And transit is at the dead center of this shift, perhaps literally—in 2012, economists from Berkeley and Oregon State argued that rising gas prices popped the housing bubble, as the quick, steep mid-2000s increase pushed families past their financial breaking points, forcing them to reconsider or involuntarily abandon long, expensive commutes.
All this sounds like a nightmare scenario if you live in the suburbs. Gas prices rise and housing prices fall, eating into liquid capital and equity. Families with the ability to move return back to the city, depressing housing prices even further. Declining property tax revenues and a fleeing upper-middle-class undermine previously excellent schools. At best, suburbanites take a huge hit on depreciating houses; at worst, they’re stranded in decaying neighborhoods, cut off by isolating new infrastructure.
If you grew up in Chicago from the 1950s onward, it will look familiar. It’s probably why you moved to the suburbs in the first place, and the city still bears the scars of that flight. A great—and rapid—inversion is a fearsome possibility.
Another thing that I’d argue made the rise in gas prices so devastating in the suburbs is the prevalence of suburb-to-suburb commuting. Not everybody lives out and goes in; some go sideways or up or down, and the office parks mentioned are rarely anywhere near a transit hub. Sure, some trains go to some burbs but it’s not the same as having a network of trains that let off not in the middle of 12 acres of parking but right in front of your office door. Mr. A and I both had jobs for a while that by virtue of their locations left us no choice but to drive, and that’s in a city we like to think of as having pretty awesome mass transit. You get 30 miles out, if your car is too expensive you ain’t goin’ no place.
And the lack of options means a lack of control, which is what used to make me crazy about the whole process. In terms of getting from point A to point B it’s a hell of a lot easier when everything’s close together, and Whet hits on the best thing I’ve found in my own bike riding adventures: Total control of the journey from one end to the other. I get on my bike at home, I get off it at work, I walk no more than the 10 feet from the house to the rack to the office to the rack to the house again. If you need to take a car to a train to another train to a bus and then back again at the end of the day, and even one of those chains of transportation is late or God forbid inactive entirely, your whole life is like a domino setup of fuckery that just got leveled by a T-Rex and you’re exhausted by 8 a.m.
Some of this is just generation sniping, of course, of my very least favorite kind: Why do you have all this stuff when I didn’t get any of it? One of the hardest things to argue, with myself sometimes even, is that future generations don’t owe past generations shit. You love the way you live — awesome! But don’t wait for the hipster kids to throw you a parade for it, because they won’t. You didn’t. Your parents didn’t, for their parents. That’s not how people work. Everybody wants what they want, which is no more a judgment on you than your choices are an imperative towards them.
Why glibertarian dickheads like Kass lionize self-reliance and then want their lifestyles validated by every Starbucks barista they see is one of the enduring mysteries of modern punditry.