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Ten U.S. Cities Best Prepared for an Oil Crisis

Submitted by News Desk on Mon, 03/27/2006 - 2:01pm
SustainLane has ranked the largest 50 U.S. cities based on recent city commute practices, metro area public transportation, sprawl, traffic congestion, local food and wireless network access (in order of importance: see chart). There are many other areas that rising oil prices will affect: construction, retail goods of all types, utilities (especially in the Northeast, the one part of the nation where heating oil is used)—virtually every aspect of our economy will be hit.

We looked at the areas most directly impacted: how people get around, where their food comes from, and how they work.

New York City is the city most prepared to cope with a $100+ tank of gas. With its strong city and regional public transportation system, New York stands out above the rest. From New York City’s subways to the Tri State area’s suburban train lines, New York is truly the only American city where people are committed to riding over driving.

"As the largest city in the country and the business capital of the world New York City must be prepared for what comes our way, and we are," said Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. "That New York City has been recognized by SustainLane as the best prepared city to face a nation-wide oil crisis is testament to the resiliency and strength of our infrastructure."

Boston, San Francisco, Chicago and Philadelphia also ranked high for access to public transportation and commute rates, though congestion was a significant problem for The Bay Area and Boston in particular.

The top ten cities also combine strong public transportation with access to locally grown fresh food, and most (with the exception of Honolulu) have significant access to local wireless networks for telecommuting. Philadelphia leads the largest 50 cities in the U.S. with the highest combined per capita rate of farmers markets and community gardens. A homegrown system of local farmers and gardeners could prove to be a better alternative than the current system, where food is transported an average of 1500 miles to your dinner plate.

Seattle is the national leader in wireless connectivity, followed closely by San Francisco, Oakland, New York and Portland. Telecommuting could be an important way for large numbers of people to work from home if gas becomes completely unavailable, as it was sometimes during the 1973-74 Oil Embargo.

Finally, the most prepared cities and their metropolitan areas are relatively dense (except Portland) and had low sprawl, with the exception of Seattle. City services, jobs, shopping centers and entertainment are centrally located in all of these top ten cities. That is not the case with many other mid- to-large sized American cities that ranked lower in our analysis.

One commonality each of these ten cities has--though this was not used to determine the ranking--is that each is a major port. Port cities have the natural advantage of receiving imported goods without the added fuel needed to send truck fleets across the nation to landlocked areas. Just as it was for hundreds of years before the twentieth century, a city's geographical location may once again become the most important factor keeping its economy thriving.

Regardless of where you live, it will pay to be aware of what public transportation options are available in your community. If you’re thinking about moving to a different city or neighborhood, transportation options should be high on your list of considerations.

Beyond buying local organic food, which uses less oil-based fertilizer, and is likely to become less expensive compared with conventional long-distance transported supermarket food, you should become familiar with what you can grow and make for yourself at home. Buying locally produced and sourced goods is also a way to balance dependence on the oil-intensive global economy. SustainLane’s SLED offers a rich network of these small to medium-sized businesses, many that may be in your community.

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Sign up for updates and in April, SustainLane will release the complete list of the 50 largest cites ranked according to their preparedness for rising oil prices. In June we will release the results of our US City Ranking for overall sustainability, including healthy quality of life and economic readiness for the challenges of the century.

Data for these rankings covers 2002-2006 and was collected from U.S. Bureau of the Census, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Smart Growth America, Intel Corp., Texas Mobility Study/Texas A&M, and through primary research with U.S. cities.