Tacoma Urbanist

Oct. 31, 2007 at 9:52pm

Kunstler : Is your city worth caring about?

James Kunstler Urges City Residents To Make A Place Worth Caring About

James Kunstler, Author of The Geography of Nowhere riles against blightful strip malls and urges listeners to create a place worth caring about.

He shows what a disaster much of the building occuring after the 1940s has created.

He gives no quarter against suburban sprawl which he identifies as the "worse allocation of resources in the history of the world."

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comments [15]  |  posted under Tacoma washington blog parking lit

Comments

by NineInchNachos on 11/1/2007 @ 12:11pm
I love many of those TED conference talks.

by Erik on 11/4/2007 @ 3:39pm
Me too. They are pretty good. Kunstler has a good one.

Here's the link to

TED : Ideas worth sharing Al Gore gives a pretty entertaining one as well.

by Heather on 3/11/2008 @ 6:38pm
Thanks for posting this. I first saw James Kunstler in the film The End of Suburbia, which I would recommend to anyone.

He'll be here soon, right? April 23?

by Erik on 3/11/2008 @ 6:48pm
Yes, according to Local Life Tacoma:

www.golocaltacoma.com/locallife.htm

by jenyum on 3/11/2008 @ 8:24pm
Did anybody read my rant about Kunstler last week, or did I bury it too much in park talk?

Oh here, I found my point:

If a lifestyle choice is so popular, it must at some level be serving a need. What needs does suburban life serve, for families? How can an urban community better serve those needs, without turning into a suburb?

by Erik on 3/11/2008 @ 9:00pm
If a lifestyle choice is so popular, it must at some level be serving a need. What needs does suburban life serve, for families?

Thanks for the comment jenyum. You have inspired me to post about the upcoming Kunstler talk. The Ted clip is good, but its only a superficial rant.

I consider the suburbs to be the area outside the traditional city street grid.

Suburban housiing has been selling well since 1950. It is sold on the following values:

1) An ability to live away from the "dirty" city

2) An ability to live away from the "crime ridden" city

3) Larger yard for cheaper. More house for the dollar
Your own mini kingdom.

4) An ability to protect yourself by living in remote or gated communities

5) An ability to totally control what economic status your neighbors so you don't need to run into "riff-raff."

The problem is that people are finding such an arrangement to be isolating. They can't walk to anything. People with children have it the worst as they are forced to drive 10 miles to every function and everyone ends up being in the car all time time.

Teen agers are bored and the elderly are isolated. The only shopping is done anonymously in large shopping malls where there is little chance to run into someone you know.

The ideal is to have 75 percent of everything you need within a 5 minute walk including shopping and parks.

Here's his first book. You can borrow it from me if you like.

The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape

From Publishers Weekly

In this inconsistent but provocative analysis, Kunstler ( Blood Solstice ), a novelist and journalist, mixes memoir, historical essay and reporting to condemn the car-dependent suburbanization of America. Kunstler, who writes ably, casts a very wide net: he finds the roots of American individualism in pre-colonial property ownership, decries the abstracting influence of modernism on city architecture and slams road-builder Robert Moses to support his contention that suburbia is a social environment without soul. He offers an intriguing history of the decline of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., his hometown, describes trips to failing Detroit and well-planned Portland, Ore., and dissects "capitals of unreality" like Disney World and Atlantic City. His worthy but sketchily described solutions--a sustainable economy, better neighborhood development and preservation of the countryside--could, however, each merit a book.


www.amazon.com/Geography-Nowhere-America...

by NineInchNachos on 3/11/2008 @ 9:25pm
just look what is happening to the Republican by Default guy over at 5views... the dude is a wreck and I attribute it to the numbing isolation and perpetual peacock visitations.

by jenyum on 3/11/2008 @ 9:42pm
It's the "sketchily described solutions" part that is the clincher. Also, there's a lot of judgment in this:

1) An ability to live away from the "dirty" city

2) An ability to live away from the "crime ridden" city

3) Larger yard for cheaper. More house for the dollar
Your own mini kingdom.

4) An ability to protect yourself by living in remote or gated communities

5) An ability to totally control what economic status your neighbors so you don't need to run into "riff-raff."


Not that there's nothing to judge about suburban culture, but I wish we could set that aside for a moment.

What if we weren't talking about suburban America. What if we were talking about the culture of another country? Say we think that culture includes some misguided and harmful practices, and we want to help it change. What sorts of things would we need to know, before we stuck our heads in and tried to effect that change? Or would just proclaiming it to be wrong and attempting to regulate it from the outside be enough? What purpose are these practices serving the culture? What beliefs are driving this?

It's all fine to make fun of surburbanites for their safety obsessions, for example, but safety is a real concern of modern families. How can an urban environment acknowledge and address that without being condescending or looking like a suburb? I don't actually know, but it's a conversation worth having. That's just one example. If we aren't ever going to figure out where the life preservers are stored, it's just a bunch of shouting while the ship goes down.


I'd praise Portland OR for it's well thought out urban planning, for sure, but keep in mind it's a relatively small urban center, developed very late in the history of this country, surrounded by hundreds of miles of rural area. (Kept that way by the planning policies, yes, but not ripped out in the early 20th century before much of this intentional growth came about.)

I guess everywhere should look like Portland, but that ship has sailed.


by Erik on 3/11/2008 @ 11:58pm
Here's my responses to suburban sales points:

1) An ability to live away from the "dirty" city

Industrialization has left most cities now. Tacoma is far cleaner than it has been for 100 years.

2) An ability to live away from the "crime ridden" city

4) An ability to protect yourself by living in remote or gated communities

The correct standard to consider is injury rate and driving on 50 mph highways that cross causes alot of accidents. Injury by car is directly proportional to car use.

When injuries by car are taken into account, the chance of injury washes.

3) Larger yard for cheaper. More house for the dollar
Your own mini kingdom.


A faux fiefdom.

It's all fine to make fun of surburbanites for their safety obsessions, for example, but safety is a real concern of modern families.

See my post above.

The bottom line is that more and more people are finding the suburban environment isolating and requires families to spend large portions of their time in their cars each day.

Gas is now $3.50 per gallon so the design will not be economically feasible for much longer. Plus, it causes traffic congestion and pollution.

How can an urban environment acknowledge and address that without being condescending or looking like a suburb?

The ideal is to have 75 percent of everything you need within a 5 minute walk including shopping and parks.

Here's a good clip. Let me know what you think.

The End of Suburbia

www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHr8OzaloLM

by jenyum on 3/12/2008 @ 8:07am
If he'd make the movie available free online, I'd watch it, (ironically, I can look up the closest screening and presumably drive there!) but the trailer is not so illuminating. Suburbia bad sensible urban development good, check.

What does that development look like and how do we make it attractive to today's suburbanites? 75 percent of everything we need within a five minute walk - well OK what do we need? It's as important to address the intangibles as it is to make sure one can buy a gallon of milk on foot. It's not just about building parks (for example) it's about building parks that get used.

I'm concerned. We can't convince the people with the highest-paying jobs in Tacoma to live here, a city which is already quite family friendly. There's a problem and I don't think it can be solved by getting together people who already see it and railing against people who don't.

I need to read one of his books, I know. All I can read online is the Very Angry Blog. I'll have to order it, have it put on a big truck and shipped to me or to my local bookstore, where I will pick up my product of a stinky paper mill like the one that drags down our quality of life.




by Erik on 3/12/2008 @ 12:15pm
I'm concerned. We can't convince the people with the highest-paying jobs in Tacoma to live here, a city which is already quite family friendly.

Tacoma's doing better. Downtown was nearly abandoned in the late 1970s. It has been slowly heading up the curve since. I would say we are operating about at 30 - 35 percent now.

The task ahead to increase the potential for civic life is the occupy and rebuild the neighborhood centers and downtown.

As for Kustler, alot of the new stuff he writes about now is pretty acidic. When I see you at the Frost Park event on Friday, I will loan you book from another person you may like better.

by NineInchNachos on 3/12/2008 @ 12:35pm
here is a taste of what JHK sounds like these days...

www.youtube.com/watch?v=90ELleCQvew

by Erik on 3/12/2008 @ 12:43pm

by NineInchNachos
on 3/12/2008 @ 12:35pm here is a taste of what JHK sounds like these days...


Good classic clip.

As for the comparison, the urban design issue Kunstler weighs in on is when he is at his best.

What he does get excited about is his evaluation of the problems when "peak oil" hits and which he believes will occur relatively soon and the resultant problems far before global warming.

Not only are there the problems with suburban living many others have pointed out, but he argues there will not be a choice to live 40 minutes away from work anymore and that there will soon be many other changes as well.

Kunstler's right that there is finite amount of oil. When the price will rise out of control is another issue. Although I note that gas is $3.50 a gallon now and China is using ever greater amounts of it.

As for the film clip RR links, it occurred to me that although those folks at least had a community in which they could be heard yelling and interacting.

by jenyum on 3/12/2008 @ 1:09pm
Tacoma's doing better. Downtown was nearly abandoned in the late 1970s. It has been slowly heading up the curve since. I would say we are operating about at 30 - 35 percent now.

The task ahead to increase the potential for civic life is the occupy and rebuild the neighborhood centers and downtown.


Granted. OK then, while we're rebuilding our city, let's talk to the people IN the suburbs (or on the verge, people who live in less well-off neighborhoods and would move if they could) and ask them what they want, and listen, and try to work with those needs in mind. That's all I'm sayin'! Because the way I see development happening around here I don't always think it's based on the needs of the 2008 family, and it's painful to watch all that money misspent.




by Erik on 3/13/2008 @ 1:25am
let's talk to the people IN the suburbs (or on the verge, people who live in less well-off neighborhoods and would move if they could) and ask them what they want...

Yeah. That's why we have blogs. And you have one of the best blogs that communicates to alot of families.

You are highlighting the cool things in Tacoma which is going to be a large factor of people learning more about the good things in Tacoma. Certainly better than just stating that it is a good city.