System green

The car-dependent suburbs were created by an interlocking set of policies:

  • Cheap federal mortgage programs
  • Federal tax programs subsidizing suburban home ownership.
  • Funding the Interstate Highway System at the expense of public transportation
  • Zoning policies that stratify business, single-family, and multi-family housing

That’s less glib than this week’s political grandstanding, lifting gas taxes (D, R), taxing oil companies (D) or relaxing environmental regulations (R). The Oil Drum has a strong critique of the demagoguery.
The interesting thing about the policies that created the gas-dependent suburbs is the relationship between national government, local government and private action.
National government made a few critical investments and commitments
* the interstate highway system
* tax-deduction and subsidy programs for mortgages
Local governments made zoning and transit mix decisions.
Private businesses and citizens decided where to live, where to site their busiensses, which cars and trucks to buy, how to get to work. Their decisions were strongly shaped by the infrastructure.
The oil drum recommends:
” large-scale research, development, and implementation programs to improve the scalability of alternative sources of energy
* improving mass transit and carpooling programs
* providing incentives to buy smaller and more fuel efficient vehicles
* promoting a campaign to increase awareness about conservation.
Inspired by the original programs that created the suburbs, other logical steps include:
* government backing for financial products that make conservation technology cost-effective (these things apparently exist but are hard to use)
* government investment and policy changes facilitating distributed energy generation
* repairing local zoning for mixed use
Pull for these kinds of policies would come from businesses that make money from green energy and finance, citizens demanding solutions. Somebody somewhere is doing this stuff.
The suburb-creation policy list is taken out of context from this comment about about cities and race on Talking Points Memo.

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