Sunday, May 15, 2005

Are big cities energy efficient?

Newly minted urban planner Aaron Donovan suggests on his blog, Starts and Fits, that dense, well-designed cities may be one of the best places to be in the emerging energy crunch. Donovan thinks James Howard Kunstler, American's foremost critic of the suburb, has it wrong when he says that big cities will also wilt under the pressure of oil depletion. Kunstler is particularly adamant that skyscrapers will become problematic as energy supplies get tight. Donovan suggests the opposite:
While he is prescient about many things, on this point, Kunstler is dead wrong. Detroit, St. Louis, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Baltimore would enjoy a resurgence in a future energy crunch because of the reasons outlined by David Owen. They are energy efficient. They were emptied out precisely because of the suburban expansion that is Kunstler's primary target and was fostered by the cheap oil extravaganza that he sees as running dry. These cities have declined, but it's because of an abundance of cheap oil, not a lack of it, and things may be changing. There may be a correlation between rising oil prices and increasing real estate values in most of these cities. Meanwhile, New York and Chicago will be saved by their skyscrapers, as corporations find that it's less costly and more productive to locate their offices in them. The seven cities Kunstler mentions experienced their growth when people traveled in horse-drawn carriages and trolleys. They'll grow again if motoring becomes all that hard.
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