Monday, May 19, 2008

Krugman: Stranded in Suburbia

The European lesson for coping with a world of high priced oil

By Curmudgeon

Paul Krugman's column in Monday's New York Times deals with how the US will eventually solve the problem of ever-escalating gas prices. From the column:

Any serious reduction in American driving will... mean changing how and where many of us live.
To see what I’m talking about, consider where I am at the moment: in a pleasant, middle-class neighborhood consisting mainly of four- or five-story apartment buildings, with easy access to public transit and plenty of local shopping.
It’s the kind of neighborhood in which people don’t have to drive a lot, but it’s also a kind of neighborhood that barely exists in America, even in big metropolitan areas. Greater Atlanta has roughly the same population as Greater Berlin — but Berlin is a city of trains, buses and bikes, while Atlanta is a city of cars, cars and cars.
And in the face of rising oil prices, which have left many Americans stranded in suburbia — utterly dependent on their cars, yet having a hard time affording gas — it’s starting to look as if Berlin had the better idea.
Won't be easy. Many problems, like the transit chicken-and-egg problem:

Infrastructure is another problem. Public transit, in particular, faces a chicken-and-egg problem: it’s hard to justify transit systems unless there’s sufficient population density, yet it’s hard to persuade people to live in denser neighborhoods unless they come with the advantage of transit access.
He points out that the probable solution, pretty much modeled on European lines, does not involve Americans giving up their cars, or driving tiny three-wheeled mini-cars. Most Europeans own cars that are fairly mid-sized [though many fewer families own more than one]. It's just that cars in Europe get much better mileage than comparable American cars, and that Europeans drive them much less. Which they can do because Europeans have invested much more heavily than we have [so far] in urban and sub-urban mass transit. Whole article is worth a read, as Ogden contemplates its transit future.


Southsider said...

Berliners not only drive less because they drive less often, but because they drive less far. As Krugman points out, adopting more fuel efficient cars can be accomplished by individuals in a few years; adopting more fuel efficient cities will take longer. Those cities that create less sprawled communities will be the winners.

Godfrey's stated desire to not create density along Harrison doesn't seem very "visionary."

Good Reader said...

Part of the Mt. Ogden Community Plan was to create more dense housing along Harrison with townhomes and retail between 30th and 32nd, and also above Harrison on 36th. With more traffic on Harrison everyday it seems like the logical route from 26th to the college.

Moroni McConkie said...

In developing Union Square, Ogden City was trying to achieve precisely the design for urban living that is the subject of Krugman's column today.

And Ogden City has succeeded, beautifully.

al said...


I have a question for you- where do you buy groceries.

jill said...

good reader-
Referencing a community plan? What? In Ogden?

Now that gas prices are peaking (or will be within the next generation) and our infrastructure is collapsing all around us, we have no option but to be smarter about growth. I bicycle and use mass transit every day. I've been witnessing the shift in how we live and how we get around. Buses are fuller and cyclists are everywhere (yes, even here in Utah). More and more people are moving to older inner city nieghborhoods and downtown dwellings. We may not have the critical mass yet, but I definitely feel like we're moving in the right direction (finally). Planners have been talking about these things for years, but developers have either had their way over the planners or the planners have given up and joined the tired old growth machine.

As Ogden contemplates its transit options, which shall not include a gondola, hopefully our city leaders can look at the bigger picture and plan for a much better future.

Tec Jonson said...

Indeed Harrison is more logical than Washington to create higher density multi-use development. Washington is the main boulevard and a US highway. The development along Washington is already early automobile era. Harrison is already mixed residential, commercial, educational, healthcare. Could there be a better mix to enhance with transit. People from the central city to all of the east bench would be within walking distance of the streetcar. The bulk of the city's population could live car free and care free. The only thing missing on that route is home improvement store. I guarantee we would get one on that route with a streetcar. A scaled down home depot like store with nursery that specialized in home delivery in the transit zone. Godfrey could lure big box retailers to the city in this zone. Most big box retailers have scaled down stores in the big cities. I noticed that in NY three of the most popular markets are located right at a subway tunnel entrance. Whole Foods, Trader Joes, and the historic Eassex St. Market are quite stregically located so that anyone in the city can shop and go straight home without lugging far. The result is people buy less but shop every single day likely buying more relying on the convenience and location. This is real culture. The automobile has debased or culture and taste of all things. My visit to SLC Sat. night revealed the possibilities of a transit based lifestyle in Utah. We must get this right and, if possible, put it on a faster track.

Tec Jonson said...

That should be Essex St. Market. New Yorkers will be quick to correct that one.

Curmudgeon said...


You're right, of course, but I wish I was as optimistic as you are about our having "no option but to be smarter about growth." Yours is a realistic appraisal of the situation, but a good grasp on reality has not, alas, been a particular characteristic of Utah Legislatures over the last decade. Or of Congress's either.

The kind of overall long-range and broad planning needed to deal with such broad and inter-linked problems is precisely the kind that the American political system in the states is not designed to produce [--- really not fair to concentrate on the Utah legislature here; other state legislatures are no better as a rule]. Or at least it has not, as a rule, produced that kind of planning very often. There are exceptions, but they are exceptions.

Tec Jonson said...

Big Boxers have already realized that they must maintain a presence in areas that people use transit. Imagine that retailers on Riverdale will realize a chunk of their revenue has been displaced to the Ogden Transit Zone.

Tec Jonson said...

Nothing could be more key to our national security than focusing on transit. The peak oil deal is real. The argument is not whether we will run out of oil, not likely. We will pay a lot more for it. One of my son's sells cars for a living. I wondered about the future of that business. The reality is that the automobile business will remain strong. In fact, people can better afford a car if they do not drive it so much. We stil need cars as the Euro example suggests. Insurance rates may drop with less miles driven and less crowded roads.

Tec Jonson said...

We can fuel an economic boom by getting very serious about transit in this country. Look at the amazing untapped industrial base. There are so few rail equipment manufacturers. This was precisely built Ogden's economy. Local specialty agriculture will undergo a resurgence as shipping from long distance makes food too expensive.

jill said...

I am hopeful. The State that I came from, Washington, passed a growth management act years ago that addressed these issues (sort of). Other states have done the same. We also have champions in Congress taking up the fight, such as Earl Blumenauer. In Utah, who knows what will happen, with our legislators off in thier own little worlds. If I'm not mistaken, I did hear the other day that some of our state legilators are discussing increasing the gas tax (which, of course, is necessary if we are going to maintain and continue to build more and more roads as is currently planned). I'm hopeful, although it won't be easy and pain free.

Sally Ann Cavannaugh said...

Jill's comments are right on target! We "have no option but to be smarter about growth."

We should use mass transit, bicycles, and our own two feet to get around, especially if we don't want to pay exorbitant rates for gasoline.

Planners have to be cognizant of our needs for mixed-use development and re-development (e.g., renovate the Windsor Hotel on 25th St.) of older inner-city dwellings.

The problem is that these solutions call for massive behavioral change.

First, people have to think that it's better for me to walk (or to ride my bike) to the grocery store or the restaurant on 25th St. than it is to take my car. We can't use the excuse that we're too old or too out of shape or too ignorant of how to get around Ogden. When you ride your bike or walk, it may be "painful" the first (second and third) time around (I guarantee you'll be winded if you've not exercised in 1/5/10/20 years). Give it some time and take your time! If it takes an hour to walk from your home to your work (as it does for me), it's time well spent in the reasonably healthy outdoors.

Second, we have to stop thinking that urban areas are full of evil people prone to commit violent acts on suburban visitors. A friend of mine from Utah County wouldn't visit me in Ogden because he had heard it was dangerous! He said, "lots of bad people live there." I laughed uncontrollably for about 30-45 minutes. Meanwhile, he hung up. Thankfully, I never heard from him again. Ogden is not dangerous and urban areas are not bad places to live. We need to move into the older inner city neighborhoods for sure!

PS: if you do drive around Ogden, please be courteous to bikers and to walkers (especially ones who abide by the law; walk or ride with the traffic light). I've been nearly killed twice by drivers who were too busy chomping on donuts and reading the newspaper. Give us a break!!!

mumford said...

BTW, I rode frontrunner last Friday, which as a great experience overall, until I arrived back to Ogden and saw lil' Bobby Geiger as I exited the train. His bellowed remark was "WHERE IS THE GONDOLA, OGDEN NEEDS A GONDOLA, SOMEBODY HELP THE MAYOR WITH THAT." (I threw up a little bit in my mouth.)

Curmudgeon said...

Sally Ann:

Ah, would that it were that simple. For example, approaching geezerhood as I am, I take very seriously ozone day warnings that I limit stenuous outside activities when the ozone levels get dangerous. So, just when we hit a summer red alert day, I face an impossible choice: (a)walk or bike around town to reduce the amount of ozone driving around would generate as I am urged to do by the city and county governments, or (b) do not walk or bike around on ozone days, because the medicos are telling me it will be unhealthy, if not dangerous, for me to do that. [I recently heard a talk by one of the Utah Doctors for Clean Air group, discussing the permanent damage breathing in ozone can and does do to geezers and the children. It was scary.] All this very much on my mind since yesterday was northern Utah's first ozone alert day of the season.

Your overall point is an excellent one, but I think you're a little hard on geezers, one of which I will be in less than a month.

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