Squish Cities, Save Gas


One of the oddest ways we’ve heard to stop car pollution comes to us care of BusinessWeek. Columnist Alex Steffen says that we shouldn’t be looking at reworking the car to save the planet, we should be reworking the American city.

The thought is if communities are denser — clustered around shopping and other needs like hospitals — then folks will need to drive less. Steffen almost has us when he digs up the fact that half of America will be rebuilt anyway by 2030, so we might as well make it denser.

He also says that cars take too long to redesign. However, we’ve seen radical changes in automotive technology, and in a few years, plug-in electrics look to be a reality coming from many automakers.

Condensing neighborhoods still sounds like an interesting idea, but if you think it was hard to get people to give up their big SUVs, giving up quiet cul-de-sacs full of two-car garages might be even harder.

Cities: A Smart Alternative to Cars (BusinessWeek)

By David Thomas | February 12, 2008 | Comments (6)
Tags: Pop Culture



I'm an urban and transportation planner and the idea really is the only way to make our lives better. Electric cars will not solve our congestion problem and we no longer want to build more roads - it's too costly and does not solve the problem.

In fact, neighborhoods of McMansions were recently featured in the new Atlantic Monthly issue as the upcoming slums. As the foreclosure crises widens/deepens and people seek more exciting lifestyles, huge houses at the end of cul-de-sacs removed from shopping and entertainment will suffer. Add on top of this the fact that they are really poorly built, no only will squatters and the poor move in, but they will generally fall apart over 10-15 years. This is much unlike inner-city housing stock built 75-100 years ago that was able to withstand abuse and now, renovated, are worth lots of money and have been yuppified.

A lot of suburbs here in Chicago are rebuilding their downtowns quite successfully with shops, restaurants and lots of condos. I still think people will drive to costco, grocery etc but if you can take a nice walk to dinner or the bar (and of course hop on the train to work) it would help a lot.

The other problem is most areas aren't Chicago. Indianapolis, Nashville, Atlanta, D.C. , all of South Florida, S. California...not exactly easy to do the same.

I was also going to comment about the story in Atlantic (link here: http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200801/home-foreclosure). Although not transport specific a lot of the same points are made about the rebirth of the walkable city.

It's been interesting to watch how developers are targeting those non-centralized cities mentioned above. Even sprawl-happy places like my hometown of Houston have seen the change (http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4182/is_19970418/ai_n10109328). Developers are aggressively marketing to retirees suggesting they park their car and take part in the urban renaissance.

Whether or not it will prove successful in the end, who knows...my Dad loves his Prius an awful lot.


It's very easy to look at Europe for inspiration for city planners but I'm not sure it's so easy to actually implement here.

The key thing about the USA is that there is just so much SPACE for everyone. On a recent flight from Chicago to the west coast, I would estimate that at least 90% was absolutely completely empty. Not even farmed. I know it was desolate, but that ammount of space simply isn't available to most countries in the world. If you were to fly over England, you'd only see towns and farms and industry. There is no open land.

As such, in the UK you are FORCED to build small, as what open land is left is highly protected. Here, there is less problem. You can expand, and up to know, we have!

It's hard to get people to downsize, especially something as large as a house. One of the best parts of living in the USA is the large houses and apartments everyone has. It's wonderful. Obviously the downside is everyone drives and there is very little centralised community outside the major cities.

However, if the trend of flight from the cities to the burbs can be slowed or halted, then there is hope that within cities there can be a concerted effort to make more of a green lifestyle. The problem of course is halting the flight. People seem to want to live cut off from the world in their big flimsy houses away from the big scary cities.

I have no idea what the solution to the problem is, as once you have gone down one path, such as this, the infrastructure becomes so entrenched that it can be nearly impossible to reverse it. It's not a matter of how to get someone to stop driving to Appleby's instead of a local diner in their town square, it's taking away the nasty Appleby's and making available a ready made townsquare to begin with. How do you do that?


hahaha! pipe dreams! i find many people who drive half a block for "errands" because it's cold out, it's hot out, etc etc. somehow i don't think that, even if we succeed in shrinking out cities, nothing would change.

furthermore, i think some of America's most crowded cities, such as NYC or Boston, breed some of the most onery, selfish people ... crowding is stressful. i sure as heck need my wide open spaces.

Great comments made by the forum, and would like to add. That people do use, in their hybirds cars. "Flex-fuel" which means that the car can run any blend up to 85% ethanol as well as regular gasoline. Would'nt it be a even better idea to turn your present auto into a hybrid, there by saving thousands of dollars on a new car payment. And just think you would only need gasoline and water to run your present auto for cleaner emissions.
Plug-in electrics look to be a reality coming from many automakers. And so does Water Power

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