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Gas Prices Fuel Interest in City Living


The fluctuating changes in U.S. gasoline prices in recent months have made many Americans nervous and forced them to rethink how often they drive their cars. For decades, Americans have tended to move farther away from downtown, but that trend appears to be changing. VOA's Penelope Poulou has a report.

After World War Two, many Americans dreamed about moving away from the city and buying a house out in the suburbs. Through a government program, millions of war veterans were guaranteed home loans, and housing development sprang up on land outside the cities.

Suburban communities offered larger houses, bigger yards, better schools.

Gasoline was cheap and the driving was easy. New highways built after the war enabled suburbanites to commute back into the city for work. American families loved the suburban life.

But now, with higher prices at the pump and everywhere else, Americans are taking a second look at their love affair with the suburbs.

Urban high-rise builders such as Stan Slotter of Paradigm Development Corporation in Washington, D.C. have noticed the trend. "As people walk in the door that's certainly one of the things they are talking about is, 'how do I get out of my car, utilize the metrorail [subway] system,' " says Stan Slotter.

Slotter is one of many developers who are building apartments within walking distance from subway stations around the city. They are also close to shopping and movie theaters.

But high-rise apartments are not for everyone. Many Americans still want the house, the yard, and the neighborhood. Just closer to the city.

Matt Wentzel and his wife Rebecca are a good example. They chose to live in a quiet community right next to Washington, DC.

"If we had our choice we would spend zero time in the car," says Matt. "I go for bike rides, my wife, my boys go for bike rides, we absolutely love doing that, and we play outside. In the back yard we have a tree house we play around in."

But Rebecca says there is a trade-off. A location closer in to town costs more money and perhaps less room. "We don't have the biggest kitchen, and the fancy bathroom. We don't have the same sort of things we would probably have out in the suburbs. That's O.K. Time with the family seems more important," says Rebecca.

The shorter commute to work has meant Rebecca and Matt can spend more time with each other and their kids. Others share that drive to spend less time in the car.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, in March of this year -- as gas prices were climbing higher -- Americans drove almost 20 billion kilometers less on public roads than in March of the previous year.

Bike stores report that in the past six months the number of commuters who bike to work has soared. More Americans are also parking their cars and taking public transportation.

Urban properties are more expensive than their suburbancounterparts. But Stan Slotter says they are a dependable investment. "They become increasingly valuable -- as traffic congestion, as the cost of commuting in an urban area like Washington continues to increase."

So, whether it is uncertain gas prices, a goal to spend less time commuting, or a desire to walk and bike more, some Americans think the grass is greener in the city instead of the suburbs.

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