Gas Prices and Urbanism in the USA

The Situation

Announced today by the government of this country was the cessation of oil imports from Russia. This is of course in response to larger political and military events happening in Ukraine and Russia. Suffice to say that I hope the war ends, that Russian imperialism is blunted, and that the people of both lands free themselves from the state and capital, however dim those prospects are. This post however is meant to discuss how the higher price of fossil fuel derived energy might impact urban politics and create certain challenges, while also potentially opening up new ways of living in cities.

For those of us in urban areas, the challenges that a smaller and more expensive amount of fossil fuels might create are: higher heating/cooking fuel costs, electricity costs, higher transit costs (directly if one drives, and indirectly if bus or rail prices go up because of fuel price increases) and potentially higher rent prices. The last one is an indirect effect, stemming from the impact of higher gas costs on suburban commuters. These people might choose to move to the cities to pay less in fuel costs.

For non-urban dwellers, the challenges are the same though probably greater in magnitude, with the added impact of potentially higher distribution costs for goods; since cities are transportation hubs, this is likely of less impact in cities.


Looking at this, what are the downstream effects we might see from these higher costs? The first is that the state might undertake or accelerate programs of electrification. Because electricity for heating and transit is to a degree agnostic to the energy source used, the state will likely see this as a way to lessen demand on the sectors more dependent on direct fossil fuel use.

The second is that we might see an increased backlash from car drivers upset about the higher price of gas. This might take the form of protest or direct action, and might snarl up cities in the vein of the trucker convoys.

Third, we will likely see a shift in travel mode share, with busses, bikes, and trains being more resistant to price increases, and seeing a increase in use within cities.

Finally we will also see more labor action generally across large sections of society. Workers are already in a better negotiating position because of the Great Resignation, and it is likely that this worker action outside of the unions will accelerate as living costs rise. I think that the increased unionization of service positions over the last few years is due to increased housing costs in cities, and this will only exacerbate that for employers.


With that predicted, what should urbanists and anarchists do? I think we should take advantage of these circumstances in a few ways. We should push workplace organizing in a more radical direction, and lend our support to strikes that occur. We should also do outreach on busses and trains to both forestall any price increases and to advocate for their cooperatization and expansion. Because there will likely be people taking them for the first time, they will be more open to radical ideas about them, especially as they come into contact with the grim reality of USian public transit. Lastly, I also think that we should experiment with alternative and low-tech heating and electric technologies, like solar heating, small scale open source wind turbines, and more. There will be energy and interest in things like these that can directly cut people’s bills, and expanding decentralized technologies like these has good political effects; it increases community resilience and solidarity. There are many ways for anarchists to spread our ideas and practice them in the coming few weeks and months, if we can act.