Teachers, Pipes, and Pavement

7 thoughts on “Teachers, Pipes, and Pavement”

  1. You’ve taken our initial “investigation” and peeled off so many more layers, this is quite intense. It’s amazing the way Google street view illustrates every point, every time, with a kind of clarity that hits you right in the gut. Great work, Johnny, we’ve got so much to learn from you!

  2. If you haven’t read any of Sharon Astyk’s work, start with “Depletion and Abundance”. I’ve made the same recommendation to Chuck, but your recent posts dovetail rather neatly with her work.

  3. i agree that we have to prepare for less — the rub is: less of what and when? It is certainly true that if a thing is unsustainable it will end eventually, and things long called for, like decriminalization of recreational drugs/addiction, for example, will finally happen when they are perceived as costing more than they are worth —–BUT, when the belt tightening comes, where will the priorities be? Will we slash the military budget? That would easily be seen as smart if we were Sweden and thought (perhaps naively) that we had a big, dumb, bellicose ally we could rely on to protect us, but the only thing that protects us is the distance and relative weakness of those who would do us harm. With both of these issues there are millions of people of clout who will fight for the status quo.

    I also agree we need to prepare. My disagreement with many folks who talk about a “less energy intensive future” is what that is likely to look like. None of us know the details of the future, but my best guess is that the car is both FAR too valuable to abandoned as far as personal freedom is concerned (many of the carless people I knew in Manhattan rented them frequently and enthusiastically), which is why, I believe, all the Ari Shapiro-types hate and demonize them, and there is too much investment sunk into the USA that needs the Car.

    So, I think the car will merely continue evolve.

    What will that look like? My guess is that safety and efficiency will do battle. The Future is already Now in some ways, we own a hybrid Ford Fusion that we love, it is everything a car should be, yet it is astonishing when it tells you how many gallons a trip just took you (our ten minute drive downtown takes, like .04 gallons (!) That is astoundingly little in price and carbon footprint per value of time and freedom from the Downsides of the Dense Life, and this while giving up NOTHING. Imagine how much better the Milagros would be if the hybrid were a bit more like the Chevette my mother drove in the early 80s? Now, let’s make it run on a NG engine. Okay, how about we make it a Roadster two seater. At some point here, we are getting cost competitive with diesel buses.

    Does this mean I think our current development patterns will continue unchanged, or that I think that would be desirable? No. I do think things will change gradually as the culture changes, and I do very much share the belief that our backward observation that geographies will continue to lose and gain value based on changing realities, I just think it is important to keep an open mind and not focus too much on any one or two variables. My father told me in my late teens that the reason why so many beautiful solid buildings in Troy were vacant was b/c it was a lot cheaper, many times, to just build new buildings, given modern realities. I still know folks up there who are reluctant to fix up the facades for fear their tax assessments will go up, a negative incentive to revive a downtown residence. It may be that many of these places will be abandoned more completely (not Troy, but maybe Utica) because the deferred Maintaince plus environmental clean up (lead, diesel, etc) plus lake of a need for a town THERE (no need for Troy to be on the Husdson any more, but it needs to surround RPI and be close to the State Capital) and new, perhaps more sustainable towns will be built (much cheaper to build out the infrastructure BEFORE you build your town than after it has been built.)

    I have seen entire towns abandoned in Europe, and of course it happened in remote parts of the American West too (Virginia City was nearly abandoned, in spite of it’s proximity to Tahoe and Reno) — politics will likely keep some places that are large enough from being abandoned (Detroit, Buffalo), but many without a critical mass of enough residual population will likely be abandoned as the wealth of residual buildings and infrastructure becomes more of a liability than an asset, and the location becomes key to less and less. (Elmira, NY?) One thing that I always note in the USA is the sheer number of buildable sites, esp. “Lifestyle Choice” sites in the USA — many of them with an economically depressed town already there, most of them totally undeveloped. Now, we already have enough Bend Oregons, but my point is that whatever new realities pop up, the USA has an enormous wealth of areas to start over in, in whatever ways it most makes sense.

    1. Like I said. You need to start your own blog and spell these things out.

      I’ll say this regarding cars, energy availability, and the relative value/usefulness of specific geographic locations. Things will continue to shift over time in ways none of us can accurately predict. Preparing for imminent collapse is likely premature – as you point out. But blindly assuming everything will be roses and sunshine is also a bad way to organize your affairs. Somewhere in the middle is a good compromise.

      As a rule I say debt (in combination with plain old vanilla un (or under) employment, unexpected illness, divorce, etc.) is the thing that will pull many people down faster and harder in the short term. Staying out of debt is just generally a good idea even if it means living a slightly less fabulous lifestyle.

      Living an hour away from work, school, family, and friends is also placing yourself in a position where you’re dependent on money, fuel, etc. in a way that could make you vulnerable to short term shocks – even if long term things will be more or less fine.

      This also depends on a person’s age. If you’re seventy five and retired in a gated community in Nevada you won’t be around to care about the future in twenty years. If you’re twenty five you may have another seventy years to navigate.

      1. I generally agree with many of your assessments and share a lot of your interests and aesthetics, that is why I comment here — I both learn things (kudos on the double water inputs info in Hong Kong, as a recent example.) and see ways that I can provide a slightly different perspective (I inhabit a different body and Region, after all)

        I certainly agree about debt, and I would add that even ten years ago that people needed to check their assumptions about where “good debt” ended and bad debt began.

        Thanks for the recommendation, I actually have helped with a few other blogs (having nothing to do with residential reAl estate) but I am not sure what the subject of a blog of mine would be — I suspect it would have a narrow regional focus that is transparently boosterish.

        Yeah, Vegas never should have been more than a stop on the way west, no doubt, but that doesn’t mean I am going to move to Northern Indiana, or even Galena, Illinois.

        As far as living an hour away from work goes, that is a bit of a different issue than, say restricted energy use. When we lived in Falls Church, VA, my wife had to commute to Dupont Circle. As the crow flew, it was not a big trip, but congestion at the bridge made it 45 minutes to drive. She TRIED to do the “right thing” by taking the metro, but the cost was about the same (parking fees) and the commute time and hastle INCREASED.

        We couldn’t afford to live downtown, and those friends of ours who bought in more affordable DC neighborhoods had a lot more life’s-too-short/life’s-too-precious hassles than we did.

        But for many years, she has been able to telecommute, and only needs easy access to an airport. I think this trend will continue (stats show that this is the only “transit” alternative that is actually increasing). Some years ago, we were driving by a historic, isolated and vacant little complex of buildings in Norhern NJ and thought “some developer should come up with concept of the “telecommuter village” where folks who want to live in the countryside away from urban social and crowding ills can live inexpensively with their cars in a “lifestyle choice” location and be close enough to a major metro/airport that one doesn’t actually feel like they are living in Montana when they need to travel.” Of course, people like us already do this ourselves, but many people want a more off-the-shelf product with the “right” co-participants. An idea.

        My point? Not only do I think the car is here to stay, but the economics both mental and financial of downtown living will put a limit on the long-awaited mass trend toward downtown. There are likely studies on what level of density starts having diminishing returns, and this has likely changed since the days when cities were laid out of the horse.

        The reason I make these arguments is that I CARE about what the answers are, both for selfish personal investment considerations (I want to minimize faulty assumptions) and because of general sustainability considerations (which are filled with faulty assumptions from all sides), and I have been wrong before.

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