The rise and fall of the automobile has had some sad consequences, and this is just the beginning.

All told, 51 lots went into foreclosure. Now the 28-acre Hidden Ridge subdivision really is a mirage. It’s got new lamp posts lining freshly paved cul-de-sacs. But no homes, only weeds and cockeyed, rusting for-sale signs.

“They won’t sell now at any price,” Bennett said. “Not without giving them away.”

Danny Westneat | Unwanted subdivisions are our modern-day ghost towns | Seattle Times Newspaper.

Expensive subdivisions and expensive houses are totally unsustainable without cheap gas and an economy that is there to back up these massive purchases, (which by the way – it’s not).

I don’t enjoy the whole “doom and gloom” thing, particularly when it’s people’s life saving that are going up in smoke, but this is not a blip, it’s not a short term problem – it is going to get worse as oil runs dry and society endures an energy descent. Poorly built and poorly situated houses will be the first to be abandoned, as they will be too expensive to run, (that’s if the utilities are still servicing the suburbs as they do today), and they simply will be too far from any commercial centers or places of gainful employment.

The ghost town syndrome described in the above article is minor compared to the unwanted suburbia of the future.

[ad#125-right]Avoiding this issue is relatively easy (to write!):

  • Provide adequate food and water locally
  • Provide renewable energy sources locally (publicly owned is preferable).
  • Reduce energy demand locally to match available supplies
  • Provide efficient modes of transportation for goods and people and reduce the distance traveled for all goods and services
  • Provide flexibility in gentrified laws and codes that currently prohibit any of the above from happening.

These are some huge changes to today’s oil-rich economy and transportation model, but I beleive they represent a realistic approach towards an energy descent. Municipalities, regions and countries could benefit from auditing the systems to find where the holes exist and plan to provide alternatives to fill those needs. This would allow for planning to prevent or at least predict the likelyhood of new ghost towns forming. In the meantime, it is nearly impossible for municipalities to control the investment that developers put into infrastructure – which is ironic, considering that it is typically the municipality that takes ownership of the infrastructure once the project is built, whether there are houses or not.

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.