Last week, Green Prophet Daniella Cheslow got her teeth into The End of Food, a book which critiques, and predicts the decline of, the modern global food system. This prompted the question: what could be next to face a sticky end? According to a documentary by the same name, The End of Suburbia is also nigh:
“Suburbia has very poor prospects for the future… There’s going to be and end to it and when it happens were going to be in real trouble.”
The film analyses the concept of ‘peak oil’, the scenario in the not-to-distant future that the exploitation of fossil fuel resources will reach a global peak in the near future. It points the finger at the North American suburban lifestyle as both a key culprit of oil-dependence – and one of the first soldiers to fall when supplies get critical and prices skyrocket.
“We’ve created this new system of habit where people live miles and miles from where people work, get their food and all of their other necessities,” says the film’s narrator. “The suburbs wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for cheap oil.”
But it’s not just an American problem – many Israeli towns closely follow the suburban model too. Simply put, Israel has a strong core-periphery divide, with employment, services, culture and so forth concentrated in a small number of large conurbations (Tel Aviv, the coastal plain and Jerusalem) – which most people reach with gas-guzzling cars. Many Israelis are used to commuting from one side of the never-ending urban sprawl to the other, or from purpose-built ‘commuter cities’ such as Modiin and Mevasseret Zion where local services and job opportunities tend to be limited.
The film predicts that suburbs will become the “slums of the future” as oil supplies become reach critical point and calls for a radical relocalisation of communities and food production. Although thought-provoking, I don’t find the End of Suburbia’s alarmist “we’re all doomed” tone particularly constructive. But it did remind me that there are people out there who are positively looking forward to a future without oil (or at least, with a lot less of it). Back in England, I had the privilege of hearing inspirational permaculturist and founder of the Transition Town movement, Rob Hopkins, speak about the push towards relocalising communities he is pioneering. Following the success of his home town, Totnes, others cities in the UK and elsewhere are taking the initiative to wean themselves off oil-addiction. Hopefully it won’t take too long to see the first Transition Town here in the Middle East…