Friday, June 27, 2008

Expensive Oil to Fuel Rustbelt Rebirth?

As oil approaches another record high price, Rust Belt cities should be celebrating. There is already plenty of talk of how cities are becoming more attractive to the weary commuter. But not every city is in a position to benefit from the transforming pattern of residency:

The shift in housing preferences may begin to reverse one of the defining national trends of recent decades - the massive migration toward the south and west of the country. Sunbelt boomtowns like Atlanta, Houston, and Riverside, California have grown at breakneck pace thanks to cheap and plentiful housing built along sprawling highway networks. Some of these places are now rushing to build transit service, but the soaring cost of petrol has caught most flat-footed. Such cities can expect outward expansion to slow, but perhaps more importantly, households considering moves to warmer climes may rethink their decision. Northeastern and Midwestern cities in long decline, such as Baltimore, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Cleveland, may find their dense structures and legacy transit systems an incalculable asset.

I wouldn't be so quick to celebrate the "legacy transit systems", but the density capacity should be a strong asset in a climate of $4 per gallon of gasoline. Another advantage is the proximity to other urban centers. I live in the Denver area and I'm beginning to wonder how this region's geographic isolation will affect the economy here.

I'll buy into the trend when and if the jobs start moving in from the suburban ring. I suppose this first wave of urban pioneers is comprised of workers who are commuting into the city. Are the industrial and business parks next in line?

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