Friday, July 25, 2008

Useless in the Age of Expensive Energy

“The housing boom is not going to resume,” opined James Howard Kunstler before Symposium attendees yesterday. “The homebuilders are going down, and they’re not going to come back. It’s done, its over. The suburban experiment is over.

“I don’t know what the city of the future will be like, but I believe larger cites will condense at their centers, but get smaller as a whole. Forget about the skyscraper and condo tower. Don’t even think about buying a condo in one of those things. They will be useless in the age of expensive energy.

“Our cities are where they are because they occupy important sites. Something will be in these places, but not the metroplexes of the 21st century that we’ve known them to be. We’re going to have to move a lot more things on water than we do now. We’re going to have to put back the piers and the docks and the sleazy places for sailors.”
OK... Sleazy places for sailors? We have to worry about building those? Isn't that overthinking things a little?

That "we're going to have to move a lot more things on water than we do now" is pretty interesting. I wonder if we're going to restore the tow path canals? If you're in Easton, PA, check out the museum.


nephos said...

I read Kunstler's book on why oil and climate change were going to kill us all. And though I kind of agree with that general premise, he did seem to jump to conclusions rather a lot.

Why not skyscrapers? Why is suburbia going to die? Aren't there other possible adaptations that could continue to support such things? Like trains run off nuclear power plants? And since when was packing people into sky-scrapers a bad idea? It's still a very efficient way of making connections between economically useful elements.

Anonymous said...

It seems a little silly to say cities will get smaller as well. I think his thinking was that we wouldn't be able to operate elevators, but that seems kind of bogus.

I didn't quote him to dump on him, though, but to bring up his (implied) bit about restoring the canals. I still don't feel like I see the future of nuclear power clearly, and it makes a big difference, as you say, to the price of electricity itself. Electric trains might be really expensive in a wind-driven world, or at least not compellingly cheaper than canals, which are also cool.

nephos said...

Well, yes, I do miss the good old days of listening to Stephen Foster on the banjo, as I and my migrant worker compatriots rode the barge up the Mississippi.

But I don't think we'll come to that. Whether it's nuclear power plants or renewables, I think we'll build these assets first before we resign ourselves to climbing stairs and taking the paddle-boat to work. There is thousands of years of potentially accessible energy in uranium, and I believe the sun is supposed to stick around for even longer.