I wrote earlier about different ways people evaluate zoning proposals: at the personal level and at the community level, and using forcecasts ranging from a shrinking population to a growing population.
I'd like to combine those personal and community levels for a moment, as most people bring some deeply ingrained expectations about the world to these conversations.
Last night, 87-octane gas was selling at Valero for $3.66 a gallon. That means that travel in your average vehicle ranged from about 9¢ a mile to about 40¢ a mile, depending on whether you're driving a highly fuel-efficient car or a heavy truck loaded with tools. I tend to assume - for the sake of argument - that the "status quo" reflects anything below $5 a gallon. Enough people will still be able to drive at that price that development patterns aren't likely to change much. (Lowering the price may accelerate growth in outlying areas, but other infrastructure limitations keep it difficult.)
Based on conversations I've had with Dryden residents over the past few years, I don't think most would be surprised - not happy, just not surprised - by $5/gallon. Eyebrows start climbing rapidly at $10/gallon, and disbelief definitely sets in around $20/gallon. Electric cars may ease some of this, but have their own cost and infrastructure issues - they're not a magic bullet.
Suspend disbelief for a minute, and assume that this week's strife in Bahrain has spread to Saudi Arabia. The oil spigot doesn't close completely, but prices skyrocket.
What will you do differently if gasoline suddenly costs $10 or $15 a gallon (in today's prices)?
What will your neighbors do differently?
Would you still want to live where you live? Could you afford to? Could your neighbors?
Now imagine a decade of those prices. What would change in Dryden? What would change in Tompkins County?
I'll let your imagination run - really, don't panic! - but when I'm reading the Dryden zoning, I try to keep (at least) two possible futures in mind:
Energy prices stay more or less where they are now. Guessing that the future will be a slightly modified version of the present doesn't always work, but it's certainly possible and a key part of the conversation.
Prices become high enough to change the ways we live. Apart from our miraculous modern conveniences, the main thing that separates development patterns in Dryden 2011 from patterns in Dryden 1911 is the much greater ease of moving from place to place.
Of the two, I think the first scenario has to dominate the conversation. It seems to be what most residents are expecting, and that's not likely to shift unless it has to shift.
At the same time, though, I try to keep the higher-cost version in mind. First, I wonder whether the zoning can accomodate shifts needed to adjust to something like that? And second, there are times when I wonder whether some of the ideas that already seem questionable in the status quo scenario seem even worse in the higher-cost scenario.
I'll be applying these different scenarios to the next draft of the proposed zoning when it appears. In the meantime, look around, and think about what change - or continuity - might look like.Posted by simon at March 17, 2011 12:13 PM in energy , planning and zoning