In 2013 the US was still reeling from the collapse of the housing market in 2008. While hundreds of thousands of Americans unjustly lost their homes, many foreclosed on illegally, there was one upside to this collapse. For a few years at least, irresponsible sprawl development was put on hold across most the nation. I wrote about this shift in development, and how it was a more significant change than just a market-driven trend.
At the time I celebrated the fact that car ownership among 16-25 year olds had plummeted by a staggering 25% over the last decade. It was a time to rethink our relationship to the land, to our air and water, to abandon the suburbs and cars altogether. Despite conservationists and urbanists calling for a return to living a local, sustainable existence in the city, sprawl lobbyists had other ideas.
In 2013 Ford Motor Company chief sales analyst Erich Merkle predicted on CNN: “[Millennials]… might be able to hold off for a period of time, but at some point they will have families, move to the suburbs, and they are going to purchase many, many new cars.”
I mocked his assertion at the time, knowing full well that these kinds of consultant aren’t paid to analyze markets, they’re paid to drive markets with propaganda.
Anyone who’s studied traffic engineering knows about induced demand. Build a freeway and it will fill with cars. Add a lane to ease congestion and you’ll only create more congestion. The same goes for housing development. Scatter single-family dwellings over the horizon of cheap, flat land and tell everyone it’s cheaper to drive a car two hours a day to work and people will be convinced they’ve found a bargain. Meanwhile, our climate crisis rages.