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    « Botanicalls | Main | A virtual walk in the park »

    March 05, 2008


    Andrew Abela

    You might be interested in a documentary entitled "The End of Suburbia."

    It references similar concerns mentioned in the Leinberger article, while specifically pointing to natural resource trends such as the oil peak. According to the film, we have already reached the oil peak on Earth and are now on the decline side of the curve of oil extraction (e.g. volume, purity).

    It also talks a lot about the history of suburban developments, and how they were largely built on the assumption that oil is readily available for comsumption.

    However, the film is a tad extreme in their assertion that suburban societies will not be able to exist within the next 5-10 years. It is a tad less fatalistic than An Inconvenient Truth, though, in that it offers possible solutions to the predicament.


    Thanks for the comment, Andrew. If "The End of Suburbia" interested you, then you should read Howard Kunstler's "The Long Emergency" which covers some of the same territory but with more detail (though perhaps less optimism). I find it interesting that when the book was written (and when the documentary was filmed) there was little consensus on peak oil whereas now my perception is that there is general agreement (even among the oil companies) that we are past peak.

    It's hard to predict how quickly and drastically things will change for us because there are so many non-linearities in all of the systems that support life. For example, I don't think anyone would have predicted how quickly the rising price of energy (among other things) would have caused the food emergency we're now seeing in many parts of the world.

    One thing that does seem certain, though, is that as the cost of moving both people and stuff from one place to another continues to ratchet upward, we'll think about place and space quite differently. There will be much suffering along the way, but ultimately I think many of the inevitable changes in how we live might have some unexpected positive effects. I hope so.

    Andrew Abela

    I think (or rather, hope) that some of the positive effects will include increased funding for public transit, especially in areas such as KW region that have a huge amount of suburban sprawl and not much in the way of convenient public transit. But with the oil peak supposedly past, energy to fuel said public transit becomes a whole other concern.

    I secretly predict that we will eventually look to urban models like Amsterdam when, or rather if, one of our last fuel options is our own two legs and a bicycle. Though, this does not bode well for North America's poor reputation of being lazy, or even the problem of the manufacturing and logistics of the bicycles.

    I'll have to read Kunstler's The Long Emergency, but only after I get through Crime and Punishment. Dostoevsky has had quite the grip on me recently with it so it shouldn't be long before I'm done. I've already put a hold on The Long Emergency in Trellis. Thanks for the suggestion. If it's anything like The End of Suburbia it will be an interesting read, though I can't say I'm particularly excited to read a less optimistic account of what is to come (even if it is soon to be reality). I can't help but feel as if these types of ideas are too secret for humanity's own good. I don't feel like enough people know about the oil peak and related issues (apart from the ever rising gas prices).


    Hi again Andrew. I think there are lots of initiatives at play in North America that will help us find ways to live with less sprawl and less oil, but as a local architect recently said at a conference on healthy communities: "urbanism is a state of mind." His point was that even if we did build cities in a more "European" style (Copenhagen is another wonderful example, thanks in part to Jan Gehl), there needs to be a fundamental shift in how we think of quality of life on this continent. Many people here seem not to want to give up their 3000 square foot McMansions to live in dense settings with lots of vibrant public spaces and less auto-centricity. This is a fascinating and important difference between how we understand and value space in the New and Old worlds.

    You're right that these issues are still below the radar of many people, but I take heart that bright young people like you are engaging with the right questions and looking for solutions.

    Another recommendation for you: The film "Radiant City", as well as making you laugh, will help you to understand where suburbs have come from and also remind you that it often isn't exactly a "choice" for people to live in them.

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