Monday, March 31, 2008

Books That Seem to Matter...

Returning with another installment of the Daily Sprawl Books That Seem to Matter series, today we recommend: "Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future" by Bill McKibben.

This excellent read takes a look at how the growing energy challenges will ultimately demand a more local way of living.

Unlike others (such as Jim Kunstler), McKibben takes a much less--though equally compelling--cynical view of how things will turn out. His optimism is demonstrated through examples of first world and third world changes already in place--ones that can be, if not must be, replicated here in the U.S.

Probably the best chapter is how the author and his family ate only local food (they live in Vermont) for a season--and, in doing so, learned the challenges...and rewards that doing so involves.

If "Getting Local" matters to you, this is a great book to pick-up. At roughly 250 paperback pages, it's very manageable yet still full of novel insights.


"U.S. Suburban Sprawl by the Numbers":
The latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau reinforce a vision of the United States where population growth and suburban sprawl will have to confront serious water shortages in the years to come.

Nine of the 10 fastest growing counties were located in South or West, with water-stressed areas like Phoenix, Atlanta and parts of Texas among the leaders.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sprawl and Risks to Teen Drivers?

That's what this article suggests is the case:
The spreading out of cities' residential, commercial, recreational and public spaces, otherwise known as urban sprawl, poses a special risk for teen drivers according to a new University of Virginia Health System study.

Dr. Matthew Trowbridge, emergency medicine physician and lead researcher, found that sprawl results in more miles driven by teens, who have a higher rate of fatalities per miles driven than adults. His results appear in the March 2008 issue of the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.

Monday, March 24, 2008

How Prepared is Your City...

...for peak oil.

This report discusses which cities are in the best position:
This study was made under the hypothesis that certain U.S. cities and metro areas are
currently better prepared for higher oil prices--or potential oil supply disruptions--than
are other cities and regions. A further assumption is made. Cities or regions that have
existing significant alternatives to reliance on oil for transportation and alternatives to oil
for building heating and electricity generation will fare better economically if oil prices
remain above the barrier of $100 a barrel oil.
The main area of impact rising oil prices have in the US economy are on transportation,
namely primary mobility, or the way in which people go about life’s daily needs:
commuting to work or school, driving to shopping, health care, recreation and

Even the Wall St. Journal... starting to realize that the problems created by sprawl require major changes--as opposed to just relying on the hope of an unknown technology coming to the rescue:
The dynamic today appears different. So far, the oil industry has failed to find major new sources of crude. Absent major finds, prices are likely to keep rising, unless consumers cut back. Taxes are one way to curb their appetites. In Western Europe and Japan, for example, where gas taxes are higher than in the U.S., per capita consumption is much lower.

New technology could help ease the resource crunch. Advances in agriculture, desalination and the clean production of electricity, among other things, would help.

But Mr. Stiglitz, the economist, contends that consumers eventually will have to change their behavior even more than then did after the 1970s oil shock. He says the world's traditional definitions and measures of economic progress -- based on producing and consuming ever more -- may have to be rethought.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

This Week's KunstlerCast...

...discusses zoning and land use regulations that have instigated sprawl.

Definitely worth listening to.
"Black Monday"--of the oil variety:
The bottom line: Oil prices are high today, not due to a temporary disruption in the global flow of petroleum as in 1980, but for systemic reasons that are, if anything, becoming more pronounced. This means news headlines with the phrase "record oil price" are likely to be commonplace for a long time to come. The only good news may lie in just how bad the news really is. Sooner or later, ever rising energy costs are likely to push the United States and other oil-consuming nations into deep recession, thus depressing demand and possibly beginning to bring energy prices down. But this is hardly a recipe for lower prices that anyone would voluntarily choose.
Not good.

Interesting New Thoughts...

...from Robert Samuelson:
What distinguishes this crisis -- which brought down Bear Sterns over the weekend -- is that it involves the entire financial system, not just depository institutions, and it's more mystifying than any of its predecessors.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Increasing Gas Costs...

...are just beginning to take place according to this article:
Goldman Sachs said $175 a barrel crude "represents the price level required to maintain trend economic growth against our anaemic supply growth forecasts, assuming growth in the U.S. [economy] re-accelerates early next year.”

Late last month, Matthew R. Simmons, chairman of the Houston-based investment bank Simmons & Co. International, actually predicted that oil prices could climb as high as $378 a barrel – characterizing current prices in the $100 range as “preposterously cheap.”

To underscore his point, Simmons told the Arabian Business news service that in the United Kingdom capital of London, gasoline can sell for as much as $9 a gallon. And even that doesn’t deter motorists from driving their cars.

Prices at that level don’t “seem to have slowed anyone down. It works out as much as $378 a barrel. Yes [I can see it reaching that high]," he told the news service.

Just last week, the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned last week the era of cheap oil had ended. In fact, only a sustained global recession could send oil back down below the $60 a barrel level for any length of time.

Consumer Preferences in a...

...soft real east market. That's the focus of this story from the NAHB's e-newsletter:
ven in the depths of the current cyclical housing downturn, consumers continue to be interested in housing and home builders can tap into that potential by paying careful attention to home buying preferences, according to two experts on market trends who presented their latest research findings at the International Builders’ Show in Orlando last month.

Emerging as a strong draw for consumers this year is anything “green,” a market force that has been gaining strength with the continuing rise of energy costs, according to Gopal Ahluwalia, NAHB’s vice president of research.

“New home buyers are most influenced by greener choices that include energy-efficient features and equipment-based energy saving features,” said Ahluwalia. “They are also very interested in exterior features, such as a front porch, deck or patio in the rear, and exterior lighting. In addition, laundry rooms and dining rooms are widely considered to be essential in new homes.”

Sunday, March 16, 2008


That's the new term coined by this article:
Slumburbia? After decades of middle class flight from the cities in search of safe neighborhoods and good schools — a flight that continues today even from gentrified cities like San Francisco — it's hard to conjure the image of a truly derelict suburbia. Will all those manicured lawns sprout weeds and broken bottles like a Baltimore back alley? Will drug dealers take over the local cul-de-sac? Will squatters set up camp in the neighbor's McMansion?

All this seems unfathomable, but it's the prediction du jour for some urban planners who make it their business to track the larger sociological implications of our land use.

Blogging from Taos, New Mexico...

Sunday and Monday of this week I'm here in Taos, New Mexico conducting public work sessions on their SmartCode effort.

By the way, if you ever make it to Taos, this is a fantastic place to stay.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Daily Sprawl Prediction

Okay, mark today's date (March 13th) down as when Daily Sprawl made this prediction:

The ongoing ethanol/bio-fuel fiasco is about to drive food prices into a hyper-inflation mode like we've never seen in our lifetimes.

Here's the a desperate attempt to salvage the auto-centric sprawl system that is endemic to this country, the government is increasingly turning to food-derived fuel now that oil continues its quick trot toward $150 per barrel.

The insanity of this trend is that every ounce (much less gallon) of food-derived fuel decreases the availability of that food for eating.

In other words, vehicular consumption replaces human consumption.

That's right--repeat the above statement three more times and pause to think about it.



Okay. Hopefully that little exercise clarifies things a bit. Namely, that this is crazy, ridiculous decision-making.

Do we really need to drive so much that its worth inflating the cost of almost every type of corn or grain-reliant food? Bread. Milk. Eggs. Cereal. Poultry and Beef.

Frankly, this trend only furthers to cement what is shaping up to be a real Nero-complex for this country.

You can mark this prediction in ink.

Why Isn't OPEC...

...raising production in light of increased prices?

This expert has a simple answer: because they do not have the capacity to do so.

The cartel not only doesn't have excess capacity, but--in several prominent cases--they don't have the capacity to meet their own permissible quota.

Are You Addicted?

"Green Coast"

Smart Coast--a smart growth advocacy group based in South Alabama--is presenting a new seminar on Green Building issues.

They always do a top notch job with their events so we recommend this one in advance.

Click here to find out more.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Michigan's Governor Recommends...

...smaller schools:
Gov. Jennifer Granholm will propose in her State of the State address Tuesday a plan to spend $300 million on as many as 100 smaller, more personalized high schools to replace larger schools whose students are doing poorly and have high dropout rates.

The plan is based on the idea that smaller is better. High schools with about 400 students are more manageable, students can get more individual attention and the principal knows everybody in the building, Granholm administration officials said.

Funding for the proposal would come from bonding against the $32 million a year the state sets aside to pay off a special-education settlement with local districts. The last payment on a portion of that settlement will be made this year, so the state would continue setting aside that money to pay off the bonds for this program, to be called the 21st Century Schools Fund.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Sprawl and Food Costs...

The idea that "everything has an oil cost" is more true than ever when it comes to food. The cost of oil-derived fertilizers and the cost of oil-driven transportation are too of the biggest ones related to what we eat.

So, now that oil is creeping toward $105 per barrel, should this really surprise us?:
American families, already pinched by soaring energy costs, are taking another big hit to household budgets as food prices increase at the fastest rate since 1990.

After nearly two decades of low food inflation, prices for staples such as bread, milk, eggs, and flour are rising sharply, surging in the past year at double-digit rates, according to the Labor Department. Milk prices, for example, increased 26 percent over the year. Egg prices jumped 40 percent.

Escalating food costs could present a greater problem than soaring oil prices for the national economy because the average household spends three times as much for food as for gasoline. Food accounts for about 13 percent of household spending compared with about 4 percent for gas.

Rising food prices can be particularly corrosive to consumer confidence because people are so frequently exposed to the cost increases. "It's the biggest risk we face economically, and it might be the thing that does us in," said Rich Yamarone, director of economic research at Argus Research Corp. in New York. "There's nothing really worse than having a job, making money, and forking most of it over just so you can have the same amount of food. You're running in place, and it really weighs on you."

As with energy, higher food costs cut into discretionary income that buys everything from cars to computers to movie tickets and drives the consumer-based US economy. Falling home values and a faltering stock market have battered consumer confidence, spurring a retrenchment in spending that is contributing to recent job losses and pulling the economy toward recession.

Many analysts expect consumers to keep paying more for food. Wholesale food prices, an indicator of where supermarket prices are headed, rose last month at the fastest rate since 2003, with egg prices jumping 60 percent from a year ago, pasta products 30 percent, and fruits and vegetables 20 percent, according to the Labor Department.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Matt Simmons, one of the world's leading oil industry gurus, recently gave a nice and concise primer on "Peak Oil" while appearing on CNBC's Fast Money.

See the video here.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

World Made By Hand Update...

The official website for World Made By Hand is now live with some interesting features including a short video vignette of the book.

p.s. The website's background music perfectly sets the tone of the book. Well done.

How is the Home Building Industry...

...responding to the current housing situation?

This article discusses a panel session from the recent international builders show in Florida. The panel focused on how homebuilders can survive the downturn.

Overall, there were some good and some bad ideas. However, it was heartening to see several builders recognize the need for smaller houses in more dense (though not necessarily high density) arrangements.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Why BioFuel is Such...

...a stupid approach to high oil cost:
For those anxious to assign blame, the U.S. biofuels industry has made a particularly juicy target. With US$6 billion worth of annual subsidies going into the ethanol industry, critics say, the dream of making America more energy independent has inverted an equation that held for millennia — namely, that you increase food production by putting more energy into it (in the post-industrial age, energy means tractor fuel and nitrogen fertilizer). Now, farmers are being blandished with government money to convert food into energy. Pimentel, the Cornell agricultural scientist, has dubbed it the "biofuel boondoggle": fully 20 per cent of the U.S. corn crop went into creating ethanol last year, yet it provided only one per cent of the country's fuel needs. "So it's not making us energy independent at all, and it's driving up the price of everything else," he says. "You're taking corn away from feeding livestock, and sure enough, here in the States, the price of meat, milk and eggs has gone up 10 to 20 per cent. The price of other grains that you can use as substitutes is going up, because they're in short supply, too."
Read the whole story and remember--this is not some wacko, survivalist website but, rather, a mainstream publication.

This is important information to consider.

Anti-Sprawl Legislation...

...from one Oklahoma legislator:
A Tulsa lawmaker has authored a bill that he hopes would limit urban sprawl by offering financial incentives to agricultural owners to preserve their farmland.

State Rep. Lucky Lamons would rather farm owners donate their land to a conservation easement than sell it to developers. His bill would allow for a tax credit of half the fair market value of the land.

The cap would be set at $100,000 initially, then jump to $250,000 in 2011. The credits could be sold to a corporation for a cash benefit or used as a tax credit.

New NPR Series on Land Use and Sprawl...

A new high profile NPR series called "Shifting Ground" recently debuted.

The first story considers a Nevada community where rural life and suburban sprawl crash headlong into a lawsuit involving noise ordinances and a donkey.

Curious? So were we.

So, we listened look forward to future stories in this exciting series...

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Daily Sprawl Recommended Reading...

Daily Sprawl just finished Jim Kuntsler's latest book--World Made By Hand. It's a fictional follow-up to his groundbreaking The Long Emergency.

In short, the book considers (again, fictionally) what one upstate New York community might face if The Long Emergency played out.

Overall, the story is well-written with an interesting set of characters interwoven with a backstory involving a post-oil United States--one where even the trains and power have essentially stopped functioning.

While the book takes The Long Emergency to an extreme that even Kuntsler doesn't suggest is a likely reality, World Made By Hand is a must read if these issues matter to you.