James Howard Kunstler’s examines suburbia

Today I discovered James Howard Kunstler. I couldn’t agree more with many of his observations about American suburban life, and I would say that the main reason I left the US was that I really hated the suburbs and everything they stood for. So instead of moving to a larger American city I decided to move to Europe, and have since been living in Czech Republic for almost a decade. But anyway, back to James Howard Kunstler.

James Howards Kunstler speaks about the immersible ugliness of our urban areas in America. He believes that our urban spaces generate despair, but we can do better. Here’s a bit of a background bio.

James Howard Kunstler (born in 1948, New York City, New York) is an American author, social critic, public speaker, and blogger. He is best known for his books The Geography of Nowhere (1994), a history of American suburbia and urban development, and the more recent The Long Emergency (2005), where he argues that declining oil production is likely to result in the end of industrialized society as we know it and force Americans to live in smaller-scale, localized, agrarian (or semi-agrarian) communities. He has written a science fiction novel conjecturing such a culture in the future, World Made by Hand in 2008. He also gives lectures on topics related to suburbia, urban development, and the challenges of what he calls “the global oil predicament” and a resultant change in the “American Way of Life.” He is also a leading proponent of the movement known as “New Urbanism.”

He has many different terms for our current urban, and suburban landscape.
The national automobile slum
suburban sprawl
the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world
technosis externaility cluster fuck

As you can see he blends biting humor and comic relief to his lectures. I think this may have been a natural progression because the topic of suburbia is generally one that few Americans want to address. The shear mass of the problem is so monumental that it seems impossible to overcome. But as oil prices continue to rise I think that Kunstler is spot on in his beliefs that Americans are going to have to seriously change the way they live. Here in Eurpope the problem is also growing, but thankfully there is such a long history of civic architecture here that the impact is nowhere on the scale of the US.

Kunstler believes that the public realm has two roles:
A dwelling place
The physical manifestation of the common good

The idea of being a good citizen is long dead in much of America as many choose to live in homes designed to exclude them from the neighbors and the outside world as much as possible. I can only imagine how a culture which has become so dependent upon the car would function if gas were at 8 dollars a gallon.

The other thing I took from this lecture was James’ term the “nature bandaid.” I think this is a really interesting way of looking at how we try and come up with solutions to make urban spaces greener. Instead of only focusing on greeen space I think we will simply need to build more efficient systems.


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