telling of the insular Baltimore city tax structure that has contributed to its post war decline. Baltimore you may be aware share a very similar political balkanization structure with St Louis:


    Regarding manufacturing, it is my understanding that US manufacturing while shedding jobs is doing remarkably well in terms of gross out put, i.e. productivity. Energy costs my repatriate some jobs but I doubt it until foreign wages match domestic wages. No time soon. Finally most mfg. jobs are b.s. work that and educated workforce shies away from.

  16. john w. says:

    If a manufacturing job provided the living wage needed to own property and raise a family with security, and actually got closer to the true idea of what the ‘American Dream’ actually is, which is to prosper DOING WHAT YOU WANT TO DO, then I would hardly classify that type of job as “b.s. work”. Not that long ago, a solid percentage of jobs in this country, as opposed to any job requiring a collegiate degree or exclusive training, provided the living wage needed to own property and raise a family with security.

  17. southsider says:

    I don’t discount that mfg jobs and St. Louis own sweatshop jobs (International Shoe et al) provided an avenue out for a generation or so of immigrant and unskilled labor. Nor do I want to sell short the skilled trades and crafts as they will always be needed and are a great alternative for the less academically inclined, but the topic here is future prosperity and generally this will be gained by post secondary educated workforce in high end occupations.

    A common goal of the working class was a college educated child and not vice versa.

  18. john w. says:

    …but, of course, the goal was never to prefer a country where their very own means of secure existence was to be irretrievably outmoded, and fail to see how you could possibly be arguing that. While ‘a common goal’ of the working class was college educated children, THE common goal was clearly to continue to live life in the stability of the world they knew while giving all they could to their jobs.

  19. Otto says:

    I too am hopeful that the urban core will be a beneficiary of rising energy costs. But the benefits will be short-lived (20 years or so). Now that energy is becoming more and more scarce, we are starting to see the infusion of R & D capital into alternative energy that we should have seen 20 years ago. For the first time, there is real money in alternative fuels and fuel efficiency. It’s more likely that we will develop a fuel source other than oil, rather than abandon motorized transportation.

  20. john w. says:

    We already had a political platform in place in 1977 when Carter took office, and so I’d say the mechanism was ready 30 years ago and we’ve done nothing but waste valuable time since. Motorized transportation will not be abandoned, but rather it will find company from the multi-modal array relieving its unnecessary solitary role as mover of people. It’s just ridiculous how paralyzed this nation could become because it can’t manage to simply look back a few generations to see the obvious solutions. The new alternative technologies should not simply become paradigm-come-lately but rather accompany the systems of a not long past that proved their worth as workhouse providers of transit. Bring ’em back.

  21. Nick Kasoff says:

    Close, but no cigar. People will demand, and science will develop, technologies to sustain the life they want to live. A massive expansion of nuclear power, and a slow conversion to hydrogen or other electricity-based automobiles, will take care of the expensive gas problem. Sure, some people will choose to live in Ferguson instead of De Soto. But in the long run, it’ll be because they figure out that spending three hours a day commuting is idiotic, and that shopping in the same stores as black people isn’t necessarily horrible.
    If we are serious about reviving the urban parts of St. Louis, the first step is to quit building infrastructure to accomodate the exurbs. So long as we continue to extend and widen the highways, people will continue to move.
    Finally, while I know there are many here who have strong feelings about locally grown food, energy prices will never be a driving force toward consumption of locally grown products. Transportation consumes only 4% of our food cost, while labor takes 38%. By cutting labor costs, large mechanized farms will always produce less expensive produce, and shifting transportation from truck to rail will help compensate for increasing fuel prices.

  22. Jim Zavist says:

    Until we take a more regional look at planning, we will continue to make too many poor choices: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/07/04/AR2008070402577.html

  23. john w. says:

    I’d feel more comfortable knowing that certain inefficiencies were the result of labor costs, because I’d rather know that those who work will actually be paid for their effort and time. Large mechanized farms of the corporage agribusiness model will continue to rely on chemical pesticides, ultimately poisoning downstream water bodies and even the ground directly beneath the crop itself.

  24. Kevin says:

    All this talk about mass movement to city centers seems ridiculous to me. If transportation becomes unafordable (not there yet in my opinion), then people will be most concerned about where their job is located. Most people I know go to the grocery store once a week, but they go to work almost every day. A crisis in transportation cost will lead people to live closer to work. And of all the people I know, almost nobody works in the city limits. The jobs left long ago to the business parks in the suburbs. I see in the future people moving closer to these entities rather than back to the urban core. Unless there becomes a reason for jobs to move back to the city it will not become the center of the region in the future. I see the future with more mass transit connecting the region that is still vastly spread out compared to the past.

  25. john w. says:

    Kevin, I don’t think anyone in this thread was forecasting a mass movement back to the city centers, but rather a fundamental change in land development form over areas already developed. The areas already developed would include both historic city cores and the suburban periphery. What seems to be the consensus is that the current PATTERN of development that prevails in the suburbs (and unfortunately has been retrofitted to previously more densely built and populated historic city land) is unsustainable, and this is true even without the now incredibly high fuel prices. The more the population increases and land continues to be developed within the areas already developed, and eliminating further sprawl pattern growth beyond what’s been developed, you begin to see both the ‘burbs AND the historic cores becoming more populated. The telescopic spread of growth radiating concentrically from historic cores must be curtailed, and the resultantly denser [metropolitan areas] will achieve what you have described regarding proximity to critical services and jobs.

  26. James R. says:

    Nick, are you really willing to count on some ‘scientific majic bullet’ that will allow us to continue our ‘american way of life’? How do you build those massive nuclear plants? How do you produce they hydrogen? People may demand cheap, portable, abundant, clean energy all they want, but it doesn’t mean they are going to get it. No alternative energies, alone or in combination, can come anywhere close to providing what we currently have with fossil fuels. Sure there’s still a lot of ideas in the works, but it’s foolish to think we will be able to mantain the status quo. It’s time to realize that we need to retool our society (and land useage) to ‘make the shoe fit the leather (of available energy)’ rather than keep waiting for a bigger cow to come along.
    And energy will most certainly be a driving force in food production an fertilizers and pesticides are all made by fossil fuels, not to mention farm equipment. It’s been estimated that each calorie of food requires 9 calories of fossil fuels. Not sustainable.

  27. Nick Kasoff says:

    James R. – Yes, I am willing to count on technological progress continuing to allow Americans to live comfortable lives. Why? Because technology has done so for hundreds of years. I’m barely over 40, but can still remember when we had one phone, on the kitchen wall, and a long distance call was an expensive thing. Now, I phone family in other states from my cell phone while I’m out for a walk. I remember when a VCR was huge and cost a thousand dollars. Now, you can watch a DVD on a little portable player that costs a hundred bucks. I remember when I had to drive to a client to make changes to their software. Now, I can connect from home, and it’s as fast as if I was sitting at his desk.
    Technology will continue to allow us to live better, but not because it will simply equip us to live the same way that we do now. Increasing energy costs, and the retirement of managers who don’t think you are working unless they see you at a desk outside their office, will result in a great increase in telecommuting. This will make it less relevant than ever whether you live in the suburbs. Suburban commuter highways will be empty not because people don’t live there anymore, but because the need to make two long car trips a day will no longer exist for many workers.
    Of course, some will come to prefer living in more densely developed areas. I happen to be one of them. From my home, I can walk to two grocery stores, the municipal pool, several parks, the post office, a coffee shop, numerous restaurants, and city hall. I am within a block of several bus lines. There are weeks where I don’t drive at all. But others prefer a more suburban community, and technology will ultimately make it possible.
    I believe that even suburbia will change, but not because of an energy crisis. Rather, people will eventually realize that most of what is built there is UGLY. This is already happening – even the facade of a new Walmart is much more attractive than one built twenty years ago. Eventually, people will realize that urban commercial development is a beautiful and functional thing, and we’ll see more of it, and less of the ugly strip malls. Here in Ferguson, our central business district is slowly shifting from ugly suburban to beautiful new urban, thanks to our Joe Lonero. His most recent two developments are multi-level mixed-use buildings with the parking behind, just like God intended it.

  28. GMichaud says:

    While I agree that technology can help America get out of the mess it is in, still the sheer inefficiency of our lives cannot go on forever. Even if some new energy source arrives so we can still squander energy on a massive scale eventually our lack of sustainability will haunt us. As cited above you cannot continue to consume 9 calories of energy to produce 1 calorie of food. It sounds simple, but the ramifications are enormous.

    I also agree that creating new city centers throughout the suburbs as work, live places is an avenue to a more sensible planning model. Still everything in America is so one automobile dimensional that it is going to be difficult for these areas to change. Infrastructures costs are a major factor also and should be included, maybe even abandoning swaths of land as new suburban walking centers are created.
    For instance the Old Mueller Organic Farm in Ferguson should stay that way, rather than be redeveloped as housing or in any other way.
    Naturally cries of capitalism will emerge, but either way the government is calling the policy shots.

    On the whole I am optimistic, but the general tendency of government to serve corporate interests makes me leery. If energy problems continue to be acute anything can happen.

  29. john w. says:

    This is an excellent blog.

  30. James R. says:

    Nick, I’m afraid you are confusing technology with energy. While your examples are correct, and even the efficiency of the individual items listed has increased, our useage of energy has also increased. In 1960 when everyone was using a rotary phone and the VCR was still a dream, the US was using roughly 10 million barrels of oil per day. In 1995, 17.7 and in 2005, 20.7 million barrels/day. Thus, per capital oil usage has increased from 20 barrels/person/year in 1960 to 25 barrels/person/year in 2005. And this is only oil. Our overall useage of all energy; oil, natural gas, coal, etc. is up and continues to increase. This is called the Jevons Paradox – as technological improvements increase the efficiency with which a resource is used, total consumption of that resource tends to increase, rather than decrease.
    You mention that people will stay at home and telecommute fom the suburbs rather than coming in to an office, thus saving the cost of driving. Is that really better? Now the home useage of electricity for running the computer and AC increases due to people staying home. Is that more efficient than people coming in to the office? I don’t know. And those people still have to drive for all of their other needs.
    Technology is great but it is not the same as energy and it requires energy to function. I don’t want to see technology go away. I rather like the internet, antibiotics, and modern dentistry, but I know we must decrease our energy consumption to have any chance of keeping some of these nice things going. We have no choice but to power down, and our living arrangements and land use patterns are the best way to do that.

  31. john w. says:

    …I’m guessing that means not building a bunch more Wal-Marts.

  32. Jim Zavist says:

    We’re using more energy and sprawling simply because our population continues to grow, at an 0.88% annual rate, which compounds over time. Increasing our popualtion by a third every 30-40 years impacts everything, a lot . . .

  33. James R. says:

    Population growth is a serious problem and many feel the source of all the critical problems we are facing. To learn more listen to this lecture: http://globalpublicmedia.com/dr_albert_bartlett_arithmetic_population_and_energy
    But, that’s not what I’m saying, Jim. To restate, our per capita oil useage continues to grow. While not a tremendous amount, the date I have listed above shows a 25% increase in 45 years – or around 1/2% per year, it certainly adds up over time.

  34. Jim Zavist says:

    Sprawl compounds our oil-use dilemma – vehicle miles traveled increase exponentially. If 800,000 people still lived in St. Louis City, instead of 350,000, our regional demand for gas would drop significantly. Instead, we’re all driving 5-10-20 miles each way to work, instead of walking, biking or taking transit for a mile or two or three. We’re somewhat lucky here that growth is slower than in many other parts of the country – having seen what’s happening in places like Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and Florida, where growth has been, until recently, explosive, the reality of population growth becomes much clearer. It negatively impacts many resources – oil, water, air, open space and highways, to name just a few. And the US isn’t growing as rapidly as the rest of the world – oil consumption in “developing” countries is increasing much, much more rapidly than it is here. ZPG probably isn’t a goal any natioj is going to embrace, but unless and until we slow down growth, we’re just headed to an inevitable battle over limited resources . . .

  35. john w. says:

    Amen, but is it a matter of a policy implementation similar to that of China (limitations to one child in developed areas)?

  36. Jim Zavist says:

    I agree, making ZPG an “official” national policy is a non-starter. And the reality is that as nations become more technologically advanced, birth rates tend to drop off. The challenge we face as a nation is balancing birth rates with imigration (both legal and illegal) along with the reality that growth is a significant driver in the national economy, everything from developers to appliance and furniture manufacturers to governments in search of new revenues. The other challenge is encouraging growth where it makes more sense (greater density in etablished urban areas) and discouraging it where it makes little sense (floodplains, barrier islands or semi-arid areas with no defined or consistent water supplies).

  37. Jesda says:

    Doom and gloom is the easy way to predict the future.

    It was once believed that we wouldn’t be able to feed the world, but technological advancements in agriculture solved that problem… at least for the last hundred years. Maybe the next hundred will be different.

    I’m optimistic.

  38. john w. says:

    …an interesting article, echoing many points made by many in this thread: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/25722409/page/2/

  39. Jim Zavist says:

    From LA LA land . . . somewhat related, and certainly an interesting perspective from the capital of sprawl: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-fastfood23-2008jul23,0,6631786.story

  40. john w. says:

    The obviousness factor is about at 10 points out of possible 10 points…


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