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Thread: On James Howard Kunstler - what say ye?

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    On James Howard Kunstler - what say ye?

    William Howard Kunstler is the peek oil, doom and gloom, anti sprawl guru. He is not at all fond of the way our country is currently planned meaning he hates most of what the planning profession is doing.

    I love his weekly KunstlerCast http://kunstlercast.com/ and very much agree with most of what he says though sometimes he is a bit out there and possibly a bit self absorbed.


    So what do planners think of what he is saying?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    His arrogance is his downfall. He seems to try to educate, but it comes up sounding like he pontificates.

    For as much as I laughed with him while reading 'Geography of Nowhere", I have now grown tired of him.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

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    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    I really enjoyed "Geography of Nowhere" and read it twice. I tend to agree with most of his ideas, and only after I read the book did I read about his background, which isn't in planning.

    For me he uses the F-word too much in his presentations sometimes and that immediately comes across as uneducated. I know he's fired up but you lose your audience and it loses its effectiveness.
    @GigCityPlanner

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    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by steel View post
    William Howard Kunstler is the peek [sic] oil, doom and gloom, anti sprawl guru. He is not at all fond of the way our country is currently planned meaning he hates most of what the planning profession is doing.

    ...

    So what do planners think of what he is saying?
    I agree with most of what he says, but not in how he says it. But that is human nature and some people are wired this way. And in our information-saturated society, how do you get heard?

    We choose our reactions to the human condition according to how our brains are wired. He's angry that we make the same mistakes over and over and over over and over and over over and over and over over and over and over over and over and over over and over and over again. What moral and ethical being wouldn't be?

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Ditto what DetroitPlanner said.

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    Cyburbian Random Traffic Guy's avatar
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    After listening to some of the podcasts, I have a slightly more favorable opinion of him. I had not ready the books but had seen his articles. But the podcasts brought out some of the nuance that made him seem less fanatic. This is not to say I agree with his assertions or conclusions, just I'd be more likely to discuss it with him if we ever met in person

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Coragus's avatar
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    It's easy to sit on the sidelines and point at planning's failures. Kunstler is the best known critic, but not the only one. I've read both "Nowhere" and "The Long Emergency", but I haven't heard his podcast. While he makes valid points, he doesn't do a good job at all at making suggestions on what he'd like to see us do different.

    To me, the danger is in the public. More than once has a citizen come to a meeting and thrown Kunstler comments in our faces.
    Back home just in time for hockey season!

  8. #8
    Quote Originally posted by Coragus View post
    It's easy to sit on the sidelines and point at planning's failures. Kunstler is the best known critic, but not the only one. I've read both "Nowhere" and "The Long Emergency", but I haven't heard his podcast. While he makes valid points, he doesn't do a good job at all at making suggestions on what he'd like to see us do different.

    To me, the danger is in the public. More than once has a citizen come to a meeting and thrown Kunstler comments in our faces.


    I disagree, He has many proposals for correcting our current trajectory. Unfortunately we have been brainwashed into accepting the current sprawltopia way of doing things.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by steel View post
    I disagree, He has many proposals for correcting our current trajectory. Unfortunately we have been brainwashed into accepting the current sprawltopia way of doing things.
    I agree with the disagreement. ;o)

    IMHO by the time the cognitive dissonance is ringing in your head from all the things you accept in our society, you can't hear the solutions. It's not that JHK doesn't offer solutions, they are non-starters in this society until resources start getting scarce, ecosystems collapse in our face, food prices shoot up, Peak Oil kills the suburb, etc.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian fringe's avatar
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    Because K is an outsider his thinking may be all the more relevant, like the soothsayer in Julius Ceasar, like Cassandra. like the guy off the spaceship in "The Day the Earth Stood Still", etc etc.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian boilerplater's avatar
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    they are non-starters in this society until resources start getting scarce, ecosystems collapse in our face, food prices shoot up, Peak Oil kills the suburb, etc
    There is substantial evidence that a few of those have already happened. In '08, when we had the oil price spike, the highest nuber of foreclosures were in far-flung suburbs on the outskirts of major cities. The high gas prices broke enough budgets that people could no longer afford their mortgages. That, of course, was coupled with other factors that influenced the crises. Also recall how the price of rice spiked that year with shortages.

    I like Kunstler and wish more people would listen to what he has to say. OK, maybe they would if he wasn't so gloomy. I think the F-bombs are for shock effect, as listeners aren't expecting to hear it in a more academic or institutional setting. I read The Long Emergency and often read his blog, but I think its easy to overdose on that stuff and become wrist-slashingly depressed. Then he goes on The Colbert Report and its turned into a farcical comedy. Has he ever been on Hannity or O'douche...what's his name? That would be interesting.
    Adrift in a sea of beige

  12. #12
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by boilerplater View post
    There is substantial evidence that a few of those have already happened. In '08, when we had the oil price spike, the highest nuber of foreclosures were in far-flung suburbs on the outskirts of major cities. The high gas prices broke enough budgets that people could no longer afford their mortgages.
    How would this explain all of the foreclosures in middle to lower income neighborhoods in inner-cities with good access to transit that were probably hit even harder by foreclosures due to the overwhelming number of rental properties being managed by people who bought into those, make millions off of real estate schemes?

    One would have thought that these areas would have flourished due to higher gas prices.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  13. #13
    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner View post
    How would this explain all of the foreclosures in middle to lower income neighborhoods in inner-cities with good access to transit that were probably hit even harder by foreclosures due to the overwhelming number of rental properties being managed by people who bought into those, make millions off of real estate schemes?

    One would have thought that these areas would have flourished due to higher gas prices.
    High gas prices lasted only a short time followed quickly by the Bush recession. Just that short spike in gas prices was nearly deadly to the auto companies. If that happened over a prolonged period much of what Kunstler talks about would come true

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Captain Worley's avatar
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    He strikes me as a guy who hates suburbia because he hates doing yardwork.

    I've read a couple of his books. He's kind of a jerk, out of synch with how I think (probably why I think he's a jerk) and a pretty poor novelist.

    But I enjoy mispronouncing his name. Juvenile, i know, but I take pleasure in life wherever I can.
    Navy collier
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  15. #15
    He's a muckraker, one that is aware of some important issues, but really adds little to potential solutions.

    There are all sorts of people who can point to what's wrong with the world; few who devote themselves to fixing those problems.

  16. #16
    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    He's a muckraker, one that is aware of some important issues, but really adds little to potential solutions.

    There are all sorts of people who can point to what's wrong with the world; few who devote themselves to fixing those problems.

    Isn't it the practitioners who should be doing that? Your premis is disturbing. Are you saying that journalists have no business exposing corruption unless they become policeman and states attorneys? That argument is absurd. He points out what we are doing wrong and the solutions on many levels including referring to others in the field who are proposing similar evaluations.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian
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    I enjoy reading JHK and still (after all these years...) get a kick out of what he says. I put him in the same category as Christopher Hitchens: guys with whom I'd like to go out to a bar and have a good political discourse, but I wouldn't introduce him to my children or let him sleep on my couch.

    He's turned into a bit of a public intellectual on the issue of planning and I think it's good for the profession to it's rear end kicked every once in a while by an outsider. Some of what planners do is stupid....and we all know it. We're usually forced into these choices by the politicians we serve, so it's good to have someone outside yelling about it.

    He has turned into a new urbanist acolyte. I prefer it when he doesn't promote solutions that are entirely based on his new urbanism brainwashing. Architects can't save the world alone.

  18. #18
    Quote Originally posted by steel View post
    Isn't it the practitioners who should be doing that? Your premis is disturbing. Are you saying that journalists have no business exposing corruption unless they become policeman and states attorneys? That argument is absurd. He points out what we are doing wrong and the solutions on many levels including referring to others in the field who are proposing similar evaluations.
    No, I'm not saying that. That is one of the functions of journalists: to point out what's wrong. I have Upton Sinclair, Jane Jacobs, Lewis Mumford, AND Kunstler on my shelf. I think Kunstler brings out a lot of good things, even if mainly repeats of what others have long said. But I think he is more shrill and combative than he needs to be and spends more time than necessary on pointing to faults instead of exploring what can be done. And his alignment with New Urbanism is particularly misdirected and revealing of some of the shallowness with which he sees things.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian boilerplater's avatar
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    One would have thought that these areas would have flourished due to higher gas prices.
    Well, yeah, but my guess is that those people didn't even have the funds to re-establish households in closer-in and more urban neighborhoods. They moved in with relatives and friends, or are living in the tent and RV cities in LA, Sacramento, Seattle, etc. I was paraphrasing a WSJ article that I had read last year. Getting around by car is still a necessity for many on lower and middle-income neighborhoods that have good transit, right? When your budget is already tight, it doesn't take much to break it.
    Adrift in a sea of beige

  20. #20
    Cyburbian boilerplater's avatar
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    OK, here's some support for what I stated above:http://www.tnr.com/node/72787
    Looks like the lone commenter is quoting Kunstler!
    Adrift in a sea of beige

  21. #21
    Cyburbian Howard Roark's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by steel View post
    William Howard Kunstler is the peek oil, doom and gloom, anti sprawl guru. He is not at all fond of the way our country is currently planned meaning he hates most of what the planning profession is doing.

    I love his weekly KunstlerCast http://kunstlercast.com/ and very much agree with most of what he says though sometimes he is a bit out there and possibly a bit self absorbed.


    So what do planners think of what he is saying?
    “Geography of Nowhere” was a good read for the most part “Home from Nowhere” was 80% advertising for DPZ and crossed the line into architecture criticism where his lack of knowledge is exposed.

    He can be very enjoyable but also unfortunately slips into baby-boomer student radical mode which undermines credibility
    She has been a bad girl, she is like a chemical, though you try and stop it she is like a narcotic.

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    Home from Nowhere also had some weird non sequitur social darwinist rant about single mothers. I find that Kunstler occasionally does this kind of thing and I find it annoying. I tend to regard Kunstler as a sort of obstinate paranoid schizophrenic windbag who refuses to believe in anything but the doom and gloom.

    I also however find him highly entertaining and somewhat informative. I don't think I'd know as much about peak oil if not for Kunstler but I also think his insanity has the potential to make his causes appear ridiculous.

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    His eyesores of the month are usually pretty funny. As are the oil paintings he does of gas stations and fast food restaurants... So ugly in real life, why not put them on the inside of your house too.

  24. #24
    Cyburbian JDC's avatar
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    I'm a big fan. I listen to the Kunstlercast and have read both Geography of Nowhere and The Long Emergency. I read a lot of urbanism/transportation/oil/sprawl books in the last few years and his were part of the reason I decided to go to planning school.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Howard Roark View post
    “Geography of Nowhere” was a good read for the most part “Home from Nowhere” was 80% advertising for DPZ and crossed the line into architecture criticism where his lack of knowledge is exposed.

    He can be very enjoyable but also unfortunately slips into baby-boomer student radical mode which undermines credibility
    I agree. I liked Geography of Nowhere but couldn't stand Home from Nowhere. Some of his blog musings are interesting but most of them are just in the category of whining that "planners should do a better job", not that he is exactly living an energy-efficient lifestyle. I think he seriously lost me in his rant about how lame the Albany Train Station is just because it has long-term parking near it and its not located downtown. Dude, its a hell of a lot better than what was there before, and it will encourage use of the train!

    I used to just feel insulted and inadequate when I read his stuff. Now I actually feel sorry for someone who has so much bitterness and anger about the "system" and how messed up it is. I think I've since decided that you need to feel some - some small amount, at least - of hope and optimism for the future in order to work in planning. So much of planning is making things slightly less lame, not making it perfect. And I think planning deserves credit for making things less lame- and in some cases making things much better. But you don't survive long- and you also don't do much good - if you hold out for people to totally change their lifestyles because you say they should. People don't like being lectured to. They like being part of a solution.

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