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2009-03-03 17:23:33

Reroute The Commute


The nation is learning a tough lesson -- that designing our lifestyles around cheap gas was a short-sighted mistake for two reasons.

We're vulnerable and the amount of what we use is unsustainable.

First, we're using twice the energy we did before the first oil embargo of the 1970s which makes us vulnerable to pricing, speculation and gouging. Despite the lessons of the mid-70s when lines formed at the gas station and the nation's president asked the country to do without Christmas lights, energy use is 50 percent greater today than it was back in 1970.

"Second, much of the way business is done in the United States has been based on the availability of low-cost energy. This ranges from delivering all manner of goods across the country to transporting people from one place to another, whether by ground or by air," writes economist Irwin Kellner of Marketwatch.

An obvious example of how cheap energy has affected our way of life, says Kellner, is the proliferation of the suburbs. "Single-family homes use more energy than apartments, and require more than one vehicle per household, since schools, shopping, places of business and entertainment are spaced far apart."

As he points out, there are not only more houses today than there were 38 years ago, they are larger as well. "In 1970 the average new house was about 1,500 square feet; today it is nearly 60% bigger!"

Other industries are already adjusting to high gas prices. American Airlines is eliminating eight percent of management and support jobs and furloughing 900 flight attendants in August. Smaller carriers are cutting back service to smaller communities.

But housing isn't so nimble. Right now, many homeowners are stuck with homes they can't sell that are too expensive to operate, that are too far from work centers. They can't even get rid of their SUVs.

This is a situation that is going to take some imagination and guts, and some long-term planning by the major cities that lost population to the suburbs in the first place.

And the cities, thanks to record mortgage defaults, have less money to create miracles.

As our population grows, the joint problem of housing and transportation will only become more urgent.

And that's why now is the time for our cities to act.

From extending public transportation to the suburbs, to clearing inner city brownfields for mixed-use redevelopment, our cities have the power to reroute our commutes.

But with tax revenues dropping, cities aren't in the position to do as much as homeowners need to turn things around. They can make some headway with homebuyer and corporate tax incentives but cities can do more -- like creating safe bike routes and rezoning for more mixed use developments.

The rest is going to have to come from personal and corporate volunteerism to include mentoring and community support for schools and small business development, trash cleanups, festivals, crime watch groups, matching grants for home improvements, and incentives for ride-sharing and home officing.

Blanche Evans is CEO of Evans Emedia, Inc. and publisher of The Evans Ezine. As an award-winning journalist, Blanche has been named one of the "25 Most Influential People In Real Estate" by REALTOR Magazine, and twice recognized as one of the industry's most "Notables."   


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