Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Of suburbs and exurbs

I talked to my brother on Sunday. Being brothers, we talk not about family or jobs, but about bicycles and cars. I talked about a new bike and my old bike, and how my newish car has a ventilation system issue I am having addressed. He talked about how he has gotten as high as 30 mpg on the highway in his car (using the air conditioner). He has a six cylinder VW Passat (I believe, maybe a Jetta) with this in dash computer that will tell him his mileage. It’s a stick, in fact I think it is sort of a German muscle car. He told me something else I fouind frankly amazing, but before I repeat it I should back up a bit. My brother lives in Peachtree City, Georgia. He works for NCR, which has an operation 3 miles from his house. Peachtree City is a planned community dating back to the 60’s. It has an extensive walking/bike path network that parallels and crosses the street network, so that people can travel throughout the city only occasionally crossing streets and dealing with cars. Peachtree City is an affluent town, home to many Delta pilots and their families because of its relatively close proximity to the Atlanta airport. It also has the highest per capita number of golf carts in the country, or something (or so my brother says, I tend to believe him).

The surprising thing my brother said is that he had used only one tank of gas the whole summer. He backed off a little on that later (I think) and maybe allowed two tanks. What he does is bike to and from work (and home for lunch), and he has bought himself an electric golf cart. So he does all his grocery shopping with the golf cart, he visits his girl friend in the golf cart, they go to concerts or dinner or bars in the golf cart, and he charges it overnight.

Now, he says that he is pretty much one the few bike riders on the paths, and his is the only bike at the bike rack at his work, but the parking lot is full of golf carts. Golf carts crowd free public concerts, and of course use the walking/biking paths extensively. So this is not an excessively healthy or green town. Still, like my brother, they have the ability to live without using gas excessively if they happen to work locally. This is the sort of suburb that is likely to survive if gas prices skyrocket. Especially in the “sunny” South, he could install solar panels and certainly power the golf cart, if not his whole house. If his local Kroger would stock locally grown food, he could reduce his carbon footprint (should he choose to) significantly. If you compare that even to urban residents such as myself, he could potentially achieve what would be much more difficult for me. Of course, city residents such as myself could be served by wind farms or solar panel arrays for our electricity, and the size of a place like Pittsburgh makes it a good market for local farmers at the always busy farmer’s markets.

But it is interesting to me that a carefully planned community can yield as unexpected spin off benefit of a more green lifestyle.

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