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The future of space in America

With the planet reaching seven billion people this year there are issues to think about. We’ve already discussed a couple of the basic items – water and food. What we usually don’t think about until we need to is our living space.

Humans tend to concentrate at boundary conditions. These boundaries are where water meets land and earth meets sky. This is obvious if you look at a view of the Earth from a satellite at night or take a ride down a beach road. Because of this concentrated living space it can come at somewhat of a premium. So, to avoid this premium we move elsewhere or go vertical.

Over the years the United States has been a country we’ve had a great deal of land for our population to expand into. Over that time the good land has been occupied and we’ve expanded into marginal areas. Areas that require water to be supplied from hundreds of miles away. Areas that can’t grow even a tenth of the food they consume.

Because our population is so spread out we’ve relied on supplying our goods and services using an extensive transportation system. This system is totally dependent on fossil fuels. To minimize fuel costs the big box stores came along. One stop shopping for just about everything you’d want. It’s almost always a ten to 20 mile or more drive to get to these mega-stores. With the price of fuel going up and no end in sight people are adapting by starting to shop less. Customers are increasingly unwilling to drive their cars the ten or 20 miles to pickup a loaf of bread or a box of nails.

Medium and some large American businesses are starting to see the wisdom in having numerous local sites for the production, sale and distribution of their products. Wal-Mart is opening ‘Mini Wal-Marts’ stocked with groceries and household essentials. It’s starting to be easier (profitable) to have numerous satellite stores, around a main sub-regional warehouse / mega-store, which stocks all the common items that households in the local areas buy most often. This is also in an effort to compete against grocery chain stores.

In Europe, they have been using a similar system for centuries. In their cities, which are concentrated for sure, you don’t have to walk more than a block or so to find a bakery, drug store, grocery or butcher shop. It’s based around availability, ease of use and cost minimization. People don’t want to buy and use a car just to take care of their basic daily requirements.

In this time of global warming the European system can be viewed a model for reducing fossil fuel use and easing costs associated with shopping to the consumer and businesses. One of several U.S. cities where this idea is catching on in a big way is Portland, Oregon.

While this distributed system may seem very workable it will take a serious shift in how Americans think about shopping and living in a world of high fuel prices and global warming for it to fully develop.

Think Global – Act Local!

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