Friday, June 13, 2008

An opportunity Ferndale should exploit

In 1986 I was able to quadruple my car's gas mileage. A single low-tech change and a tank of gas suddenly lasted four times longer than before. I moved from Grand Blanc to Troy and cut my daily Bingham Farms commute to 10 miles from 45.

In 1993 I was living in Pontiac and driving 26-miles to downtown Detroit. Sometimes that commute took over an hour. After moving to Ferndale in 1997 the trip was cut to 10 miles and a dependable 16 minutes.

My new office is less than two miles from my Ferndale home. In the winter my car is barely warm when I arrive at work and in the summer I sometimes ride my bike when weather permits.

I write this not to boast, but to demonstrate how great an impact where we live can have, and to introduce an newspaper article I read this morning.

In a June 13, Detroit Free Press article, Steve Duchane wrote:
Popping open the gas cap, swiping the credit card, and watching the numbers roll to previously unimaginable totals, it's hard to believe anything good could come from the gas prices we've seen lately. But in reality, our misery at the pump could be a blessing for many of Michigan's mature communities.

As driving becomes more expensive, Americans are considering not only more fuel-efficient vehicles, but also more fuel-efficient commutes. For many, that means rethinking not only where we work, but also where we live. And suddenly, first-ring suburban cities have new luster. Finally, 60 years after sprawl began driving home buyers farther and farther from population centers, Americans are turning around their SUVs in search of shorter commutes.

The sprawl reversal is already benefiting many smaller cities in Michigan.
It's a great article. It points out how your address, near where you work and play, can be an act of both environmentalism and conservation, makes financial sense, and can improve your quality of life while increasing the quantity of time you can spend with the people or activities you love.

This is an opportunity Ferndale should move swiftly to exploit. Our housing values have been hurt, our foreclosure rates are high, but we have something Clarkston, Oakland Twp., Brighton, and the Grosee Pointes don't have-- our location.

In the summer of 2007 for my mayoral campaign's website I wrote:
The degree to which Ferndale is green is a measure of how green our residents and business are. Rather than indulge symbolism I would prefer a council that promoted “green-ness” by virtue of Ferndale's unique location and proximity to major highways and everything that is metro Detroit. Simply living, working, or visiting Ferndale is an act of environmentalism because living, working, and playing in a city that's nearer than one that is not conserves energy.

Ferndale citizens have decided it's better to drive fewer miles to work than more. It's better to walk to restaurants and clubs than drive. It's better to live nearer existing infrastructure than accelerate the loss of farmland, forests, fields, and other green spaces.

What Ferndale and other urban communities must do is enable more citizens and businesses to locate to our cities. This is why property taxes and broadening our tax base is important to lower the cost of owning property here. This is how public policy promotes environmentalism. It recognizes it, promotes it, and celebrates it. It doesn't serve it with symbolism...

I won't beat the symbolism point to death here. Suffice it to say that living closer to where you work and walking to your entertainment is an act of conservation. It may get less press than free parking for hybrids, but the former actual does something about the environment every day while the latter only says something about it.

Whether you goal is to save money on gas, lower America's dependence on foreign oil, influence foreign policy, or promote environmentalism and conservation, where you live can have a greater impact than how you live.

Now is a great opportunity for Ferndale, Hazel Park, Oak Park, Royal Oak, Berkley and other inner-ring cities to promote themselves. They're all at the right place at the right time.

1 comment:

  1. It's a good point.

    I recently had a debate with a colleague about whether subsidies for high-mileage cars (like hybrids) were less dumb than other gimmicky government energy programs. I said "not less dumb" if the goal is to reduce the amount of oil burned, and the example I gave was exactly what you describe: A guy who, because the subsidy makes driving less costly for him, keeps driving the 45 miles per day, whereas without the subsidy he might have changed his lifestyle, as you did.

    This is why I argue that a revenue neutral carbon tax is the one and only thing government can do to actually reduce fossil fuel use if that is the goal. Plus, it's actually more economically efficient if supply-side tax cuts are used to offset the extra revenue from the higher energy tax.