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Kunstler Continues to Push Peak Oil Issues

James Howard Kunstler, author of now-classic books, The Geography of Nowhere and Home from Nowhere is pushing the peak oil issue on his blog which is known as Clusterfuck Nation.

Kunstler’s entry from today addresses the foolish thinking that hybrids will allow us to continue our auto-dominated society:

“The truth is that it does not really matter whether the freeways are crammed full of SUVs or nimble hybrid cars. The problem is car-dependency and the infrastructure for daily living predicated on it, not the kind of vehicles we run. I have yet to hear one US senator of either party propose that part of the recent $300 billion highway bill ought to be redirected to rebuilding America’s passenger rail system — even after the bitter lesson of Katrina, which demonstrated that people who don’t own cars can’t get out of harm’s way in this country.”

Kunstler’s latest book, The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-first Century, is on my reading list. From what I’ve read from the blog so far Kunstler is highly pessimistic about the future. Although maybe he is simply being realistic?

First up is home heating costs for this winter. It will be a serious issue and tragically we’ll have stories here in St. Louis of people dying because they couldn’t afford to heat their homes. But high natural gas prices will lead to higher electricity costs. Both will mean higher costs of goods and services. Can you say recession?

As a region we simply cannot continue subsidizing sprawl. All the experts predict the number of cars and auto congestion will continue to increase. I disagree. Within 20 years our auto ownership and traffic congestion will be less than, or equal, to today.

Yet our political leadership is moving ahead on massive auto subsidizing projects while more sustainable transportation projects take a back seat. The rebuilding of I-64 (highway farty to natives) and a new Mississippi River Bridge are just two examples.

Based on cost estimates to build two miles of street car lines connecting the Loop to Forest Park you can get about fives times as much coverage with street cars over light rail. For a cool billion dollars we can get a new bridge, the proposed Northside & Southside MetroLink extensions or 4-5 times as many street car lines covering much of the city. Currently the bridge is the highest priority. It should be the last priority.

The claim is we need the bridge and auto capacity to grow our economy. This, of course, assumes the cheap gas auto economy we’ve been used to. My feeling is we need to shift away from subsidizing the dead-end auto “experiment” and build a first-class mass transit system. Reactionaries will attempt to read into my views that I want to ban all cars from St. Louis but that is not the case. I want to shift the balance back to a sustainable means of moving people from place to place. That is walking, biking, and street cars.

Twenty years from now large McMansions in Chesterfield will be vacated like homes of Lafayette Square were thirty years ago. The difference will be that the vinyl clad boxes in suburbia will not be worth saving. Transit will be the key and the wealthier will move closer to mass transit and the poor will be left on the fringes struggling to get to jobs. Bedroom communities will be the hardest hit and will become the new ghettos. At least the poor can now get on a bus (or several buses) and get to the jobs. In the future we’ll finally have mass transit for the wealthier in the core and the poor will be on the edge with substandard service as they try to get back into the core for work. The new Mississippi River Bridge will be little comfort.

Man, I’m as pessimistic as Kunstler!

So what do we do? Again, I think we need to move now to connect as much of the city to mass transit as possible. But if my prediction of the wealthier moving to the core you are correct to wonder won’t this just serve the wealthy in the future? Well, yes and no. My thought is if we plan a network of streetcars to connect the city and inner-ring suburbs we can build denser neighborhoods around transit that accommodate all income levels. Waiting until the crisis point and we’ll see the affluent get transit and the poor get the shaft. If you don’t believe this can happen just turn on CNN for continuing coverage on Katrina.

Unfortunately we will probably ignore the warning signs and come into this crisis as unprepared as we were for the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Major sprawl projects like the bridge and rebuilding of I-64 will be started or at least “funded” when the experts finally realize we need to support dense neighborhoods and mass transit rather than continue to subsidize private autos. Despite all logic against continuing these massive and misguided projects they will go forth simply to create needed jobs.

Enough of my rant because the Daily Show with Jon Stewart is about to start…

– Steve


Selling St. Louis: Exploring the Retail Geography of St. Louis City and County

August 31, 2005 Books 3 Comments

The title of this post is the title of Matt Bauer’s thesis for his Masters in Urban Planning and Real Estate Development from St. Louis University. I’ve read all 80+ pages. Twice. First, I have to admire Bauer for getting a Master’s degree. I personally couldn’t wait to get out of school so I simply have a bachelor’s degree. I’ve decided to critique Bauer’s thesis as a means of providing feedback to him as well as getting some points out into cyberspace.

Click here to download the 5.6mb PDF file.

Bauer’s “Executive Summary” at the beginning of the thesis gets things going. Other major sections include a literature review, methodology, findings, recommendations and finally conclusions. As you’d expect from a thesis it contains many facts and figures that interrupt the otherwise excellent flow of the material. Bauer has kept this to a minimum so the paper reads very well. However, lots of information is presented which some may find overwhelming. If you do, put it down and come back to it later as it is well worth reading.

So I’m going to attempt to share my thoughts on Bauer’s thesis without taking another 80 pages to do so. For the most part I agree with Bauer and found his thesis a confirmation of my own beliefs. What was new to me was his detailed research into retail space based on zip codes. As a result he has discovered gaps in the retail market in addition to points of saturation. I come to some different conclusions than he in a few places which I will detail later. Be warned, this is a very long post.

> St. Louis (indeed other cities) tried to mock suburban shopping through malls and strip centers. They have failed.

> Retail can succeed in urban markets, retailers need to grow through increasing the number of stores.

> Baby boomers and Gen Y are looking for unique shopping experiences.

> Urban areas represent much higher spending densities than suburban areas, plus many urban areas are under-served.

> Bauer asserts that “convenience of nearby shopping is important to home-buyers.” Yes and no. To many buying homes on the edge of metropolitan areas they don’t want anything close to them while the urban buyer wants to walk to stores. Suburban buyers often drive a couple of miles to a store while the urban buyer will see the same two mile drive too great a distance. Convenience is relative and this is not explored in his thesis. [p6]
… Continue Reading


Old Post Office To Have A “Major Branch” of the St. Louis Library

August 16, 2005 Books 6 Comments

A new brochure from Webster University marketing classes at the St. Louis Old Post Office is making some bold claims about future tenants:

“Along with Webster, the Old Post Office will house the 8th District Court of Appeals, the St. Louis Business Journal, a major branch of the St. Louis Public Library, a restaurant, and other offices and services.”

A major branch of the library? Did I miss something from the earlier descriptions as a “satellite” branch? As best I can find the library will be leasing 7,000sf of space in the Old Post Office — a mere five blocks East of the magnificent main library. To put this new “major” branch into perspective the fairly new Schlafly branch at Euclid and Lindell is 25,000sf as is the renovated Carpenter Branch on South Grand. One of the smaller branches is the Kingshighway branch. At 12,000sf the Kingshighway branch is more than 70% larger than the proposed Old Post Office branch.

Of course we don’t need a larger branch at the Old Post Office. Calling it a “major branch” is simply stretching the truth. Certainly not the first time we’ve seen such stretches around this project.

Some, myself included, question why we need a satellite branch of the library at all. Is the thought that young loft dwellers won’t walk to the existing library? Who is the intended user of this new branch? Will the new branch sabotage support for the main library? Does the library system have the funds to staff yet another branch? The people I’ve talked to say the library’s budgets are already stretched thin. The general consensus is the the developers needed more space leased to make the financing work and somehow the library we roped into going along with the scheme.

We should be encouraging residents, workers and visitors to walk around downtown and check out all the assets (of which we have plenty). The Old Post Office project is supposed to be the anchor of the area yet they seem to be catering to people not willing to park a block away, much less support businesses in the area.

Can someone tell me why this was worth sacrificing the Century Building and giving away millions in tax credits to wealthy developers?


Money Magazine Thinks Ballwin MO Is Habitable

Last month the St. Louis Business Journal reported that sprawl centric Ballwin, MO was ranked #64 on Money’s list of top 100 places to live. Really? Yes, they are talking about the same Ballwin located in West St. Louis County. The one with Manchester Road lined with strip centers and big boxes.

Ballwin’s website notes they are in the process of adding sidewalks along the North side of Manchester Road – where they did not exist before. Chicago’s suburb of Naperville was near the top of the list but at least it actually has a real walkable downtown that is connected to adjoining neighborhoods. Ballwin is not pedestrian or bicycle friendly. Kids must be driven from place to place.

Manchester road is a nightmare with all roads leading to it – no grid in sight to allow someone to take the next block over. If I lived out there I’d want a monster SUV too just to feel safe in the mess of traffic they’ve designed. It is so bad it is recommended that you drive from strip mall to strip mall to keep traffic off Manchester Road.

How can this possibly be rated as a top place to live? You could not pay me to live in Ballwin. Note to self, never purchase a copy of Money magazine.

– Steve


August Issue of ‘The Healthy Planet’ Now Available

August 2, 2005 Books Comments Off on August Issue of ‘The Healthy Planet’ Now Available

The August 2005 issue of ‘The Healthy Planet’ is now available at local businesses such as 10th Street Italian (504 N. 10th) and MacroSun International (1310 Washington Ave). Check out my ‘City Scene’ column on page 12.

– Steve