Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Chinese think they can learn from US Suburbs

There is a nice piece about it in USA Today.

One line in the story, though, really caught my eye.

"Most intellectuals say [suburbanization is] horrible. Most environmentalists say the same thing," says Nora Libertun de Duren, urban planning professor at Columbia University and an expert on suburbs in developing countries. "But developers say it's good business, and architects say it's good business."

And so we see a congenital weakness on the part of intellectuals: the need to look down on how other people choose to live (I am afraid I suffer this weakness myself from time-to-time, although my family does a good job of calling me on it when I display it). The fact is that many people enjoy the privacy, greenary, and sense of order that comes with suburban living, and there is nothing wrong with that. Moreover, as the Chinese have figured out, suburban planned communities often can self-finance infrastructure, and therefore provide a technique for community upgrading.

The environmental issue is more serious, but is solvable. If people were required to pay the social cost of driving, the settlement patterns that would emerge would be environmentally sustainable too. In many places, private automobiles would be very efficient forms of transport if (1) they got reasonable gas mileage and (2) if someone would sit in the front right seat everyday. The idea that light rail will solve environmental problems is just silly.


donna said...

Why is light rail silly? I think it's a much better solution than cars.

kevin p. said...

But we don't have the political will to make people internalize the true costs of driving. Instead we have McCain REDUCING the gasoline tax!

Anonymous said...

Fixed costs should be converted to variable costs to encourage less driving. For example, some Canadian provinces have universal no fault auto insurance paid for with a gasoline tax.

The advantage is that total costs would be about the same (no cost of living increase), but per mile costs would increase to encourage conservation.

Of course, allowing smaller lots would reduce mileage, and allowing smaller homes would use less heating fuel.

farrar said...

Yes, please explain to us why light rail won't help solve environmental problems.

From the user's point of view, it's great, based on my experience in Portland, OR and Bordeaux, France. I sold my last car two years ago, reduced my living expenses, and don't miss that car one iota.

And I have taken one polluting monster out of circulation.

Learn Chinese said...

I agree with Donna. Light rail worked wonders for the Docklands area of London (Google 'Docklands Light Rail'. The service is fully automated and it's cheap).

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