Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Choices, Lets Talk About Them

Everybody is talking about it. IT is everywhere that you turn. IT is the talk about the rising price of gas, of food, of just about anything that we buy-from household goods to daily utilities. Everything is going up. And there is nothing that we can do about it. We are stuck.

We are just going to have to get used to it. There doesn't seem to be anyone who can do anything about it. So we get mad about having to pay more at the pump and complain that the oil companies did this to us. By golly, we are Americans and gas should only cost around $1.50 a gallon. I hear that Europeans pay roughly twice as much as that, but I don't care about the Europeans and what they do with their time and money.

Somebody should make the oil companies do more for us – not to us. Somebody should make it easier for us to do what we want in order to get through life. We should be able to live anywhere that we want and be able to go anywhere that we want and anytime that we want. Oh, and it should be cheaper.

Folks that somebody is us. We, the people of the United States. And nobody did this to us, we did it to ourselves.

Our choices of where to live are predicated on the availability of cheap gas. Our abundance of electronic gadgets is built on the availability of cheap power. Our shopping centers full of mostly over packaged, soon to be obsolete goods are there due to cheap imports – which is also due to cheap oil. These are our choices. They weren't forced on us by government planners, they were chosen by us by our own free will.

I can remember $0.35 - $0.45 a gallon gas when a neighborhood kid could make a few bucks mowing grass for under a buck's worth of fuel. When you could walk to the gas station and back home in just a few minutes. I can remember when downtown was just a quick bike ride or bus trip away. Those days are about as far off as a quick bike trip in to town from Hamburg or South Point. Nobody make people live out there and nobody make them drive their autos in to town. Those are choices of free will.

I can remember when subdivision development patterns began to use the cul-de-sac as an enticement to quiet suburban living. Cul-de-sac lots were desirable and they carried a 10 – 20% premium on land cost, but the choice was worth it apparently. We do have so many of them. We now know that these cul-de-sac areas, and similarly less connected street patterns, can increase the per capita cost of fire protection services by over 400%. Other government services may be increased likewise. Again, choices of free will.

I can remember when an auto vacation involved many days, not hours and special trips used trains while very special ones took airplanes. When they built the Interstates, folks did not want to be tied to scheduled departures of the trains but still tolerated it for the airlines. Now that the trains are gone and the airlines require such a hassle of screening, we are left with the long road trip and the high cost of gas. This is a result of the choices that we made.

What other poor choices have we, the people of the Unites States, made that we will look back on with regret? What choices will we make in the future? Will we be willing to re-think our cul-de-sac subdivisions in a reasonable manner? Will we be forced to re-think the distances that we will have to move ourselves to work, play and shop? Will our food come from longer or shorter distances? Will our energy sources become more local, sustainable and renewable?

Are we up to the challenge of these types of choices, or are those days gone too.


legacycenter said...

The real issue is that we have come too far: now we have to live with the city we have made and find ways to retrofit that. Designing better subdivisions from now on will not fix the problem.

The suburbs are about to get both urbanized, through retrofitted density and mixed uses, and ruralized, through the production of local food.

Aaron German said...

Yes, there are lots of huge lawns in the 'burbs ready to be planted with food. And they're already equipped with water sources.

Streetsweeper said...

I am now so sure that we have come too far but there will have to be choices made to undo the mess that we have made for ourselves. Cul-de-sac neighborhoods CAN be corrected for improved connectivity. Redevelopment can, has and will need to be attempted in order for our urban area to used to its highest AND best use. By that I mean the best use for ALL of the city's residents.

History has shown us that many times development has occurred on some of the most productive farmland precisely because it is easier to build on. The larger lots with huge lawns may not all go back into agricultural use but an intensification of urban uses and a re-arrangement of structures could allow for protected community gardens in interior spaces of some blocks.

Our famous horse farms now cover the countryside which used to feed Lexington, back when it had much fewer people and it may have to again. May I remind you that with high gas prices, the tourists could stop coming and we don't eat horses.