Things out of scale never last

I love looking at maps.  And flying over places looking at them like they were a map.  For a while now, as I’ve flown, a realization of just how wrong the scale of suburbia is compared to real towns. Things are just HUGE in suburbia (including the people).  Not huge like tall buildings obviously, but huge in the sense of spread.  This is the direct result of cheap land and cheap energy. All this cheapness has only made us poorer.

Consider the map below.  This is Georgetown.  The downtown is on the left and a WalMart is on the right.

As you can see, the area WalMart occupies is larger than the entire downtown.   DUH!  One building, larger than the whole of a downtown.

Let’s see some of the ramifications:

  1. Instead of multiple small landowners, whose buildings house many small local businesses, which businesses need skilled local people to work at them, we have a gigantic parking lot and warehouse, owned by one entity, housing an offshoot of one of the world’s largest corporations.
  2. Money flows from those local businesses to local banks which forms the basis for continued local investment in the community. At the WalMart, on the other hand, money flows out from the community to banks in faraway cities, never to be seen again locally. Is it any wonder why our communities are poorer than they used to be?
  3. The small local businesses are located in the middle of the surrounding residential areas; employees, and shoppers are able to walk to the area. The WalMart is in the middle of nowhere, unable to be reached by anything but personal auto.
  4. Piling on: Over 70% of the goods found in WalMart are made in China. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2004-11/29/content_395728.htm

I could go on….But my point is this:  In a low energy future, which model is likely to survive?  The model that has lasted for the 10,000 years that humans have been living in cities and towns?  Or the model that we developed as we drained ever increasing amounts of oil from the ground but now have ever less to use?

We can see the beginnings of the end of this way of life simply by looking at a map.

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