Pittsburgh? Try Philadelphia.

A couple of days ago, Daily News blogger Will Bunch brought up an interesting point about the connection between gas prices and urban renewal.

In a post that pivots off of some grim news for the city of Pittsburgh (and aside from the Penguins, what news from Pittsburgh hasn’t been grim?), Bunch points out that places like the Steel City could be poised to take advantage of skyrocketing gas prices:

…virtually every newspaper in America is running an article about a flood of commuters flocking to trains or buses. But for the millions of Americans who work in the suburbs or live in one without trains or inadequate bus service, that’s not an option. Clearly, the best way to decrease energy use would be to get more people to live in so-called “livable cities” where stores and entertainment are walkable and where mass transit is also on the table. A place like Pittsburgh, for example.

So you have to wonder what’s the best way to get people out of their gas-guzzling cars and into livable cities like Pittsburgh as the available housing stock rises, and with undercrowded schools. Will the free market solve that problem at $5 gas (or $15 gas), or is their a role for government in encouraging re-population of these shrinking cities, without hurting the folks who live there now.

It’s also worth asking that question about the livable city I’m in right now – Philadelphia. The story of this region has been dictated over the past 6 decades by an unholy combination of (in no particular order): racism, space-ism, corruption, tax policy, and service delivery. I’ll explain each of these in turn in later posts, but you probably get the idea of what I’m talking about.

All of this has been facilitated by a national culture that has taken worship of the national myth of rugged individualism from our frontier days and translated into reverence for the autonomy of the automobile – an automobile that used to run on gas that was cheaper per gallon than a SEPTA token.

With gas prices accelerating at ludicrous speed, the former annoyance that used to be experienced when sitting in traffic to get from suburb to city or suburb to other suburb is now an all out economic hardship.

The big story of the next 8 years of the Nutter administration may not be any policy that the mayor himself crafts but how he can position the city to take advantage of the market forces that may finally reverse the unsustainable suburbanization trend that has been rotting out the core of the region while making the branches out in the suburbs too heavy to bear.

The revival of cities in the 1990s that saw population gains in many big cities and is often pointed to as Philadelphia’s last great missed opportunity, was more about folks with a choice choosing the art, culture and trendiness of urban living. The next wave could be about nothing less than the survival – economically and environmentally – of this nation.

Only seems appropriate for the birthplace of the nation to play a role in saving it.

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Filed under Population Growth, Regionalism

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