Richard Florida: Decline of the Burbs is Not Just About Gas Prices

Via Planetizen, Richard Florida argues the decline in the popularity of
suburbs is not just a product of rising oil prices, but a result of a
new "spatial fix" that is reorganizing how and where people live their
lives. From Florida’s column in the Globe and Mail:

What’s happening here goes a lot deeper than the end of cheap oil. We
are now passing through the early development of a wholly new
geographic order – what geographers call “the spatial fix” – of which
the move back toward the city is just one part.

Suburbanization was the spatial fix for the industrial age – the
geographic expression of mass production. Low-cost mortgages, massive
highway systems and suburban infrastructure projects fuelled the
industrial engine of postwar capitalism, propelling demand for cars,
appliances and all sorts of industrial goods.

The creative economy is giving rise to a new spatial fix and a very
different geography – the contours of which are only now emerging.
Rising fuel costs are one thing, but in today’s idea-driven economy, it’s time costs that really matter.
With the constant pressure to be more efficient and to innovate, it
makes little sense to waste countless collective hours commuting. So
the most efficient and productive regions are the ones in which people
are thinking and working – not sitting in traffic. And, according to
detailed research by the Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman,
commuting is among the least enjoyable, if not the single least
enjoyable, of all human activities.

  • JK

    His larger point about the attractiveness of cites has merit, but the assertion about shorter commute times is off. NYC has the longest avg commute time in the country followed by many of the other most “accessible” walk/transit oriented cities. Here is the handy link to the US Census report on this.

  • d

    There’s also something to be said about having productive leisure time as well. Given the amount of time one spends in a car in the suburbs, it’s almost impossible to maximize one’s leisure time these days. With weekend traffic as bad as weekday traffic in some ‘burbs, the suburban dream of driving to and from work but living the small-town life is virtually nonexistent, even in towns with formerly vibrant downtown areas.

    So, New Yorkers may spend more time getting to and from work, but once most of us are home we have grocery stores or small markets, drug stores, coffee shops, restaurants, video stores, clothing stores, furniture stores, and many more conveniences within easy walking distance of their apartments. (Even the less gentrified neighborhoods have many of these conveniences.)

    I used to live in Atlanta and even a trip to the grocery store to get a gallon of milk took about 20 minutes when you factored in the drive, parking, going to the store, and coming back. As a teen in the suburbs I was driven to school, to soccer practice, to friends’ houses, to the mall, to the movies, and more. In the city, almost everything is a lot closer.

    I think that’s one reason why the suburbs have failed that has little to do with gas prices and almost everything to do with how we value our time. Especially in the newer cities in the sunbelt, you need to get in your car to do just about everything.

  • BikeAllYear

    “commuting is among the least enjoyable, if not the single least enjoyable, of all human activities.”

    My commute is often the best park of my day. Although thats probably because I’m riding my bike.

  • An average NYC commuter may spend longer on his/her train/bus than the average Atlanta commuter spends in his/her car (note: that’s just the first example that came to my mind, I don’t know whether that’s actually the case), but if I can crack open a book or a newspaper, listen to music, and space out or whatever, that’s much less stressful than sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

  • anonymouse

    Driving is a pretty mind-numbing activity. And you don’t want creative workers arriving to work with their minds numbed. That’s why you see companies like Google and Yahoo and Microsoft providing their own transit systems for workers who live in the city to get to their suburban campuses.

  • jamesmallon

    Why do wankers like Florida get paid to use buzzwords about commonsensical urbane notions? Jane Jacobs wrote in English.

  • Daniel Burnham

    Isn’t Florida’s 15-minutes up yet?

  • Larry Littlefield

    “commuting is among the least enjoyable, if not the single least enjoyable, of all human activities.”

    I agree with the poster above, bike riding is enjoyable. Walking is also enjoyable. Especially in a culture where most people get so little normal course of events exercise.

    It’s the other stuff that is not enjoyable.

  • What we all seem to be approaching but not saying is quite simple: when commuting is driving a car in traffic, it is unpleasant, because your mind is both numbed by the nothingness of traffic and consumed with the stress of your surroundings and the pressure to “make good time”.

    Commuting on a bike where you are exercising or on transit where you’re reading or drinking coffee, browsing the internet, or listening to music is a different experience all together.

    Given that the majority of New Yorkers aren’t commuting by car, this explains the NYC commute time discrepency.


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