A Sense of Place

I found this vitriolic rant by James Howard Kunstler about American urban planning, the automobile slum, and pathological environments extraordinarily captivating. I strongly encourage you to watch the entire thing – it’s 20 minutes long, and gripping – but if you’re short on time, here are some choice excerpts that really don’t do justice to the man’s intense and savage humor:

The public realm has to inform us not only where we are geographically, but it has to inform us where we are in our culture – where we’ve come from, what kind of people we are. And by doing that it needs to afford us a glimpse of where we’re going in order to allow us to dwell in a hopeful present. And if there is one great catastrophe about the places that we’ve built, the human environments we’ve made for ourselves in the last 50 years, it’s that they’ve deprived us of the ability to live in a hopeful present.


One of the problems with the fiasco of suburbia is that it destroyed our understanding of the distinction between the country and the town, between the urban and the rural. They’re not the same thing, and we’re not going to cure the problems of the urban by dragging the country into the city, which is what a lot of us are trying to do all the time. […] A lot of this comes from the fact that the industrial city in America was a such a trauma that we developed this tremendous aversion to the whole idea of the city, city life, and everything connected with it. And so what you see fairly early in the mid-19th centuy is this idea that we now have to have an antidote for the industrial city, which is life in the country for everybody. […] But what happens is of course, it mutates over the next 80 years, and it turns into something rather insidious. It becomes a cartoon of a country house in a cartoon of the country. And that is the great non-articulated agony of suburbia, and one of the reasons it lends itself to ridicule. Because it hasn’t delivered what it’s been promising for half a century now.

And finally…

We are entering an epochal period of change in the world, and especially in America, a period that will be characterized as the end of the cheap oil era. […] We’re gonna have to downscale, rescale, and resize virtually everything we do in this country, and we can’t start soon enough to do it. We’re gonna have to live closer to where we work, we’re gonna have to live closer to each other, we’re gonna have to grow more food closer to where we live. The age of the 3000-mile Caesar salad is coming to an end. We have a railroad system that the Bulgarians would be ashamed of. We gotta do better than that, and we should’ve started two days before yesterday.

Seriously, give it a watch. You won’t be disappointed.