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Revisiting ‘The End of Suburbia’

Back in January 2004 a documentary came out on the topic of peak oil. The title? The End of Suburbia. Produced in 2003 this film was out prior to Katrina (2005), An Inconvenient Truth (2006) and President Bush’s realization at the 2006 State of the Union address that we are “addicted to oil” At the films release in January 2004 gas was barely past a national average of a buck and a half. Mainstream media and the general population ignored the warnings offered. Alarmists, they were labeled.

The plot was simple, most Americans live in suburbia (aka sprawl) and much of our economy depends on new construction and thus the continuation of sprawl. That continued sprawl only works when we have cheap energy. Again gas was at a buck fifty at the time. The warning signs were all present — the fact we’ve never produced (or consumed) more oil. You see Peak Oil is not about running out, it is about reaching that high point in the production bell curve. Four years later I think we are at or beyond that peak point.

The producers have edited the 78-minute film down to 52 minutes and placed it on YouTube for all to enjoy:


I’ve yet to see the follow-up film, Escape from Suburbia, but it is at the top of my Netflix queue. Here is the trailer:


High gas prices are only the beginning. Higher food prices are already starting. The longer we as a society hold onto suburbia as the idealized American dream of a house in the ‘country’ the worse the transition will be. The good news is all those big front yards without street trees will be great for growing food. Although depending upon how much oil based chemicals (fertilizer & weed killer) were used I’m not sure I’d want to eat it.

Media reports now frequently talk about walkability, the housing bust in suburbia, and how many baby boomers are moving to urban cores for a lifestyle they never had. Locally we saw the collapse of Pyramid Companies downtown but we’ve also seen reports on suburban home builders with too much land and too few customers. Several of these big production builders have closed their doors as well. If you live in one of these unfinished subdivisions don’t look for new neighbors anytime soon, the supply of lots is well beyond expected demand. Much of the land bought for development into residential sprawl will remain undeveloped and in time will be returned to agricultural uses. The leap frog development patterns we’ve seen for the last decade are permanently over. Finished. Done.

The next decade will be a tough one as we transition from an economy centered on cheap energy to one that functions amid high energy costs.  It is not going to be pretty or quick, it will be slow & messy.  The poor will be impacted but to be honest they have less to lose and are more accustomed to facing adversity.  It is the guy with the million dollar starter McMansion that stands to lose what he thought would be a sure fire retirement plan.  The upper middle class will have a hard time adjusting.  Many of the rest of us are already starting to adjust, but will we be ready?     If not get ready because we are entering the period that will be known as the end of suburbia.


So How You Doin’? Watch the Video & Tune Into KDHX!

It has now been nearly seven weeks since I’ve been home from the hospital following my stroke on Feb 1st. I’ve been busy complaining about the absence of, the condition of or cars blocking ADA curb ramps. I’ve also resumed working, with a new listing of a two-family at 3880 Juniata. That, doing laundry and cooking my own meals is a lot. In the meantime friends & family are asking how I’m progressing. So, I made a video to show you:

Twice during my three month hospitalization I was a phone-in guest on KDHX’s Collateral Damage program.  Tonight, Monday June 16th at 7pm, I will return to the studio — no more phoning it in.    I’ll give host DJ Wilson an update on my recovery and we’ll talk about local development issues, including next week’s Preservation Board meeting.


Documentary Film About Pruitt-Igoe in the Making

June 13, 2008 Media, North City 12 Comments

Pruitt-Igoe and other failed urban renewal era projects are one of my personal areas of interest so when I got a request from a group of documentary film makers to help them find people to help tell the story of P-I I thought it a worthy goal. Here s their request:

Unicorn Stencil Documentary Films of Columbia, MO is preparing to produce a feature-length documentary film about the notorious public housing development Pruitt-Igoe.

When Pruitt-Igoe was built in St. Louis in 1954, it was hailed as a triumph of modern architecture and a prime example of post-WWII federalism’s ability to improve the lives of underserved citizens. When it was destroyed in the 1970’s, it represented the failure of American public housing and urban renewal. To this day, Pruitt-Igoe remains a controversial symbol of bureaucratic inefficiency, systemic racism and the struggle to solve the problem of poverty in America.

The Pruitt-Igoe Documentary will explore the social, economic, historic, cultural and architectural issues surrounding the conception, construction, expectations, degeneration and ultimate destruction of the Pruitt-Igoe public housing complex.

This is a pivotal story, not only for St. Louis’s history, but for the American urban experience. We seek to remove the layers of misconception and stereotype surrounding the development’s design, funding and tenant population.

We are seeking:

Former residents of Pruitt-Igoe who have interesting stories to tell about life in the developments.

Anyone interested in contributing visual or audible artifacts (obviously photos and films are most beneficial) that would assist in the telling of the story of Pruitt-Igoe

We will begin production in July. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated!

Best regards,
Chad Freidrichs

Contact: Chad Freidrichs
Unicorn Stencil Documentary Films

I think the story of the Polish immigrants who were displaced for the construction of Pruitt-Igoe is an important part of the story. I think we’ll also find individuals that have fond memories of living at Pruitt-Igoe, despite the conditions.


Patterson on KDHX’s Collateral Damage program tonight, April 28th 7pm

April 28, 2008 Media 4 Comments

Like last month, I will be a phone guest on KDHX’s Collateral Damage program, at 7pm this evening (April the 28th). You can tune in at 88.1FM in the St Louis area or listen online at kdhx.org.

Last month host DJ Wilson and I talked about what it was like to have a stroke and my progress in rehab to that point — at the time I had only arrived at Missouri Rehabilitation a few days earlier after nearly a month at SSM Rehab/St Mary’s Hospital which itself followed a few weeks in ICU at Sy Louis University Hospital.

From kdhx.org:

Steve Patterson, the indefatigable blogmeister of www.urbanreviewstl.com, returns to Collateral Damage at 7 p.m. Monday night, April 28th. Patterson continues his recovery from a stroke and while typing one-handed beat the mainstream media by almost a week on the troubles at John Steffen’s Pyramid development company. Listen Monday night for Patterson’s take on what Pyramid’s financial crisis means for downtown St. Louis, and beyond.

In addition to talking about Pyramid’s closure and what that means to downtown & the city we will touch on the San Luis Apartments on Lindell — specifically that no matter what you may think of the building it is better than a surface parking lot.  I will also be sharing with everyone the date in which I return to St Louis and to my own place.


Guest on KDHX tonight

March 24, 2008 Media 3 Comments

Tonight I will be a guest on Collateral Damage with host DJ Wilson. I will be on the phone, not in studio – duh. Tune into 88.1 at 7pm tonight.