Obama declares the end of sprawl

A few days ago, our old friend, the author Jim “Go Fuck Yourself” Kunstler indicated that he felt as though President Obama was under the mistaken impression that we as a country might be able to “grow” our way out of our current situation. The following clip comes from Kunstler’s site, Clusterfuck Nation:

…The attempted re-start of revolving debt consumerism is an exercise in futility. We’ve reached the limit of being able to create additional debt at any level without causing further damage, additional distortions, and new perversities of economy (and of society, too). We can’t raise credit card ceilings for people with no ability make monthly payments. We can’t promote more mortgages for people with no income. We can’t crank up a home-building industry with our massive inventory of unsold, and over-priced houses built in the wrong places. We can’t ramp back up the blue light special shopping fiesta. We can’t return to the heyday of Happy Motoring, no matter how many bridges we fix or how many additional ring highways we build around our already-overblown and over-sprawled metroplexes. Mostly, we can’t return to the now-complete “growth” cycle of “economic expansion.” We’re done with all that. History is done with our doing that, for now.

So far — after two weeks in office — the Obama team seems bent on a campaign to sustain the unsustainable at all costs, to attempt to do all the impossible things listed above. Mr. Obama is not the only one, of course, who is invoking the quest for renewed “growth.” This is a tragic error in collective thinking. What we really face is a comprehensive contraction in our activities, especially the scale of our activities, and the pressing need to readjust the systems of everyday life to a level of decreased complexity…

But, maybe he judged Mr. Obama too soon. Yesterday, during a town hall meeting in Ft. Meyers, Florida, the President had the following to say to a local city council member who asked about the stimulus package and to what extent it would cover infrastructure and mass transit.

…Not only do we need to rebuild our roads, our bridges, our ports, our levies, our dams, but we also have to plan for the future. This is the same example of turning crisis into opportunity…Now, look, this is America. We always had the best infrastructure. We were always willing to invest in the future. Governor Crist mentioned Abraham Lincoln. In the middle of the Civil War, in the midst of all this danger and peril, what did he do? He helped move the intercontinental railroad. He helped start land grant colleges. He understood that even when you’re in the middle of crisis, you’ve got to keep your eye on the future. So transportation is not just fixing our old transportation systems but its also imaging new transportation systems.

That’s why I’d like to see high speed rail where it can be constructed. That’s why I would like to invest in mass transit because potentially that’s energy efficient and I think people are alot more open now to thinking regionally in terms of how we plan our transportation infrastructure. The days where we’re just building sprawl forever, those days are over. I think that Republicans, Democrats, everybody recognizes that that’s not a smart way to build communities. So we should be using this money to help spur this kind of innovative thinking when it comes to transportation. That will make a big difference…

So, where does our President really stand on those “over-sprawled metroplexes” mentioned by Kunstler? Does he really feel as though the days of sprawl are over? And, if so, will the legislation he puts forward reflect that?

I haven’t read the House and Senate versions of the stimulus bill, but, according to Sam Parry of the Environmental Defense Action Fund, it looks as though elements in both might speak to the matter. Following, by way of Parry’s most recent email to supporters, are three particular programs being considered for inclusion in the final stimulus package. The first comes from the version of the legislation passed earlier this month in the House, and the last two come from the Senate version of the bill, which passed yesterday.

• Connecting people to their jobs. Expanding transit (subways, light rail, trains, and buses), along with building bike paths and sidewalks, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and creates jobs. The House bill provides $12 billion in transit funding, including $2.5 billion in funding for new projects; $2 billion to modernize existing subways, light rail, and similar facilities; and funding to help bicyclists and pedestrians.

• Intercity rail and multimodal transportation projects. The Senate bill provides $2 billion for high-speed rail and $1.1 billion for intercity rail, including Amtrak. Its $5.5 billion competitive grant program could fund roads, rail, transit, or port projects, and will do the most good if it is targeted to boost U.S. energy independence.

• Get transit funding where it’s needed. The Senate bill wisely provides that local governments will get at least 40% of “formula” highway funding under the Surface Transportation Program — which will put transportation dollars to work addressing the most urgent local needs. Let your Senators and your House member know that these should be priorities for the final package.

So, let’s take the President at his word, and assume that he really believes sprawl is over. Is it enough just to fund mass transit, or do other measures need to be taken? And, if so, what might these other measures look like? Can we assign non-farming residents of so-called exurban areas a higher tax rate? [Maybe we could call it a Freedom Tax.] Or, would we perhaps seriously consider raising the price of gas, using the proceeds to fund urban transportation?

Today was my birthday. [Thanks for giving birth to me, Mom.]

I just thought that I should mention that.

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  1. Brackinald Achery
    Posted February 12, 2009 at 12:34 am | Permalink

    Happy birthday!

  2. Posted February 12, 2009 at 2:07 am | Permalink

    Hey, Happy Birthday Mark — and nice new site!

    About your topic…. when obama came to michigan he also made references to “the end of the oil age” — that was a pretty significant leap.

    thought you might find this old thing of interest – it is a reason for transitioning: oh, ‘scuse me brackinald LOL, LOL

    In case anyone is not familiar with the Real New Deal (Energy Scarcity
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    Add your signature endorsing the proposal: http://postcarbon.org/rnd-endorse

  3. Suzie
    Posted February 12, 2009 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    happy birthday!

  4. Brackinald Achery
    Posted February 12, 2009 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    thought you might find this old thing of interest – it is a reason for transitioning: oh, ’scuse me brackinald LOL, LOL

    what the hell are you referencing me for?

  5. Posted February 12, 2009 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Happy b-day! All sounds goods, especially something as simple as bike paths.

  6. Posted February 12, 2009 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    oh, ’scuse me again brackinald — don’t know how that got there, maybe I meant ol e cross…. worried about being called an elitist chicken. really, am probably just an ‘early senility’ chicken.

  7. Paw
    Posted February 12, 2009 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    Creative ways to use legislation to limit sprawl?

    Free mass transit in urban centers.

    That would be a big first step in making a change.

  8. roots
    Posted February 12, 2009 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    Trains, please!

    Make them GM trains, for all I care. I’d love to give my money to the formerly-known-as-Big-Three if it were to pay some train fare. I mean, am I totally off-base here? Can’t car makers make train cars? Obviously, it’s totally different; however, didn’t GM once purchase train lines nationwide? (only to shut them down, of course…)

    I’m dreaming of “shovel-ready” mass transit, bike path, and green space preservation projects.

    And that “freedom tax” sounds just about right…

  9. Rob
    Posted February 12, 2009 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Through their Electro – Motive division, General Motors is one of the biggest producers of locomotives and rolling stock in the world…

  10. Brackinald Achery
    Posted February 12, 2009 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    I forgive you, chicken. Apparently some gypsy must’ve recently cursed me to be mistaken for other users on mark’s blog. There doesn’t seem to be anything I can do about it, short of maybe sacrificing a chicken, but I’m not sure I should include “religious sacrifice” on Amanda’s survey.

    Speaking of cartoon chickens, and back to the topic, wasn’t “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” all about this train/streetcar vs. automobile sprawl dilemma?

    I’m aware of how unhelpful that is. But maybe it’s time to watch it again, if you’re looking for something to watch. You haven’t watched it in a while, I bet.

  11. Ol' E Cross
    Posted February 12, 2009 at 10:15 pm | Permalink


    For the record, I was joking about the Peoria comment. I thought, given the excellent list of cities you’d compiled, it’d be funny to act like I wouldn’t do anything unless Peoria was on board. (I apologize to any Peoria readers for playing on crass stereotypes of your delightful scraps of a city. I’ve actually vacationed in Peoria [true story] and had a wonderful time and especially enjoyed your brewery by the river.)

    As far as confusing me with the BA, I’m just not sure I can forgive you.

    Unless Peoria does first.

  12. Andy C
    Posted February 12, 2009 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    Bike paths? That’s pork according to the Republicans. See links below.

    and Mark, you share a Birthday with Charles Darwin! Happy Birthday to you both!



  13. Ol' E Cross
    Posted February 12, 2009 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

    Happy belated birthday dear Mark. It arrived a little late, but I got you this.

  14. Shevil
    Posted February 12, 2009 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    Psssshit. Who wants choo-choo coal when you can have yellow cake magic soul?

    Happy birthday you lump of it.

    (Watch close and you can see me in the upper left. Best party I’ve ever been to.)

  15. Posted February 12, 2009 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

    Fuck the fucking internet. Here’s your birthday wish if you want it


    Tighten up.

  16. grapevine
    Posted February 13, 2009 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

    Thought this article in Concentrate was interesting…


    “Success has its ups and downs. A big reason downtown Ann Arbor kept chugging along while many other downtowns failed was its eclectic mix of boutique shops and eateries.

    In recent years, however, the focus has been on restaurants instead of retail.Gone are the days when Harry’s Army Surplus, PJ’s Used Records and Fantasy Attic played a key role in defining Ann Arbor as a funky college town. While a significant number of these kinds of stores still exist, big-name chains and restaurants have pushed up rents in downtown and subsequently pushed out many creative independent retailers. Some have faded away, others have emigrated to the cheaper spaces of Ypsilanti’s downtown and Depot Town.

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