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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Is This is What $4 a Gallon Gas is Doing…

posted by on June 25 at 12:14 PM

…bring on $5 a gallon gas. The NYT:

Across the nation, the realization is taking hold that rising energy prices are less a momentary blip than a change with lasting consequences. The shift to costlier fuel is threatening to slow the decades-old migration away from cities, while exacerbating the housing downturn by diminishing the appeal of larger homes set far from urban jobs.

In Atlanta, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Minneapolis, homes beyond the urban core have been falling in value faster than those within, according to an analysis by Moody’s

“It’s like an ebbing of this suburban tide,” said Joe Cortright, an economist at the consulting group Impresa Inc. in Portland, Ore. “There’s going to be this kind of reversal of desirability. Typically, Americans have felt the periphery was most desirable, and now there’s going to be a reversion to the center.”

In a recent study, Mr. Cortright found that house prices in the urban centers of Chicago, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Portland and Tampa have fared significantly better than those in the suburbs. So-called exurbs—communities sprouting on the distant edges of metropolitan areas—have suffered worst of all, Mr. Cortright found.

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Wouldn't the end result be that Seattle proper will become even *less* affordable for middle-class and low-income people? How is that desirable?

Posted by bob | June 25, 2008 12:24 PM

The bad part of the high gas prices is that small farmers are really really struggling right now. Tractors, combines take gas to run. (and no I am not talking about the huge mega corporate farms, I am talking about the small mom and pop farms that still exist) This gas is really fucking them up.

But in the city (well places with mass transit) I am totally for $7 a gallon gas.

BTW; when are we going to see smaller towns look at downsized versions of public transit?

Posted by Cato the Younger Younger | June 25, 2008 12:27 PM

You say this like it's a bad thing that the exurbs - a major contributor to global warming per capita - are being crushed by the weight of efficient capitalism encouraging people to live in the more efficient cities ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 25, 2008 12:28 PM

Why is this desirable? Everyone has to give up having yards and trees and decent schools to live in shitty urban squalor? Is this one of those "misery needs company" things?

Posted by Just Sayin' | June 25, 2008 12:28 PM

Maybe Impresa Inc. should look at cities without strong downtown cores, cities like Detroit and Pittsburgh, Louisville. These cities will continue have massive suburbs because there is nothing desirable in downtown corridor that draws massive amounts of people to live there.

Seems to me this study is cherry picking their example cities in order support their flawed theory.

Posted by Cato | June 25, 2008 12:28 PM

It will be interesting to see where all of this takes us.

Posted by rtw | June 25, 2008 12:29 PM

I also just read a story that said that 72% of recent car buyers said they're definitely or probably interested in getting a hybrid for their next vehicle. Yay!

Posted by Julie | June 25, 2008 12:31 PM

This liberal elitist enviro-marxism is appallingly obnoxious.

Posted by raindrop | June 25, 2008 12:32 PM

Fix your post title, moron.

Posted by Rufio (From Hook) | June 25, 2008 12:37 PM

Uh, Will in Seattle, I don't think Dan bolded the point about the exurbs because he thinks it's a bad thing. Just a hunch.

Posted by Julie | June 25, 2008 12:39 PM

We've tried cheap gas and the outcome has been less than desirable. I would guess what happens now is that if the poor can't afford housing in the city, and they can't afford the cost of commuting from the exurbs, then they will hopefully vote to build rapid transit. If they don't they'll really be screwed.

You can call expensive gas elitist or Marxist or socialist or whatever, but the correct word for expensive gas is "reality." If your ideology can't deal with reality, perhaps you should rethink it.

Posted by elenchos | June 25, 2008 12:39 PM

Not all "desirable" jobs are located in urban areas either. Look at Microsoft HQ, or T-Mobile in Factoria & North Bend.

Posted by laterite | June 25, 2008 12:41 PM

Light rail construction is well under way. Don't let the exurbs wilt!!! Vote for more light rail, to revitalize the exurbs. More light rail will quickly deposit tens of thousands of commuters into park and rides far from downtowns, where they can drive to exurbs and build them stronger and healthier than ever. Ride the wave.

Posted by we_need_real_transit | June 25, 2008 12:46 PM

hey just sayin', i live in brooklyn new york, just about the most urban environment the usa has to offer, and it's not "squalor", my neighborhood is beautiful, the buildings are awesome and the streets are treelined. people actually interact with one another everyday, kids play outside on the sidewalks and streets, and there is generally always some activity happening and energy everywhere. so fuck you you retard.
that being said, i do understand the benefit to the big picture with this trend, but i still don't like the idea on all these people flooding back into the cities they abandoned and seem to despise. urban density is good, but it only functions well if it is based on an urban minded culture.

Posted by douglas | June 25, 2008 12:49 PM

@14, I'm guessing most posters on Slog are in WA State, and there's nothing like Brooklyn (or NYC) here, so we're talking apples and oranges.

That said, I've been to Brooklyn, and you can't be posting with a straight face that there's no squalor there. Seriously? You have *got* to have your tongue in your cheek.

I'm sure that kids play outside and there's activity and energy in Baghdad, too, but that has nothing to do with Brooklyn or Seattle or people that want to live in exurban neighborhoods.

I don't get evil glee over the idea that people may have to be forced by circumstance to live like you do. What's up with that?

Posted by Just Sayin' | June 25, 2008 1:09 PM

As a long time anti-sprawl pro-density architect, stories like these just warm my heart.
The key is adding the infrastructure and the density to make the closer-in parts of the city affordable to all income levels.
I might be a little Pollyanna about it, but we can dare to dream, no?

Posted by scharrera | June 25, 2008 1:12 PM


What's up with that is that we tried to tell them their lifestyle was unsustainable. They called us traitors -- Bush and Cheney said they were living a "blessed lifestyle", ordained by God. A book called "Liberal Fascism" said we were Nazis for saying their lifestyle was unsustainable. They even got their war for oil as a means to maintain their lifestyle, and it didn't work. Just like we warned them.

So we were right, and they were wrong. Hence the glee. We might even be hoping that maybe now they will start listening before they make the same mistakes again.

What's evil about it? It's the reality of a physical substance called petroleum.

Posted by elenchos | June 25, 2008 1:21 PM

Don't worry, China is lowering diesel prices to destroy the environment faster than you can save it.

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 25, 2008 1:21 PM

#15. "there's nothing like Brooklyn (or NYC)". Brooklyn is part of New York City. Manhattan is not equal to NYC, although Mahattanites would disagree. (I am from Queens and have a huge chip on my shoUlder.)

Posted by Mike | June 25, 2008 1:30 PM

actually just sayin', i'm totally serious. i "live like i do" because it's an exciting and fulfilling environment to live in, not because i have to. yes there are parts of new york and every major city that are run down, but there are plenty of suburbs that have fallen into disrepair and "squalor" just the same. the only difference is that in the 70s and 80s when new york was dying and everyone was fleeing to the suburbs the smart people knew that the city would be back, as it is today, because it is far more sustainable than suburban design. what i find to be bullshit is the attitude that simply because one lives in the inner city one must therefore live like shit, i find that to be elitist and shallow and a general reflection of all the shortsidedness that has caused america so many problems.
also we aren't talking apples and oranges, we're talking about urban living as opposed to suburban living. seattle fits into that debate.

Posted by douglas | June 25, 2008 1:32 PM

@17 I was hoping for a serious answer, not one filled with retarded, magical-thinking nonsense.

For the record, I don't live in the "exurbs"; I live in Seattle's eastern suburbs after getting tired of having to commute out of the city for years to find work -- it was economically nonviable to live 20 miles from the major industry in the state (software development), and after spending hours of my life every day biking or busing out to where the jobs were from my Capitol Hill apartment, I gave up the pointlessness of clinging to urban life for vanity's sake.

I have friends and coworkers who bought exurban homes, though, because it was all they could afford, and because they hoped to live an American dream that didn't involve living in the strip mall suburban world I live in, never mind the urban squalor of the city. They have miserable, nightmarish commutes now, because even the bus system doesn't help them in Duvall or Maple Valley or whatever.

Posted by Just Sayin' | June 25, 2008 1:43 PM

Yes, lets drive all the poor and middle income people out of downtown, move all the richies in and then force the poor people to ride the bus/train/walk 3 hours to work. Good plan.

I'm not opposed to expensive gas or mass transit, and I certainly wouldn't mind if they stopped building those giant complexes of houses that look EXACTLY the same that stretch for miles and miles (--ever got lost in one of those neighborhoods? Freakin scary!), but I don't think this is going to be an all-good side effect.

Posted by SDizzle | June 25, 2008 1:44 PM

Just Sayin', have you been to Brooklyn lately? Like in the last 10 years?

Douglas didn't say there's no urban squalor there, but that many many parts of it are quite lovely. Living in Brooklyn in no way disqualifies you from tree-lined streets and backyards. In fact, it's pretty wonderful.

Posted by GirlAnachronism | June 25, 2008 1:54 PM


Uh, yeah. Sorry about all my magical thinking. Can you give us more of your serious, non-magical thoughts on this "American Dream" you speak of?

Posted by elenchos | June 25, 2008 1:56 PM

@21 i think you meant to respond to me, not elenchos' "magical thinking". i undrstand that the main source of high paying jobs in western washington is across lake washington and the commute from seattle is thus tough, but here in new york the main industry in the state(world) is across the water from me as well, but if i wanted to take advantage i could easily get to lower Manhattan in 15 or twenty minutes because we have effective mass transit here. which i would suggest is a much better solution for you, rather than giving up on all this horrible urban squalor and fleeing to the suburbs, seattle should get some real mass transit. that would be sustainable urban planning, you see?

Posted by douglas | June 25, 2008 2:09 PM

Best line in article is last one,"“I was so glad to get out of the city, the pollution the traffic, the crime,” she said. Now, the suburbs seem mean. “I wouldn’t do this again.”"

Posted by StrangerDanger | June 25, 2008 2:16 PM

@23, no, I haven't been in decades, though I guess I've been to Dorchester MA and Trenton NJ in the more recent past, not that it matters.

I know there are parks and trees and so on; like I said, I used to live in the city myself. I'm just sayin' that having to live there is a hard sell for the people who live in exurbs or suburbs or rural towns and I don't understand Dan's schadenfreude at their homes suddenly declining in value.

Posted by Just Sayin' | June 25, 2008 2:21 PM

@25, Seattle (and greater WA State) can/will never have the sort of mass transit you enjoy in NYC, and I agree that would have been a great solution to our problems, but again, apples and oranges.

Seattle is not New York, or Boston, or Chicago or any other first-tier US city where adults are in charge.

Posted by Just Sayin' | June 25, 2008 2:29 PM

It's just the wheel coming around again. Before cheap easy convenient transportation, the masses all lived as best they could in the city. Everyone competed for a finite resource, and not surprisingly, the most competitive competitors lived most comfortably and the less competitive competitors fought for the scraps. And only the very wealthy could maintain a country manse kinda lifestyle.

This is why we will continue to see more and more high end condo's going into city cores regardless of what the housing market in general does.

It's all cyclical.

Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | June 25, 2008 2:34 PM

Taught a smart-seeming (and embarassed) thirtyish woman how to use a train schedule yesterday at the Amtrak platform of the Richmond BART station. She said, "It's the first time I've ever used public transportation."

Posted by Grant Cogswell | June 25, 2008 2:53 PM

For some discussion of this very topic, and the dubiousness of the claim that increasing gas prices increases "close-in" home purchasing, see

The short version, it isn't economically viable to switch from a $350,000 house in the burbs to a $600,000 house in the city because of gas prices. Ultimately it's a commute that's killing you, being far away from city services and amenities, and increasing gas prices is just the last straw and not a real economic reason to move.

Posted by pragmatic | June 25, 2008 3:06 PM

So the cities get revitalised and the burbs go downhill. I've got the solution. Gay exodus. Take over the burbs. It won't be long before everyone wants to live there again. I can see it now. Gay couple, two point five kids. And kick ass shopping and street parties every weekend with child care.

Posted by Vince | June 25, 2008 3:09 PM

By the way, the fall in the value of homes in these areas has nothing to do with gas prices. It is all about sub prime loans, predatory lending to minorities and lower income people, and the completely lack of any oversight in the mortgage industry the last few years that has lead us to massive amounts of foreclosures the nation over. Most of those houses were located in the suburbs, being new construction and all to fulfill everyone's "American Dream."

Posted by pragmatic | June 25, 2008 3:22 PM

Read this last night online and the first thought I had was, "How long until ECB puts up a post pointing to this story saying 'SEE I TOLD YOU SO!'" I guess Dan will suffice in a pinch.

Posted by Justin | June 25, 2008 3:24 PM

I can almost see it according to Just Sayin. I guess, well the Seattlites and me personally are more than happy to live the urban lifestyle and pay for it. Some people really like to have land. I guess it all depends on what you value. the burbs, now that I think about it, are the worst of both worlds. Not enough land to really appreciate, and too spaced out to get that "neighborhood feel".

On one of our recent trips to Seattle, we were picking up one of our friends from a planned community in DuPont. The first thing out of my buddies mouth is,"My god this is hell".

I was expecting Tom Hanks and John Candy to come out start tearing through the crazy neighbors garbage.

Posted by OR Matt | June 25, 2008 3:27 PM

@28 - and yet, Vancouver BC proves you're wrong about the transit aspect ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 25, 2008 3:30 PM

@35, OR Matt, you're thinking of Rick Ducommun, and not John Candy, from the movie The Burbs with Tom Hanks, right?

Posted by pragmatic | June 25, 2008 3:32 PM

Funny, Portland OR is becoming Seattle light, plus light rail (and winning stable basketball team).

I do hear of many people moving from Seattle to Portland to take advantage of the fact that it has one of the better plans for development than any city in the country (But the eastern Oregon hicks will probably sabotage it in ways that we can not possibly imagine).

Posted by OR Matt | June 25, 2008 3:36 PM

@37 probably, got it's been so long since I saw that movie.

and Cory Feldman! Who could ever forget that guy.

Posted by OR Matt | June 25, 2008 3:37 PM

@36, I'd love for you to be right, but come on. The time for Seattle to have started funding and building a mass transit system was decades ago. That ship has sailed and we're stuck here now.

@38, Eastern OR is awesome, hicks aside. I wish I could afford to move there and drop off the grid entirely.

Posted by Just Sayin' | June 25, 2008 3:57 PM

Where the fuck is all this "urban squalor" at in Seattle?

Frankly, whitebread/vanilla Seattle could use a little squalor.

The only parts of this city that are urbanly dense are downtown, Belltown and small parts of Capitol Hill and First Hill. Pretty much all the rest is neighborhoods with plenty of grass, trees and quiet side streets.

The crybaby 'burbers need to face the music and stop whining. They had 50 years to rule and ruin America with their sprawl, their cars and freeways and their vapid banality. Their days are numbered.

Posted by michael strangeways | June 25, 2008 4:09 PM

@40 If you love to be married three times by the time you are 30, have four children with four different people, with terrible education for said children.

And really love making babies regardless of the consequencies (regardless of political offiliation I might add). Then eastern Oregon is right for you.

But this also coming from the yankee transplant.

Posted by OR Matt | June 25, 2008 4:14 PM

@41 is right: Seattle has little true density, and not a whole lot of diversity except in certain areas. Large parts of freakin' Bellevue (which has a very large immigrant population) have more diversity than most neighborhoods north of downtown Seattle.

Many Seattlites like to pretend what they have is true city living, when in fact it's not much different from the suburbs. Yet somehow they feel morally superior.

Posted by bigyaz | June 25, 2008 4:21 PM

Anyone that actually *gloats* over people affected by these changes is just being an asshole.

Posted by laterite | June 25, 2008 4:27 PM

They're just now realizing that kind of lifestyle is untenable?

"Suddenly, the economics of American suburban life are under assault as skyrocketing energy prices inflate the costs of reaching, heating and cooling homes on the distant edges of metropolitan areas."
"But life on the edges of suburbia is beginning to feel untenable.

they haven't been paying much attention out there, or they're kinda thick, if they're just now getting it.

Posted by point x point synopsis | June 25, 2008 5:42 PM

Part of the problem with this discussion is that it assumes "car" are part of whatever solution. Perhaps having fewer cars in general would improve our relationships with our land and price of oil. In other countries pulic transit is excellent, efficient, and environmentally sustainable. I think we in the US need to look at those models and copy them.

Posted by Anne | June 26, 2008 10:10 AM

I guess IDEALLY, I would like my car for recreation, small errands, and hitting the road to get out of the city. But I want public transportation to get to and from and work and not deal with traffic.

Do I want my cake and eat it to?

Posted by OR Matt | June 26, 2008 10:41 AM

I hate to rain on this little parade, but you know what this actually means?

Suburbs are going to turn into the shittiest slums ever. No public transport, no public spaces, a dearth of local business opportunities... yeah, have fun with that, people.

Posted by raisedbywolves | June 27, 2008 1:08 AM

Why all the gloating?

While I realize that most urban hipsters have little to no understanding of economics, I would like to think that most of you are at least bright enough to comprehend that everything you buy gets to the store in a ship, train, truck, all of which run on petroleum based fuels.

So if this continues, you best brace yourselves for what is known in economic circles as hyper-inflation or currency devaluation.

The increased costs of transporting goods to urban areas is going to be passed on to you, the ultimate consumer.

At least, a hillbilly such as myself can plant a vegetable garden and grow my own food. Good luck with that in a high rise urbane density condo.

You guys might find yourselves in the same situation as Depression Era Germany,where they had to take a wheelbarrow full of money to the market to buy food for a day.

That's if you have the wheelbarrow full of money. Or for that matter, the wheelbarrow.

Posted by Theo | June 27, 2008 4:31 PM

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