That only works in affluent suburbs. Crowding the wealthy (relatively speaking) into highrise boxes doesn't seem to cause social problems. Crowding the poor into highrise boxes, even those a mere 4-5 stories tall, does, as proven by the disastrous housing projects in the US in the 1960's and 1970's, leading to most major cities tearing a lot of those same projects down in the 1990's and early 2000's
Broomy, you could greatly concentrate housing in modern America just by making the transition from single-family suburban homes on big lots toward three-story rowhouses. That's really all that would be necessary to shift the paradigm from a uniform blob of suburbs into 'microcity' nuclei.
You are discounting the cultural problems involved. Americans highly
value the single-family residence with a lot around it. It's a status symbol. Renting is for poor people. Living without your own yard is for poor people. Granted, the condo crowd somewhat swims against the tide on that, but owning a single-family home is still a brass ring in the US.
HOW are you going to convince Americans to give up the “American Dream” of a family home, a lot, and a white picket fence around it all?
Also, crowded public housing is mostly problematic when all the inhabitants are poor. If we cared to fix this it would not be that hard- there's plenty of room for housing that's affordable on middle and upper working-class salaries (30 to 50 thousand a year) which can be mixed with modest housing subsidies to make it affordable at the low end.
Again, HOW are you going to convince Americans to rub shoulders with their social/economic inferiors? Sure, the physical aspects of building 3-story rowhouses are no problem, the problem is the social
It's not unfixable- but it requires an outside force to fix it; the housing market won't do the job because it's not on the radar for capitalism. Indeed, the housing market prefers to segregate people strongly by income, into categories like 'filthy rich,' 'dirt poor,' and several shades in between. Breaking up that segregation is very much possible, given the desire and willingness to organize it.
HOW are you going to generate that desire? WHAT “outside force”? Are you going to coerce this change at the point of a gun?
just a side note - I've come across some discussion about suburban infill and densificaton that notes that older people seem to prefer living in a denser pattern then young familys. The babyboomers are retiring, have no kids in the house any more and are getting to the point where having close neighbours feels like a nice thing.
It's an intresting social thesis in isolation, but it ties in intrestingly with the stuff in this thread - we might be seeing grey haired new centers (villages) with relatively dense pops across a carpet of suburbia, with new rngs of townhouses and affulent apartment blocks spreading out from around big city centers.
The pattern of giving up the single-family residence after the children are grown and gone isn't entirely new – the much older pattern was for the parents to leave the large main family home when the grandkids arrived and move to a small, nearby residence on the property to be close to family but allow everyone some privacy. An alternative to that is the “mother-in-law” apartment, a semi-detacted few rooms attached to the main house (my own father is living in just such an arrangement).
There are also the “senior residence” and “assisted living” arrangements, which combine denser housing for senior citizens along with shuttle bus service for those who no longer drive, or choose not to. The larger problem is, however, that these are not as a rule charitable institutions. They're only open to the upper-middle class and above. All too many poor seniors, and there are a lot of poor old folks, live in deteriorating, sub-standard conditions. In Chicago – and presumably other locations – there were senior-only public housing projects and while they had some problems they never became the cesspits that the more general projects became. No doubt this is due in part to the fact that even elderly crooks tend to become less anti-social as they age. Old folks can commit crimes but it's not a common activity for that demographic. That still stratified the elderly into poor and rich communities.
I'm of the opinion that it's still likely not an insurmountable problem. We know that there are alternative technologies, we know there's still massive scope for shifting away from oil-intensive transportation and manufacturing, and we don't know what technology still lies in store. Give the market plenty of flexibility to adapt to the problem, subsidize research, and be prepared to implement martial law and ration food if you absolutely have to.
I'm having trouble with the notion that peak oil is going to result in martial law and food rationing in the first world. Sure, not impossible
, but places like Europe and the US have nowhere near the population density of, say, African nations where famine is still present. There might be localized
problems – if the water ever stops flowing to Las Vegas, for example, I could envision riots before the more sensible types pull up stakes and move elsewhere – but those would be transient problems.
Food rationing? More like food distribution
. In actual fact, such a system is already in place
in the US, it's called “food stamps” or more accurately EBT, which is essentially a food ration card in its present form. Instead of having a separate government infrastructure for distribution, though, it utilizes the private systems already in place. It is, in fact, as much, if not more, an agricultural subsidy
as a feed the poor system. It keeps food prices from crashing during periods when many can't afford to buy food, and as a pleasant side effect keeps the poor fed. In some cases, fed to the point of corpulence. It also keeps the farmers, transporters, and grocers in business. A fuckton of infrastructure and government would have to entirely collapse before that system breaks down into food riots. As transportation costs rise the government could increase the monthly allotment. Transportation vehicles could convert to biodiesel or even ethanol, and systems that run on natural gas have been around since the early 20th Century. If we really had to we could go back to burning coal and steam to run the railroads.
There has also been a movement in recent years both to utilize empty lots in cities for gardens, and gardening out in suburbia. A substantial amount of food can be grown in a very small space in much of North America, which decreases the food insecurity in a population. Many municipalities are relaxing laws that, until recently, prevented keeping of small livestock like chickens, rabbits, and goats. For all that agribusiness has centralized in the US there is a counter movement towards decentralization, local production, and individual control.
Short of being unable to farm at all, places like North America are not going to deteriorate to the point of government destabilizing food riots. Circumstances here are very different than in some of the nations where food riots recently occurred, and I strongly suspect that if you look into the situation more deeply food issues weren't the only
trigger for the riots.