By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 5, 2008; Page A01
That 1958 brick rambler inside the Beltway is suddenly looking a lot better to Dawn and Jeff Schaefer, who are buying their first house in Northern Virginia.
Not too long ago, they were looking farther out -- for a newer house, a bigger yard and all the amenities. But no more. "You get less house and property for the same price, but we're willing to make that sacrifice to save on gas prices and commuting costs," Dawn Schaefer said.
Cheap oil, which helped push the American Dream away from the city center, isn't so cheap anymore. As more and more families reconsider their dreams, land-use experts are beginning to ask whether $4-a-gallon gas is enough to change the way Americans have thought for half a century about where they live.
"We've passed that tipping point," U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said.
Since the end of World War II, government policy has funded and encouraged the suburban lifestyle, subsidizing highways while starving mass transit and keeping gas taxes much lower than in some other countries.
Americans couldn't wait to trade in the cramped city apartments of the Kramdens and Ricardos for the lush lawns of the Bradys. Local land-use policies kept housing densities low, pushing development to the periphery of metropolitan regions and forcing families who wanted their dream house to accept long commutes and a lack of any real transportation choices other than getting behind the wheel.