No One's Talking About the Inevitable Contraction of Cities

Election '16

Bestselling author James Howard Kunstler is a longtime critic of modern life. His newest book, released earlier this month, revolves around a "future town" in upstate New York inhabited by anarchists. While his story is fictional, Kunstler insists that American urban planning will, in fact, see a massive overhaul, judging from its current lack of sustainability. 

Reflecting on the myth of perpetual progress, Kunstler explained, "It seem[s] to me that the whole country [is] waiting around for some Silicon Valley geek to invent a rescue remedy so we can keep driving to Walmart forever... I call that the 'master wish' in America today."

"We're going to be disappointed by how that works out and I don't know if we're going to answer the call of history because so far we're currently too preocupied with the Kardashians and other trivialities," Kunstler said. 

Kunstler definies surburbia in two ways: "One is the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world... and another is.. a living arrangement with no future, and unfortunately [America] is kind of stuck with it. "

Kunstler believes America has made a lot of bad decisions, but according to the author, "the decision to build suburbia was more of a conesus than a conspiracy and all that says is that societies can make bad decisions and we did. But now we're kind of stuck with it and it has provoked what I call a 'psychology of previous investment'... we can't imagine letting go of it or reforming it."

Kunstler thinks what's going to happen next to suburbs will surprise people.

"[Suburbia] has three destinies: slums, salvage and ruins. Some of it is going to be retrofitted and fixed. But most of it won't. The cities are going to get in as much trouble as the suburbs because they've gotten too big and they're not scaled to the energy and formation realities of the future [so] we're going to see [cities] contract hugely. But where will everybody end up?" he asked. 

Kunstler hosts an "Eyesore of the Month" photo contest on his blog and submissions come from all over the world. After receiving a batch, the author selects one to describe. 

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"Behold the National World War Two Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana. Observe the interesting relationship between the incoherent building and the freeway on-ramp, with the mediating embellishment of chain-link fence. A better visual metaphor for the mechanized brutality of the mid-20th century would be hard to find," Kunstler wrote

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"Megaphone to distant alien civilizations? No, just a decommissioned Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket on San Francisco’s Geary Boulevard. Rather than scrap it, they transformed it into “street art.” (Probably would have been cheaper to take it down.)," Kunstler explained

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"Behold the new addition to San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art by the Norwegian architecture firm, Snøhetta, opening in two weeks. Thanks for yet another mystical genius innovation in building form, lending the institution the look of a collapsed Japanese paper lantern with moth holes," wrote Kunstler.

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"Behold: the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston all pimped out with exciting bling! (Note the 'gold' chain supporting the colorful whaddayacallit — five-armed ju-ju talisman?)" Kunstler asked.

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"Behold the 'Pterodactyl,' a combination parking garage and office structure designed by Eric Owen Moss for Culver City, California, To this observer, it’s more train wreck than prehistoric flying reptile. It’s also yet another demonstration of how buildings can be torqued and tweaked with computer-aided design (CAD) in order to produce maximum maintenance problems and the inevitable impossibility of adaptive re-use," wrote Kunstler.

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