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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.


Wal-Mart backs off the Shanks

A few days ago I did a post about Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retailer, suing a former employee to recoup medical expenses.  The woman was injured in 2000 and left brain damaged and living in a nursing home.  Wal-Mart sued three years after she received a settlement from the party at fault.  This story has been all over the news of late.  Today I received the following from WalMartWatch:

After years of hounding Debbie Shank and her family, Wal-Mart says it will finally do the right thing.

Today, Wal-Mart agreed to allow the Shank family to keep the money they won from the trucking company responsible for Debbie’s injuries.

Finally, the Shank family can put their fight with Wal-Mart behind them and focus on taking care of Debbie.

This was all possible thanks to the tremendous support from people like you.

Jim Shank released the following statement today thanking you and the rest of Debbie’s supporters:

“I am grateful that Wal-Mart has seen their error and decided to rectify it. I just wish it hadn’t taken them so long, this never should have happened. I sincerely hope no other family ever has to go through this.

“My thanks go first and foremost to my lord and savior Jesus Christ for the strength to bear up under all this. Thanks also to the citizens of the United States – it wasn’t me who made this happen, it was the outcry of the people, and if there’s a lesson in this story it’s that ‘we the people’ still means something.”

You showed Wal-Mart that we will not sit back while the retail giant takes advantage of a working family in need.

And Wal-Mart showed that it will never do the right thing unless we stand up, express our outrage, and force it to make the moral choice. That’s why we need to continue to pressure Wal-Mart to do right by its 1.3 million American employees on issues like health care, discrimination, and working conditions.

For the Shank family, this is a bittersweet victory. Debbie’s injuries will last a lifetime, and the emotional toll of this ordeal won’t go away easily. But now they have one less obstacle to overcome — and you helped make that happen.

On behalf of the Shank family and all of us at Wal-Mart Watch, thank you for your support.


A Changed Man

Nearly dying and now going through intensive physical therapy causes one to stop and think about what is important. In the last few years here I’ve focused often on details. On one hand these details don’t seem as important too me and on the other they seem even more important. I’m alive — I should be happy right? But life is short and it is the little details that impact our quality of life. Simply breathing everyday just isn’t enough. I am going to be far more demanding of a quality environment than before. Every year in our region we spend hundreds of millions if not billions on new infrastructure and buildings — are we getting our money’s worth? Does this money add to improved public space or simply so much square footage of new retail? I see no reason to settle for anything less than high quality public spaces. Life is too short to be spent in strip centers, boring subdivisions and stuck in traffic.


The Next Slums

A reader sent me an excellent article that I want to share.  The basic premise is that due to a number of factors the subdivisions with single family home may well become the next slums:

For 60 years, Americans have pushed steadily into the suburbs, transforming the landscape and (until recently) leaving cities behind. But today the pendulum is swinging back toward urban living, and there are many reasons to believe this swing will continue. As it does, many low-density suburbs and McMansion subdivisions, including some that are lovely and affluent today, may become what inner cities became in the 1960s and ’70s—slums characterized by poverty, crime, and decay. 

Read the full article


Will City waste opportunity With new shoppping center?

posted by steve from hospital bed.

The city recently purchased the old MSD HQ at Hampton & i-44 (article), map link. Combined with the city’s street dept site this will create a 26 acre site with highway appeal. The potential for something great is high but Im afraid our leadership will have such low standard. pedestrian access and internal connection should be high. New residential should be included in some form. we deserve something better than St Louis Marketplace II.now is the time to establish some good standards.