I know Ayn Rand left instructions to fountainheads to never show pity. But it’s hard not to show pity! Most of these drawn forlorn strangers we see on the street are not actually farmers or miners, yet they own cars. Why? Nobody working in a secondary or tertiary industry needs a car! At least not so much that they should suffer the cost to their health and finances. Now look at these people. They’re ill and in debt, and will die that way early. Sure, you may say it’s because of decisions they made. Still, it’s hard not to feel pity.
Our protagonist in this tragedy thought he should buy a free standing house. Correction: he didn’t think, he just followed the example set by three generations before him. They too died prematurely and broke, having swallowed a doctrine of the Garden Cities movement, that the natural consequence of having machines that have wheels is living on your own quarter acre of land.
Never mind that cities have been comprised of apartments for as long as archaeological records can tell us, or that our protagonist was trading his dependence on neighbours to be polite for dependence on car and oil companies to not rip him off blind: our protagonist bought a free standing house. He could have used machines like cars and trains for occasional treats, escapes to the country. But he made himself dependent upon them for everyday errands. And since everyone he knows did the same, the countryside doesn’t exist. There are just endless miles of other folks’ houses.
If by some error in internet browsing it happens that you are this man, thanks for dropping by anyway. What you have found though is a blog for the intelligent man, the one who bought a tiny apartment or row-house without any garaging, but within cycling distance of he and his wife’s places of work and the educational institutions his children would later attend. It’s not too late though for you to join him.
Suburban house prices haven’t yet crashed (in real terms). You have time to sell. Those prices will crash eventually though, don’t be deceived, because the real cost of suburbia is coming to bite. Energy scarcity is just the beginning. Maintaining roads, sewers etc., is such an expensive affair that it’s better that hundreds of households per street be available to chip in when major replacements are due. You and the five or six other houses in your cul-de-sac can’t afford your cul-de-sac’s upkeep—not now the infrastructure is on the brink of decay. There are cities leaving sealed roads to go back to gravel. I would direct you to the Strong Towns website if you need the economics of all this explaining.
The other good news is inner city flats from the 60s and 70s, originally built for the poor, are still selling way below their real value. Don’t sit around though. The future for brutalist blocks has been forecast in Sheffield. See for yourself. The once plebeian Park Hill estate has been gut-renovated for resale to discerning young men and their ladies. (Allow me to remark briefly on this particular building. Since the access galleries lead directly to terra firma, an innovation originally conceived to let milk trucks deliver door to door in a high rise apartment, we’re seeing people cycle all the way home to their penthouse apartments. Long live experimental mass housing!)
And if you miss the wave of Brutalist block renovations, there will be another, the coming wave of affordable housing replacing dead retail spaces in ran down parts of your city. In gentleman’s clubs all over the world, this is what developers and investors are talking about now. The empty-nester led apartment boom has dried up. Affordable housing is the frontier. The catch is you personally may not be eligible for the concessions that will make apartments built in the 2020s affordable to people like teachers and nurses. For you, they could still be expensive.
What you need to do, and will do if you stick around and become a truly informed and worthy reader of the Behooving Moving bike blog, is send clear signals to the town planners (most of whom are mentally challenged) that you actually want housing without any garaging. You want to live car free in the city and want the city made as convenient for cycling as it once was for driving.
I trust you’re a Talking Heads fan as well. To take us out, Cities.