As someone that rarely drives, and even rarer to fill a car up with gas, my recent trip back home was an eye opener on how high gas prices have gotten of late. In December, gas prices hit a 2-year high nearing the $3/gallon mark, and experts are expecting more increases with speculation of $4/gallon by summer and, according to former CEO of Shell $5/gallon by 2012. It was only two years ago that we hit the $4 mark and LYNX experienced it’s highest ridership levels ever. People who live in cities that have developed in a compact fashion with most needs in walkable/bikeable distance will be less impacted by the increases, while Orlando and other sprawling cities will feel the pinch.
Though it’s not ideal, higher gas prices allow us to reevaluate our development patterns and create a need to look back at how cities were originally developed for greater access, use, and livability. This year we will see the oldest of the baby-boomer generation turn 65 (BB’s make up 26% of the population) , with 10,000 expected to retire per day for the next 19 years. As this generation ages, it will drive and spend less. High energy prices can and will expedite the need to reevaluate sustainability and quality of life. An opportunity exists for us look to the future and develop based on smart growth principals. 2011 holds much promise for our city if we can rapidly develop infill solutions and move away from larger roads and structures.
The AARP released a poll whose findings noted that Americans ages 50+ are trying to move away from car transportation as a result of high gas prices, but their attempt to go “green” is challenged by inadequate sidewalks and bike lanes. The full article is located here.
Traditionally, losing one’s ability to drive has meant an end to freedom and self sufficiency. When my grandparents were told to stop driving in their 80′s, they soon became prisoners in their own home until someone was able to chaperon them to the doctor or grocery store. Though they was able to walk for another 10 years, acquiring something as simple as a gallon of milk became a burden. Had they lived in an area that had livable transportation, they would have been able to comfortably walk out their door and down the sidewalk for their needs. Our seniors are a key component to a healthy community, and when they are marginalized by life at the outer edges, a neighborhood loses its “eyes on the street” and the natural trade of information that occurs when older generations are allowed everyday contact with youth. In 2011, we should all work to make a city worth growing up and growing old in.