Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Origin of the Suburbs

US migration to the suburbs in the 1900s occurred in 2 separate phases. Before the onset of the atomic age, the growth was mostly organic. Advances in technology allowed people to buy cars affordably and refrigeration allowed food to be brought from longer distances so farms needn't be as close to the city. Thus land was cheaper. Post the onset, the organic growth was augmented with a push from gov't incentives. Growth was accelerated to the suburbs because of the urgent need/fear of nuclear devastation from a Soviet nuclear attack. Suburban growth would probably have continued at more natural growth rates rather to the extent and speed that was witnessed during the post-war boom years, if not for such a threat to populations and gov't continuity.

The basis is the size of the blast from a nuclear detonation. Such a blast is big enough to consider it's vertical effects. The more of your population that resides in a small square radius in tall buildings, the more vulnerable it is. Spreading them out along a 2-dimensional plane with shorter buildings increases their chances of survival. In the US, workers were moved out of compact neighborhoods of 6-story tenement buildings into 1 or 2 story houses on land previously held by farmers, wilderness, or large estates.

Most people don't know this angle because the survivability/continuity angle was not publicized. To avoid a panicky reaction, other spins were asserted. Marketing was done to promote the idyllic lifestyle of the suburbs; control of one's own house & land, having an automobile, freedom to go on trips with the interstate highway system, etc.

A sanity check is the comparison with WW1 soldiers coming back from Europe. Their experience lack the prominence of suburban migration that WW2 servicemen underwent. Surely, WW1 veterans also came back with familial aspirations as well. Coincidentally as well, America's investment in rail infrastructure started to diverge at this point in history as well. Rail is not conducive to post-apocalyptic travel. The tracks limit freedom of movement and require a high level of coordination most likely not available during emergency times.

One of the neat concepts that came with suburbia was the ownership construct. Ownership essentially means the removal of a private third party (to which a tenant pays rent) from their domicile context. So, an individual only retains a relationship with the gov't as a stakehoulder (via registration of property at the county clerks). What is interesting is why a system of renting suburbian houses didn't get implemented. It could be that ownership creates pride in one's houseowner and motivates the owner to invest energy in house maintenance. These skillsets come in handy during emergencies over renters which may rely on a building supervisor that may *not be present during a nuclear attack. Without a DIY know-how, that leaky-roof may *not be fixed and the inhabitants may get impacted and not survive as well. So from this perspective, this was a good thing that came out of the Cold War: the expansion of the middle-class.

Bringing us to today, there seems to be a reverse migration of the affluent from the suburbs into the inner cities. There's a renewed focus on urban renewal. I'm *not saying it's a result of migitation of nuclear risks from a series of strategic arms disarmaments; but there is a coincidence so one can wonder. Conversely, those left behind in the suburban thrive years before now have a chance to enjoy the fruits of owning a house as inner city families now appear to be migrating outward. It can be a new promise. It's up to one to see how to view it.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Trains in America

The onset of the Cold War was the principle driver of the divergence of the rail industries of the Europe and Japan to the US. Before that, the US had a comparative railroad infrastructure. The reason is *not based on population density or inefficient gov't as most common assumptions would lead us to believe. In fact, it was by design. The neglect of railroads and focus on a national highway system and national aeronautics industry (airlines) was done with intention by the US gov't.

Looking at the social causes of train development without the context of geographic location is missing an important link. You have to consider the physical placement of North America to that Europe and Japan. Without its consideration, we get nagging questions like why the Northeast-Midwest US which has similar population densities to Europe (ie. France to Germany) and yet lack similar rail transit infrastructures.

The answer is rooted in the advent of atomic technology. The other facet is the physical structure of the rail itself. A system requiring such high coordination would never survive a nuclear attack. Control centers might be damaged or removed from communication channels, leaving trains without systematic direction. Let's take 1 scenario: 2 trains coming in opposite directions towards each other on the same track. Assuming they don't crash into each other, the 2 train crews would have to decide/figure out which train's itinerary is more important. Then the other train would have to back up to the next switch. It's very inefficient. Roads or airspace have no such limitations. Two cars or planes can simply navigate around each other to avoid collision; there's no fixed track. This is the reason the US used it's eminent domain credit for highway and airport projects for the greater good.

So, how does this differ for our European counterparts. The answer is the Atlantic Ocean (the same separator from the last 2 World Wars). While the nations of France and Germany are under direct threat from the massive tank columns of the Soviet Union, the communist country has no surface fleet to transport these armored vehicles to American shores. It's all bombings for the US. Given that there's a realistic 50/50 chance of 1 side winning, the European gov'ts don't have the same precautions to continue administration of their nations as their lands may be under the occupation of Soviet armies. Roads & rails get captured and used by unfriendly forces just the same. In fact, captured rails are easier to sabatoge as the French Resistance did against the Nazis.

For the US, the surviving gov'ts maintain control; so they have to decide if they want a somewhat functioning highway system or a disfunctional rail system. The situation with Japan is it's topography. As a mostly mountainous nation, the urban areas are more condensed than the flatter lands of the US. A nuclear attack on Japan would damage both rails and roads with higher probability. For the US, if roads are spread far out enough, there's a better chance of them surviving.

OT: Rails are largely regional, even in Europe and Japan. So, long distances win out to airlines, irrespective to high-speed trains. The example of the NY to LA flight is tempered by the Madrid to Stockholm counterpoint. It would equally be a long train ride. A better example may be a NYC to Buffalo, NY flight to a potential high-speed Acela train route.