Monday, July 05, 2010

Suburban Studies Herald The Onset Of Peak Cheap Oil

I can't make this stuff up.  Folks in Shawnee, Kansas want a national museum to study suburbs as a way of life and cultural phenomenon:

Enough, say the Johnson County civic leaders planning a National Museum of Suburban History. Their contention: With more than 50 percent of the country living in places like Shawnee, it's past time to take the suburbs seriously.


In southern California, the Center for Sustainable Suburban Development at UC-Riverside was formed in 2003 to promote economic research and examine regional planning as well as the political, cultural and environmental impact of suburbia.

In Long Island, New York — home to Levittown, the epicenter of the mid-20th Century suburban boom — Hofstra University's National Center for Suburban Studies also aims to advance the public conversation about modern American life beyond cheap laughs, or pulp fiction melodrama.

I think it's hilarious that these "suburban study institutes" are located in suburban enclaves themselves.  Apparently nobody told these folks that the onset of Peak Cheap Oil is going to render much of suburbia unlivable, let alone unworthy of study.  Flight from suburbia will begin in earnest as McMansions are foreclosed and municipal services are shut down (check out Detroit!).  This will leave these study centers high and dry.  The last person to leave the institutes at Hofstra and UC Riverside should turn the lights out, but they won't have to if the lights are out all over their neighborhood anyway. 

Let me save them all some work.  It's what I do as a public service.  Suburbs are a temporary phenomenon enabled by a confluence of factors, including the wide availability of cheap petroleum in the United States after World War II, the federal highway program, and the successful lobbying from automakers that convinced municipalities to replace local trains and trolleys with roads and freeway easements.  All of it was based on cheap gasoline.  All of it has now begun to contract in size and vitality. 

Why study something that's about to disappear?  Americans can't seem to come to grips with the reality of declining national power and a resource base constricted by scarcity and lack of future investment.  Suburbophiles are longing for the good old days, but the trouble is we've left those days behind.  This kind of pining can easily lead to a sense of loss and betrayal when the double-dip recession is finally recognized.  The national zeitgeist can turn ugly if Americans have to be pried from suburbs.

I'd short suburbs if they were a security in the financial markets.