an irrational system
June 6, 2010, 4:23 am
Filed under: density, Energy, Suburbs, Transit

A big part of understanding energy and urban and suburban life in America is understanding the depth and complexities of the lies we tell ourselves.  We pay our way, we believe.  Not according to David Owen who wrote the challenging book Green Metropolis.  You would never guess that a down towner pays the way of a suburbanite based on what we popularly read and hear.

Here is a startling paragraph from Owen’s book:

In sprawling areas, the cost of providing electric service to far-flung new subdivisions is typically spread across the entire utility customer base, giving no one an incentive to make development more compact and efficient.  Most civic infrastructure in the United States is treated in this irrational way.  Developers build on cheap land far from cities’ central cores, and then power lines and roads and sewers and water mains and new schools follow to serve them, raising costs for efficient and inefficient users alike.  No one who moves into a new suburban subdivision pays anything like the real cost of the infrastructure that is required to support them.  Low-volume energy users in central cities end up subsidizing the expressways, air conditioners, swimming pool heaters, minivans, and automatic lawn watering systems that serve people living at the farthest edges of the region; a rational system would do the reverse, by imposing penalties for squandering resources shared by all.

David Owen, Green Metropolis p. 258


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