Review: The KunstlerCast – Conversations with James Howard Kunstler

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Duncan Crary, James Howard Kunstler

5.0 out of 5 stars Unique in Its Own Right, NOT a Substitute for Long Emergency,November 20, 2011

THIS IS AN OCCUPY BOOK. It illuminates legitimate grievances being talked about by Occupy.

First, having read The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century, I urge anyone interested in this book to buy both. They are completely different. This book is not a substitute for the first book.

Second, although the “author” Duncan Crary takes great pains to minimize his role, I have dealt with massive transcripts and historical artifacts covering long spans and would say that he has done a heroic job–he has excelled–at pulling out “just enough, just right” pieces and ordering them into the following section (since Look Inside the Book is not available, I list them):

Geography of Nowhere
End of Surburbia
American Culture
Architecture
Getting There
The City in Mind
Urban Polemicists
Parting Words

This is an unconventional book in size, a squarish 6″ by 6″), and an excellent travel companion. I read it flying across the Atlantic.

The key word in this book is DESIGN. That word is absent from all planning in the USA today.

Kunstler, the primary voice in this book, is creative and caustic in his rendered judgments. A few examples:

– Parking lots at deserts
– Hiding ugly behind the flag
– Happy Motoring turned USA in a national automobile slum
– Over 38,000 places in USA not worth defending – where we’re going over-all
– Where cars dominate, spirituality is not to be found
– Do not make cars better, make cities require no cars (walkability, public transport)

QUOTE (17): “The main characteristic of a healthy urban organizsm is that it is scaled to the energy diet that is available to it.”

The books keeps me very attentive:

– urban planning has no design component anymore — just administration of trivia codes done as one size fits all
– suburbia is NOT a normal life for children
– suburbia glorifies the private and impoverishes the public
– car dependency leads to obesity [I’d give industrialized agriculture and corrupt government some of the credit] – car dependency disconnects us from everything else
– US does not do architecture – it does boxes with empty gestures (e.g. non-functional shutters) or massive runins

QUOTE (xiii): Suburbia has been and remains “the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world.”

QUOTE (47): “But the main feeling that’s going to separate us in the future from what we’ve been doing in the past is: this [word deleted for Amazon] not going to be funny anymore. I think we’re going to have the same attitude to Burger King and Pizza Hut that the people in Germany now have toward the Nazi regime. It’s going to be something that we’re ashamed of.”

– Consumer is a BAD WORD. Citizen better
– America is over-retailed. Twilight/death of the mall era
– “Pillars of community” are really just opportunists, and they label those who oppose ugly as radical obstructionists.
– Death of manufacturing left suburbia as the only “construction” gig around, the financial crimes of Goldman Sachs et al were rooted in the cultural myth of suburbia as an affordable dream for everyone.

QUOTE (142): “We’re literally becoming a slapstick clown nation, if we weren’t before.”

TODAY I LEARNED (sidebar to Reddit) that when Kunstler gave a talk at Google, the culture literally did not understand the difference between technology and energy. [I don’t make this stuff up.]

– Big architecture is a failure. The book names names.
– Tragedy of the skyscraper is that we cannot afford to repair/maintain them
– Condos are a ponzi scheme–entire buildings will go vacant/foreclosed, killing the few who remain
– Big cities going down – they will be lucky to break up into smaller cities and recover agricultural land as buffers
– The public realm is gone – we have to rediscover it and nurture it

IN PASSING:

Jane Jacobs and Lewis Mumford among the greats.
Standards are archaic and counterproductive, need to be changed if not dumped completely

FAVORITE CITIES:

Portland, Oregon
Flagstaff, Arizona
New Orleans, Louisiance
Minneapolis, Minnisota

SOLUTIONS:

– Smaller cities and town near sustainable water (Great Lakes, major rivers) will prosper
– Need to get serious about “rails to trails”
– Canals can and should make a comeback.

Bottom line as I got it: America’s norm–dense cities and sprawled suburbia–are peverse. NEITHER is good. Need to break the cities down and recover farmland, break suburbia down and recreate rural areas.

Books I had not known about that this book brought forward:
The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-Made Landscape
Home from Nowhere: Remaking Our Everyday World for the 21st Century
The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition

Books I have reviewed and recommend along with this one:
Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War
For The Common Good: Redirecting the Economy toward Community, the Environment, and a Sustainable Future
Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution
Ideas and Integrities: A Spontaneous Autobiographical Disclosure
Redesigning Society (Stanford Business Books)
Reflexive Practice: Professional Thinking for a Turbulent World

I liked this book. It was a pleasure to read, and it is certainly one of those books that can be read more than once. The author, Drew Crary, deserves enormous credit for both the initiative to elicit so much from the primary voice, James Howard Kunstler, and the very hard work that he downplays–inappropriately, I think, because I know how hard he had to work–in actually selecting from a mass of material and getting it into world-class form.

An excellent gift book for those that still like books.

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