Odd to see a piece at CiF about oil and society that actually manages to get things right. But there is one.
Yes (consistently) high oil prices will change the urban and exurban layout of American cities and their surrounding areas. Yes, the cost of commuting will change relative land and housing values. Over the longish term, assuming prices stay up, we might see the US reorganise itself along more European lines in terms of population densities and commuting distances.
The shift in housing preferences may begin to reverse one of the defining national trends of recent decades – the massive migration toward the south and west of the country. Sunbelt boomtowns like Atlanta, Houston, and Riverside, California have grown at breakneck pace thanks to cheap and plentiful housing built along sprawling highway networks. Some of these places are now rushing to build transit service, but the soaring cost of petrol has caught most flat-footed. Such cities can expect outward expansion to slow, but perhaps more importantly, households considering moves to warmer climes may rethink their decision. Northeastern and Midwestern cities in long decline, such as Baltimore, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Cleveland, may find their dense structures and legacy transit systems an incalculable asset.
That little bit might indeed be true, but there\’s something missed as well. It\’s a great deal cheaper to cool housing than it is to heat it. Certainly, it\’s a great deal cheaper to cool a house in Phoenix than it is to heat one through the winter in Cleveland. (Yes, OK, that\’s assuming current levels of insulation of course: but then it\’s also assuming current methods of cooling, rather than shaded verandas and so on which can be used as excellent passive cooling devices.)
So high oil prices might well increase the move to hte Sun Belt: indeed there are those who say that the moves of the last few decades have been a reaction to the last oil price rises of the 70s.