Mar 17, 2008

The Geography of Nowhere

Author: James Kunstler

In his book, James Kunstler explores how America went from a country of small towns with solid communities, striving local economies, and a strong sense of civic pride, to today’s endless suburbia where main streets are left to decay, sprawling suburbs are the norm, and everything we build is dependent on cars.

He traces shifts in American architecture, industry, culture, morals, and politics in effort to illustrate how our cities have become what they are today. He also points out how these factors have slowly crept into our way of thinking, and how they are now being taken for granted.

Kunstler accomplishes this without putting forth a completely negative or partisan viewpoint. I believe this is one of the strongest aspects of the books because he doesn’t aim to offend or belittle the average person. Instead, he offers reasons for our habits and convincing arguments as to why we should aim for better.

This book resonates with a lot of issues I am currently dealing with in my studio work. I am currently working on a series of watercolors depicting the interiors of empty houses built mainly in the early half of the twentieth-century. I am contemplating and questioning why they are being abandoned for modern ‘cookie cutter’ suburban homes and what that communicates about our society’s social and moral ‘progress.’ In the book he talks about how these architectural changes happened and how we might go about reversing their negative effects.

According to Kunstler, the most detrimental force working against our ability to construct wonderful places to live is our reliance upon cars as our sole form of transportation. The rise in the production of cars resulted in the ballooning of cities all over the country. Everyone wanted their own little ‘country house’ that was away from the hustle and bustle of the city. He also points out that there are many areas in our cities and towns that are dead zones for pedestrians. He believes we have abandoned the ‘craft’ of building good cities in exchange for the remoteness and isolation of the modern day suburb.

Kunstler also offers us ways to reroute our downward spiral and turn our cities and towns into places that are once again desirable and rewarding places to live. He believes that better urban planning, pedestrian oriented downtown areas, and creating areas of civic art will turn our cities back into places where we want to spend time.

I believe this book is an excellent summation of how we should be planning our cities and how we got ourselves into this mess. I would highly recommend reading this book to anyone interested in preserving our environment because it offers a better understanding of how we came to be the consumer oriented culture that we are today and how we can go about reversing our consumptive ways to create better communities and in turn better lives for ourselves.


kim strom said...
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kim strom said...

Do you own this book? Can I borrow it? I was just talking with someone else about it today:)