Charles Marohn of the New Urban Network has written a five part article with the thesis that suburbia is unsustainable and has developed from government’s belief that continued growth is inevitable. Financing suburban development with additional infrastructure cost ultimately leads to maintenance costs that can’t be sustained.
“In the great American experiment of suburbanization following World War II, we redirected our county’s extensive resources into a living arrangement unseen at any point in human history. We abandoned thousands of years of history, knowledge and tradition in building cities and towns in order to try this new — and completely untested — approach…With the automobile offering the promise of mobility for all, it was seemingly within our grasp for each American family to one day live the life of European royalty, complete with a country estate outfitted with all the modern trappings. America’s ascendancy and absolutely financial domination worldwide made this dream appear possible. We likely never stopped to think it through.”
The maintenance of the suburban ideal requires continued growth.
“If cities are not raising enough revenue to repair and replace their infrastructure, the system cannot sustain itself.”
Following WWII, “We redirected our capital and productive capacities to building suburban America and created the greatest economic advancement the world had ever seen. It was a very painful transition, especially for our major cities.”
He goes on to make this important point: “Our national economy is “all in” on the suburban experiment. We cannot sustain the trajectory we are on, but we’ve gone too far down the path to turn back. None of our dominant political ideologies can solve this problem. In fact, there is no solution.”
If we try to relate this all to Lummi Island we see that our island, in the first half of the century was more or less sustainable. Following WWII and into the twenty-first century the island became a suburb of Bellingham/Ferndale. The ferry crisis has given us a heads up on what other suburbs around the country will learn later—that a suburb is not a convenient place to live. it’s too far from work, too far from school, too far from medical help and too far from supplies.
Cheap gasoline and the private passenger auto gave people the opportunity to live hours from work. Simultaneously, housing became our primary industry and the number one investment of most people. We could live where we wanted and make money doing it through appreciation of real estate. Now with housing values dropping (the writer in this link argues that they will drop 90-95% ) a house is no longer an investment—just a place to live.
So, how does that affect the island? Long term, and probably short term as well, (based on anecdotal reports of people who are planning to leave) the demographic of islanders will change. It is not a suitable place for a daily commuter to live. (Right now, a couple commuting to separate locations each in a car will pay $400+ a month in ferry fees in addition to gas and maintenance on their autos. At a 25% tax rate you’d have to earn around $7000 as a couple to pay your ferry fares). That’s a significant premium to pay for the privilege of living on an island/suburb.
If the ferry schedule is significantly reduced this will add to the stress level of commuters and others who currently enjoy our virtual bridge. Retirees, weekenders, telecommuters, farmers and others not required to leave the island frequently will continue to be comfortable here.
According to Mr. Marohn, the country is going to experience a big shakeup as suburbanites discover that the suburbs no longer work for them and governments likewise recognize that the infrastructure to support suburbs costs more than they can afford.
At that point, suburbia’s belief that they are entitled to service won’t make any difference.