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.
The auto industry and home builders associations work hand in hand to keep people addicted to fossil fuels and car-centric suburbs – placeless stretches of America where mass shootings and drug addiction are the visible symptoms of societal collapse. As urban rents are inflated into the stratosphere by real estate speculators and gentrifying developers, we’ve tragically arrived at the point where the predictions of Erich Merkle are getting the last laugh.
Phoenix’s housing market is completely dependent on cheap gas and sprawl. How unsustainable. These exurbs will be the first to suffer when the next housing correction comes, and that’s when, not if. A Decade After the Housing Bust, the Exurbs Are Back https://t.co/6GXOKkIvbG
This week Wall Street Journal housing economics reporter Laura Kusisto penned perhaps the most horrifying preview of a dystopian future in which Americans continue to take no action as the world burns. If anything, she detailed how we’re not just doing nothing, we’re racing to make our climate crisis worse.
From her article: “Josh Bush and Danielle Rhee were drawn to Maricopa county from Portland, Oregon for the housing prices. They bought a $250,000 six-bedroom home there last year – less than it would have cost them to get two bedrooms in Oregon, said Mr. Bush, who is 29 years old. Bush leaves for his job in Phoenix before 6 a.m. each morning to keep his commute to about 50 minutes. The drive can take two hours if he hits traffic. He considers the trade-off worthwhile.”
Where to begin? First off, yes, buying a house is expensive as hell in Portland, as I’ve written about before. But it’s absolutely absurd to think a six bedroom house is necessary for a family. Thousands of Portland families happily enjoy living in apartments.
It’s equally absurd, and flat out reckless, for Kusisto’s WSJ article to try and re-normalize the insanity of hours-long daily car commutes at a time when climate scientists say we have less than 12 years left to avert massive ecological collapse, desertification of farmland, and the loss of millions of homes in coastal cities due to sea level rise. Killing the planet for a cheaper house is not a fucking worthwhile trade off.
Please pause to consider this article. This simply CANNOT continue indefinitely. #unsustainable https://t.co/OuL9RsxIhs
This is what these ‘analysts’ are paid to do; shill for industries complicit with murdering the planet. As Utah Philips accurately asserted, the Earth is not dying, it is being killed, and those who are killing it have names and addresses.
Calling them on their bullshit is imperative, but more important is fundamentally changing how we live, how we consume, and how we commute. Burning a single gallon of gas pumps 25 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere. How many hundreds of pounds of carbon pollution is that per person if they’re driving two hours to work?
The crisis in housing is by design. There isn’t a lack of housing supply, as so many neoliberal urbanists will argue. There is a lack of affordability, and this lack is pricing people back into the suburbs. Building more unaffordable housing only worsens this crisis. Portland, OR has over 16,000 empty rental units that its residents simply cannot afford. They exist as commodity, pure real estate, doing nothing to lower cost by increasing housing stock.
San Franciscans have crowdfunded $46,000 to stop a homeless shelter in a wealthy area. Some other San Franciscans have just launched a rival appeal and have raised $5,000 in five hours. https://t.co/Cpg3uZQu5u
There is some hope though, but barely. Oregon just passed the first rent control legislation of its kind anywhere in the nation. Senate Bill 608 prohibits Oregon landlords from raising the rent more than 7% annually beyond CPI. It also curbs no-cause evictions, Oregon being only one of two states to have given landlords such unethical power.
Ironically, despite its reputation for good urban planning, Portland is also moving forward with widening its urban freeways, despite all logic. A plan that will only induce more demand for driving was actually branded as “better for the environment” by its backers, while costing taxpayers billions.
Just imagine a billion dollar investment into a city’s bicycle commuting infrastructure. Why aren’t we inducing that demand? Why aren’t we doing every single thing possible to save this planet? Why aren’t we passing a Green New Deal right this very fucking instant?
Critical Mass Brussels! ????????? https://t.co/rR1D2wZrFR
The answer is the realtors. The lobbyists. The consultants. The Washington think tanks. The capitalists. These death cultists are happy to watch the world burn; even more, they’ll find a way to make profit from our collective extinction. We must oppose them, where ever they are, where ever they go. Stand up, fight back.
Do not accept their poison logic that says you “need” a car, or that you “need” to own a house. You can live with less space, hell you probably spend 90% of your time at home parked in front of your computer barely moving any way.
You can bike to work, you absolutely can. And the more you ride, the better your health, and the better you think. These aren’t just lifestyle changes: easily a third of city trips can be taken by bike. Imagine if just 5,000 people biked to work in your city. If even 50 cities did, that would change a nation. Change just 50 nations, and now you’re changing the world. That is how you begin to arrive at system change.
The realtors don’t want you living a local, affordable, sustainable life. They want you commuting hours to a cul de sac suburb where the only public space are parking lots. Fuck them. Now more than ever, if capitalism is getting you down, ride your fucking bike.
See you in the streets.