Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

Would You Rather Save $8,000 Per Year or $8,000 Over 10 Years?

Dateline: 9:58 am March 23, 2012 Filed under:

Seems like a no-brainer, but it emphsizes just how backwards our energy and urban policies are. I was multitasking yesterday (playing with my kids while trying to listen to NPR in the background) and I caught a snippet of President Obama’s speech about energy policy. In it, he said by the middle of the next decade, new American cars will average more than 50 miles per gallon. That will save Americans an average of $8,000 over the life of their car. Sounds good, right?

Let’s contrast that with the savings households can accrue by living in a location-efficient, transit-friendly, walkable neighborhood. It is now accepted, particularly by The Center for Neighborhood Technology’s Housing + Transportation Affordability Index that living in a location-efficent place can save households thousands of dollars per year.

So what would you choose? If you are “an average American,” you could buy an energy-efficient car and save $8,000 over the life of that vehicle, say 10 years. That is an average of $800 per year. Or you can choose to live in an efficient location where you can literally drive less. This will save you thousands of dollars per year.

Americans aren’t stupid. Why neither party is actually talking about this is ridiculous. To the Obama administration’s credit, a lot of behind-the-scenes cooperation is occurring between agencies to better unite transportation and housing policy. This is wonderful, but deserves more attention. But why this isn’t a conservative issue I don’t know – after all, it is about conserving money, right? Location efficiency works in small towns (read “Real America”) just as well as urban places. Resistance to appropriate densities in order to support location efficiency is a bipartisan problem – NIMBY’s don’t discriminate by political party.

Housing and transportation affordability need not be a divisive issue. It isn’t about herding people in to cities, it is about saving American households money. I know it isn’t that easy in the real world. But I can tell you I’d rather save thousands of dollars per year versus just $800, and not be as beholden to gas price increases. An increasing number of Americans are figuring this out, too, and our energy, housing and transportation policy is struggling to keep pace.

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