High Gasoline Prices are Good for Children

If children could drive cars, perhaps they would enjoy suburbs built for cars as much as their parents do...

Adults drive cars. Children don’t. They walk or ride bikes.

In suburban areas built mostly for cars, adults in cars dominate. On the other hand, children suffer. They usually stay inside or wait to get driven by their parents because: 1) most places of interest are not within walking or biking distance, and 2) the streets are unsafe for young pedestrians or bicyclists.

Fortunately for children, high gasoline prices are making adults less interested in driving their cars, and more interested in walking.Three recent articles illustrate this point. First, this article in The Wall Street Journal discusses how housing prices in the central cores of large American cities are not dropping while prices in surrounding suburbs are.

Second, this article in The Atlantic Monthly contends that suburbs without compact town centers or efficient public transportation links to the city center are falling out of favor, to become, the title suggests, “The Next Slums.” Home prices are dropping rapidly, with many homes remaining unoccupied while waiting to be sold.

Third, this Wall Street Journal article details the city of Sacramento’s new plan for “smart growth” – i.e. clustering the places where people live more closely with the businesses where they work and shop.

In essence, there is currently a movement away from car-dominated communities toward walkable communities. The Atlantic article discusses how residential developers these days are responding to these trends in demand by building not only lofts and condos in city centers, but also new communities in suburbs that are compact and walkable. The latter are often dubbed “traditional neighborhood developments” or “new urbanism.”

A few months ago, I wrote a series of articles on one such community called The Waters. In the article on Kids’ Lives, I describe how the design of that community creates a great environment for children to grow up. It seems like every child plays outside practically every day with friends. The community was designed to be walkable – with all sorts of places of interest within a 5-minute walk, and with streets that strongly discourage fast car traffic.

If $5/gallon gasoline convinces even a small percentage – say 10% – of Americans to move to communities like this, I think it’s well worth it. It’s just a shame that it’s taking an economic crisis for us to consider a lifestyle that’s so much better for our children.

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