My old team-leader Scott “Satan” MacGibbon pointed out a couple of Economist articles that touch on some of the things I’ve been thinking about…
The first article is on the migration to less centralised and specialised workplaces. Most of it is another variation on the “Starbucks is the new cubicle” theme that seems to be discovered by journalists every couple of months, but I found the discussion on the revival of “Third Places” interesting, not least because I hadn’t actually encountered the term before.
The other is a short and (for the Economist) to-the-point article on the further damage that the boomer retirement wave of housing sales may do to the already seriously-wounded US property market. Most of it is along the line of the points I made below, in that the same logic applies in the Australian market, maybe even more so given that the investment property has been the preferred method of salting something away for the future for some time now. However his paragraph caught my eye:
Suburbs, which swelled with the baby-boomers, may begin to decline. If the building industry contracts, home prices may remain more stable. Or developers may switch to serving the old, building more compact housing near amenities. Towns may make new efforts to attract immigrants, who already accounted for 40% of the growth in homeownership between 2000 and 2006.
Unfortunately what the article fails to address is how this will interact with the rising cost of private transportation caused by peak-oil (or the less hysterical “plateau-oil“, as John Quiggin terms it). My first thought is that there are two ways this can play out; rising costs will further speed the collapse of the suburban lifestyle, or they will force the accommodation of more flexible work conditions. But there is another factor; the most remarkable effect of the changes in the oil market is likely to be in food production. There is already a recognition that most of the food we eat travels are ridiculous distance to our plates (supposedly ~2,500Km on average, although I can’t find a source for that). This may cause a fundamental change in the way we live as it becomes more economical to move closer to the centres of food production. This in turn may revitalise the currently bland and homogeneous environment of the suburban tracts; it’s possible that in the end the suburbs may become the country villages of the 21st century.