Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Cul-De-Sac Under Attack

The Cul-de-sac Hero is under attack. Well, this is nothing new. He is certainly used to adversity. He learned how to navigate the tricky channels of political correctness. He weathered the storms of the millennium bug, the tech bubble and 911 to steer towards supposedly calmer waters. Pushed out of the city by rising housing prices, he finds himself with a property that was going nowhere but up, now threatened by the US mortgage crises. He’s in a relationship in which both parents work and care for the kids just to make ends meet, nothing like the patriarchal marriage of his parents. His time is squeezed between traveling to learning, arts and sporting activities for the kids and a job that bursts at the seams of the eight hours required per workday and demands constant skills enhancement.

Cleverly and with the help of a strong female partner, he has finally charted a course that meets all his work-life desires, covers the future education of his children and leads, hopefully, to a warm port-of-call when it is time to give up sailing. Now, the proponents of the Peak Oil Theory state emphatically that his hard fought for way of life has reached the end. With oil prices nearing the very stars by which he navigates, it’s hard to ignore the once fringe theorist who now garner headlines.

It can hardly be called theoretical. Every time he starts his dream car, the Cul-De-Sac Hero turns the corner only to be awoken from his fantasy by gas signs displaying prices nearing a dollar-forty per Litre splashing his face like icy, cold water in the morning.

Good morning and welcome to the new era. Today the headline reads: “How Would You Like to Walk to Work?” If it takes 35 or 45 minutes to commute by car or train at 100km/hr and you walk briskly at 7 km/hr, your commuting time has suddenly risen to six and a half hours. Add a 10 minute break each hour and a quick lunch and you should be at work in time to sign your pink slip. ‘Wake-up Mr. Cul-De-Sac,’ say proponents like author James Howard Kunstler, ‘your suburban neighbourhood is going to be the next great slum.

What is a hero in the land of cul-de-sacs and mega shopping centres to do? Faced with the possibility that oil production is at or near its peak and there are not enough new reserves available to keep it there. Dropping production even five or ten percent will cause prices to skyrocket, crippling the global economy. This while global demand rises.

When basics like food, heating and water prices could triple and quadruple in price, how does an area of super-centres, box stores and SUVs, dependant on commuter rails and super-highways maintain its property values and remain a vibrant community in which to raise your kids? Does the hero have any tricks up his sleeve? Has his time run out?

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