Three Destinies of Suburbs and the Future of Consumption

Freakonomics has a very intersting dialogue around the future of the suburbs.

Key quotes:

“If we don’t change the patterns, we’re in for a long and slow and arduous collapse.” Ranieri

"Here’s what I think will happen: First, we are in great danger of mounting a futile campaign to sustain the unsustainable, that is, of defending suburbia at all costs...One symptom of this is that the only subject under discussion about our energy predicament is how can we keep running all our cars by other means. Even the leading environmentalists talk of little else. We don’t get it. The Happy Motoring era is over. No combination of “alt” fuels — solar, wind, nuclear, tar sands, oil-shale, offshore drilling, used French-fry oil — will allow us to keep running the interstate highway system, Wal-Marts, and Walt Disney World...   

The suburbs have three destinies, none of them exclusive: as materials salvage, as slums, and as ruins. In any case, the suburbs will lose value dramatically, both in terms of usefulness and financial investment. Most of the fabric of suburbia will not be “fixed” or retrofitted, in particular the residential subdivisions. They were built badly in the wrong places. We will have to return to traditional modes of inhabiting the landscape — villages, towns, and cities, composed of walkable neighborhoods and business districts — and the successful ones will have to exist in relation to a productive agricultural hinterland, because petro-agriculture (as represented by the infamous 3000-mile Caesar salad) is also now coming to an end. Fortunately, we have many under-activated small towns and small cities in favorable locations near waterways. This will be increasingly important as transport of goods by water regains importance."  Kuntsler

Spokane area: walkable business districts and neighborhoods (check), relation to productive ag hinterland (check), under-activated small city close to waterway (sort of check). Tri-Cities may be in better shape with their proximity to the Columbia River with already proven transport patterns. He didn't mention the increasing importance of railroads and Spokane has got that one in spades.

This article, "Transport costs could alter world trade" is also worth checking out.

(hat-tip Andrew Sullivan)