The past two months have seen an increase in the number of media references I’ve seen relating to the housing bubble and resulting foreclosures down in the states. In Canada we seem to feel a little immune from the major effects of this situation, but economically, whether we like it or not, we are tied to the States for much of our national well being.

What is of interest to me is how much media coverage this is getting, compared to say the idea of sustainability or climate change. Given the long term nature of climate change, and the fact that an ex-presidential candidate even made a movie about it, wouldn’t you think that Americans might have an interest in it? Certainly the media has covered it, but looking at the following graphs of search and news trends from Google Trends provides an interesting picture of the relative search-worthiness of the terms.

Looking at Trends

Comparing the following two graphs, note that the News Reference Volume, (measured on the bottom graph) shows the term "climate change" was much more active in the news than "foreclosure". However, the main differences are seen in what people in America have been searching for, compared with the whole world. The first graph shows the trend of all searches across the world for the relevant terms. The second show the trend for America. What this clearly shows is that "foreclosure" was almost exclusively an American search term in 2007, while Americans searched for the term "climate change" approximately four times less frequently. Read more after the jump…

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Are the Two Terms Related?

The interesting thing is that in many cases, the two are actually more related than many in America would choose to accept. The conditions that have led to the sprawling cookie cutter suburbs surrounding cities across North America are the same breeding grounds for higher green house gas emissions. Lower efficiency houses use more energy to heat and cool, people drive further, people consume more, and overall live less sustainable lives than what could be achieved in a higher density mixed use city. The pattern in foreclosure statistics seems to show rings of susceptibility around a city, with those at the furthest reaches most likely to foreclose on their mortgage; those same people who typically drive the furthest, and probably were the most recent additions to buildings in the city.

While I don’t have any easy answers for the people who are facing foreclosures as I write this, I can say that a different approach to land use, ownership and density may help to prevent this from occurring again in the future. Cities and Urban Planners need to consider the long term sustainability of projects as they are presented; not just the financial viability of the proposal from the developers perspective, but the long term cost of maintaining the roads and services constructed, particularly if no one is living in the houses.

Climate change and the impacts of an oil fuelled economy and lifestyle will bring about a massive shift in the way society functions; walkability will be crucial, cars will be optional or even obsolete.

Published by Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada.