Tacoma Urbanist

Apr. 21, 2008 at 12:26am

Get Your Tickets To James Kunstler Event Today

The biggest speaker on cities in recent memory James Kunstler is coming to Tacoma on Wednesday, April 23rd at 7:00 p.m. on Theater on the Square.

Tickets are available at Broadway Center ticket office.

Tickets: General Admission: $18
Students w/ID: $9

Purchase Tickets Online

To my knowledge, the one and only TED speaker to ever present at the City of Tacoma.

Whatever your belief system: conservative, liberal, environmentalist, hipster, progressive, Ron Paul supporter or anarchist or a combination of these, you will likely find your beliefs challenged.

True, Kunstler has been invited to speak before a countless number of companies, chapters of the American Institute of Architects and other professional groups and universities.

Although his views have been becoming more mainstream, he is also very provocative.  Here's a Kunstler makes about Las Vegas

If Las Vegas truly is our city of the future, then we might as well all cut our own throats tomorrow. I certainly felt like cutting mine after only a few days there, so overwhelming was the sheer anomie provoked by every particular of its design and operation. As a city it’s a futureless catastrophe.

As a tourist trap, it’s a meta-joke.  As a theosophical matter, it presents proof that we are a wicked people who deserve to be punished.  In the historical context, it is the place where America’s spirit crawled off to die. The trouble with Las Vegas is not just that it is ridiculous and dysfunctional, but that anybody might take it seriously as a model for human ecology on anything but the most extreme provisional terms.

Thus, the evening will certainly not be boring.  Here's more he says about Vegas:

Locals joke that the way things are going, somebody will eventually have to build a Las Vegas, Las Vegas -- a miniature version of the Strip inside a hotel on the Strip, so you can avoid the Strip and still experience it.

Which is something the casual visitor might dearly wish to do, because the experience of actually being on this gigantic motorway lined by buildings of such monstrous scale -- or, at some stretches, vacant lots that appear to be the size of Rhode Island -- is not apt to gratify many human beings with normal neurological equipment. 

In fact, if ever a setting was designed to ravage the central nervous system and induce acute agoraphobia, the Strip is it.

Question: What will Kunstler say about Tacoma?


Kunstler may not "be all end all" for Tacoma.  However, Kunstler drills down to the fundamental issues of what makes a city function properly and become a place worth caring about, habitable and a place where civic life has the potential to occur.

Let's face it: 90 percent of what has been built in Tacoma after 1950 isn't something anyone would want to take a picture of. Yet, we appear to be building more of it.  And yet simple fixes such as adding yet more meaningless suburban buffers and berms for "open space" separating buildings from each other makes the condition worse, not better.

Currently, the task of selecting the site for and designing a successful and vibrant public space, which Kunstler spends much time on, is elusive to Tacoma.  Tacoma needs another perspective if it is ever going to improve its condition. 

Hope to see everyone on Wednesday.

The Videos:

comments [22]  |  posted under tacoma


by ensie on 4/21/2008 @ 1:28pm
Am I going to have to ban you from using the word "Kunstler"? I mean, Jesus, man. It's one thing to be a fan. It's another to lose your mind over him. :)

I'll be there on Wednesday thanks to some tix from Tacomamama. Can wait to hear what the man has to say. I'm avoiding all information ahead of time to go in with no prior knowledge - will be very interested to see what I get out of the event.

by intacoma on 4/21/2008 @ 3:21pm
I hope someone films it for people who don't want to buy tickets. Let me know when its up on The Pirate Bay


by Erik on 4/21/2008 @ 3:23pm
Am I going to have to ban you from using the word "Kunstler"? I mean, Jesus, man. It's one thing to be a fan. It's another to lose your mind over him. :)

My apologies. However, it is the last minute push Ensie. Then I will stop or at least slow down on Kunstler. Promise.

Paul Sparks is trying to unload the last of the tickets. :)

The least I can do is post up some u tube videos.

I hope someone films it for people who don't want to buy tickets. Let me know when its up on The Pirate Bay

Attendance is mandatory for Sitecrafters. Maybe RR will sell you his surplus tickets at a discount.

by Nick on 4/21/2008 @ 6:27pm
I'm looking at my tix posted on the fridge right now - Ashley and I will be there. Should be interesting!

Michael, I'll tap into my 1337 W4REz HAx0R SK1LLZ and get you a bootleg afterwards. Just don't be surprised if Kunstler looks strikingly similar to a popsickle stick with a voice that, oddly enough, sounds like mine . . .

by jenyum on 4/21/2008 @ 8:59pm
(One of) Jen's weird theory(ies) on suburbia. Developed while watching Cloverfield:

After WWII people had a visceral fear of living in tightly knit cities and moved to out to their own defensible kingdoms. Ever since then there has been more and more of a push to surround yourself with layer after layer of protection - big plush chair in SUV, big old SUV, huge street, broad parking lot, big widely spaced buildings. Modern society is moderately terrifying, and there's a subconscious desire to separate from the herd and have control over what happens to you.

Of course, in reality living in the suburbs won't save you from falling bombs, giant robots, pedophiles, low test scores, godzilla, or any other modern monsters real or imagined, but at its root the desire to live in these environments is founded on fear, not greed.

Should things start to go wrong in a big way (and 1.89 for 12-not 16-ounces of pasta is a pretty bad sign) sadly, for a while anyway, I think you'll see more of a movement out from the center, not less, no matter how counterintuitive that might seem.

I don't find his take on suburbanites to be helpful, and the rapid segues from urban planning to dystopian future don't really make much sense. It's sort of like continually mentioning the war in Iraq and 911 in the same sentence, it doesn't actually create causation and it belittles the complexity of the issues.

by Erik on 4/21/2008 @ 9:22pm
I don't find his take on suburbanites to be helpful, and the rapid segues from urban planning to dystopian future don't really make much sense.

Its sort of two different topics but are somewhat related.

The first is the issues of building a habitable environment for people to live and interact in and the methodologies employed in doing so.

The second is Kunstler's belief that a) there is a finite amount of oil in the world and b) no other form of energy source is going to permit the current motoring way of life to continue when oil is very expensive and/or runs out.

Some groups that hire him try to get him to focus on the urban design issues as he describes on the Geography of Nowhere as that seem to be his most popular and useful topic.

No doubt he is right that cheap oil will end one day. The only question is the timeline. Yet, gas is $3.60 a gallon. The suburbs are going to be increasingly difficult to maintain if the price goes significantly higher as they require a great deal of motoring by definition.

by NineInchNachos on 4/21/2008 @ 9:35pm
not to mention the price of JET A and the imminent collapse of air travel. now is the time to start herding your loved ones into the same area if you enjoy their company.

by KevinFreitas on 4/21/2008 @ 10:33pm
Most of the Sitecrafting'ers will be at the BE awards thingy that night, I'm afraid. I'm sure we'll hear all about the coming of Kunstler tho. I expect many reports here Erik and perhaps this Friday at Frost Park as well.

by Erik on 4/22/2008 @ 10:48am
Today's Tacomic references the upcoming Kunstler event:


by Erik on 4/22/2008 @ 1:54pm
Kunstler poster found at Blackwater Cafe yesterday:

And now on the art list serve by Paul Sparks:


Hello friends, neighbors, and interested parties,

Tomorrow night should be an inspiring, fun, and powerful event for Tacoma. I just wanted to make sure you were all in the loop and had the relevant info!

Hope to see you there,

Paul Sparks
Local Life Tacoma

Provocative and entertaining! The New York Times

Colossally Important! Bill McKibben author of End of Nature

Real-world practicality! San Francisco Chronicle

Renowned Urban Critic James Howard Kunstler Takes On Tacoma!

Urban planning advocate James Howard Kunstler, often recognized as "the world's foremost critic of suburban sprawl," will walk the streets of Tacoma tomorrow. Join us Wednesday evening to hear his response at Broadway Center for the Performing Arts' Theatre on the Square.

Local Life Tacoma has partnered with Exit 133 to bring James Howard Kunstler, urban planning advocate, social critic, journalist and novelist, to Tacoma on April 23, 7:00pm, at the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts' Theatre on the Square.

James Howard Kunstler is the author of seven novels and countless articles and essays including The Geography of Nowhere and The Long Emergency. Geography earned much attention and praise, launching him into the spotlight as a commentator on America's hapless urban planning. Mr. Kunstler has lectured extensively about urban design, energy issues and new economies for The TED Conference, Google, American Institute of Architects, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the International Council of Shopping Centers, The National Association of Science and Technology and other professional organizations as well as at numerous colleges and universities.

Mr. Kunstler aptly describes his lectures as "stand-up comedy with some dark moments." His audience knows he is dependably acerbic, witty, well-read and exceedingly alert, drawing from a tremendous store of hard facts and idealism that ends on a good note: Well-earned and reasoned hope.

His lecture will focus on Tacoma and the state of our city. After the lecture, he will sign books in the lobby. Books will be available for sale from King's Books.

For more information and tickets, contact the Broadway Center Box Office by phone at 253.591.5894, visit in person at 9th

by Erik on 4/22/2008 @ 3:28pm
Today, tacoma hipster Daniel Blue interviews James Kunstler in the Volcano.

BLUE: Who stands to gain from the end of oil? Won't the corporation that discovers an alternative energy source rule the world?

KUNSTLER: That's magical thinking — tinged with grandiosity and paranoia. There's no corporation that can bail us out of our oil-addiction problem with "rescue remedy." There are lots of alt.energy resources, and we will use everything possible, but we're sure to be disappointed by what they can do for us.

That's the key to understanding what we face. As I've said a million times, no combination of solar, wind, ethanol, biodiesel, nuclear, or used-french-fry-oil will allow us to keep running Wal-Mart and the Interstate highway system (and that's the unstated wish behind your question).

We have to make other arrangements for everyday life. Those who benefit will be those who are prepared to live locally and work shoulder-to-shoulder with their neighbors.


The interview is pretty good. Daniel challenges Kunstler with thoughts of anti corporate conspiracy.

Kunstler responds with a series of parries and riposte until our friend Blue looks mainstream and then flat palms Blue's tomfoolery.

Spicey interview. Its an interesting contrast but they each held their own in a way.

See everyone tomorrow.

by NineInchNachos on 4/22/2008 @ 3:33pm
Kunstler is a walking shark attack!

by intacoma on 4/22/2008 @ 4:58pm
love the bow tie

by jenyum on 4/22/2008 @ 5:26pm
I really hate the term crybaby.

by Erik on 4/22/2008 @ 5:34pm
But read the term in the context of the paragraph:

Your readers can learn how to use hand tools, cultivate a social network of people they can depend on, learn to play musical instruments, stay healthy and fit by being active, grow something at whatever scale is available to you (even just a pot of herbs), read some of the 'great books' rather than turn on the boob tube, save money rather than spend it on electronic crap, and find somebody to love. ... Most of all, don't be crybabies.

Not bad advice is it?

It sounds like Holistic Forge Works except replace the term music with comics.

Seriously, intentionally or not, Daniel skipped over the urban design issues Kunstler is usually hired to talk about and is better known for. He wanted an over the top edgy interview for the Volcano so he tried to pepper him with bizarre questions.

Another question Daniel could have asked is what Kunstler thinks of Tacoma as he has been here before. Oh well.

by NineInchNachos on 4/22/2008 @ 5:37pm
Daniel failed to ask the burning questions like "have you ever had a face lift?" or maybe: "Why don't you wear a lapel pin--Do you hate america?"

"Why do bad things happen to good people" would have been another good question.

by Erik on 4/22/2008 @ 5:38pm
BTW, even Funkoma Vintage is talking about the Kunstler Event in a Funkoma Vintage type manner:

your new god, Kunstler says: Go plant a garden. And learn some handicrafts.

mmmm like sewing, or knitting, or at the very least,
Stay the Hell outta the Mall........and stop buying new useless crap.....from china.from where ever. You went to college. Use that brain !!! challenge the dominant paradigm ! my college grad class motto......Be The Change You Wish To See.....


I think everyone's on board now except the Ruston blogs. (hmmm. Maybe I should email them).

by jenyum on 4/22/2008 @ 5:54pm
Well, he's actually a huge "crybaby" to use his own term. Being the person hired to point out what's wrong with cities. I'm just sayin.' Crybaby is a necessary step to change. First, you must acknowledge that the situation is not working for you (hence the crying) then make change.

Anyway, you know I've got some actual crybabies around here. Sometimes, listening to the crying is necessary in order to figure out how best to modify the behavior.

by Erik on 4/22/2008 @ 6:12pm
Anyway, you know I've got some actual crybabies around here. Sometimes, listening to the crying is necessary in order to figure out how best to modify the behavior.

Ah. That's the difference.

I think he might say crying is good.

But being a crybaby mean something totally different. It basically means a complainer.

crybaby n. , pl. -bies . A person who cries or complains frequently with little cause.


crybaby Definition

☆ cry·baby (-bā′bē)

noun pl. -·bies

2. a person who complains when he or she fails to win or get his or her own way


by jenyum on 4/22/2008 @ 6:28pm
I don't know. I watched those Youtube clips, like the one in which he refers to people who want him to discuss solutions as "crybabies."

Ack. You know, I'm not typing that word again. That is how much it grates. Whether or not there is cause frequently depends on the perspective of the listener. Like the person who told me to quit whining when I complained about the bus today, apparently he or she does not have kids but that doesn't stop them from judging without listening. I should be grateful the bus doesn't smell like pee and stop suggesting improvements.

My point is and continues to be this: He does an excellent job of convincing the people who already agree with him. For the rest, the insults and finger pointing are preventing him from actually seeing anything from their point of view. Obscuring solutions where they might otherwise present themselves and turning off potential allies.

But I'll be there tomorrow night, anyway!

by Erik on 4/22/2008 @ 6:42pm
Thanks for your straightforward feedback jenyum. We all interpret things differently.

I see Kunstler's main point being discussing how cities can rebuild and function better as Jane Jacobs used to discuss in her books.

Also, an examination of what physical city designs are conducive to foster civic life which is sustainable and which ones offer little but isolation.

See you tomorrow.

I have no idea what he will say. But at least Tacoma is thinking about trying to improve itself. We need all of the insights we can get.

by KevinFreitas on 4/22/2008 @ 11:31pm
I think everyone's on board now except the Ruston blogs.

Yea, I'm not convinced. Shaking things up to shift perspective and add new ideas to the mix here is already in full swing. Just look around at events like Coffee and Rhetoric and Paul Spark's inspiring Local Life forums of late. Community garden efforts, grassroots pushes for a city-wide streetcar system and even now some folks talking of bringing baseball and the Rainiers into downtown. Hell, even the little things like taking back Frost Park which has morphed into lunch and impromptu art competitions. Not to mention the incredible energy and community that's grown out of blogs and sites like FeedTacoma.

Change is what you're willing to do and how you're willing to put yourself out there. Tacoma is still a small enough burg that simply by doing, change will happen and can easily grow. It always great to hear perspective from "outsiders" like Jim Deers and Kunstler but any of us can pioneer an idea to make great things happen.

And the best part is the appreciation. Whenever a new action for positive change occurs many, especially those in city government are thankful. Leaders throughout town can't do everything for us with their collective limited time and resources but are willing to help guide and provide what they can when available to help spread the load a bit.

I'm happy to see any energy to help push Tacoma forward but let's remember that, no matter who's holding the mic, we don't just listen/absorb but act. Landscape a roundabout. Play some music with your friends in a park. Keep your head up while walking and smile at perfect strangers. Shop local for your next gift. Try a new local restaurant. Together, small deeds will add up into great feats.