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Thread: On James Howard Kunstler - what say ye?

  1. #26
    Cyburbian fringe's avatar
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    "...if I thought it would do any good
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  2. #27
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    I would have much more respect for all of Kunstler's pontificating if he actually lived in a city. While technically a city, Saratoga Springs is really the pricey-ist 'burb in pricey Saratoga County which is the major suburban county north of Albany, NY. Most local young people can no longer afford to buy homes in Saratoga Springs because of high prices -- and this continues despite the fall of home prices elsewhere.

    JMO.

  3. #28
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    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner View post
    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.
    Second that. In addition to the "uneducated" factor Tide mentioned, when he spoke to our preservation grad program he was pretty antagonistic, even though we were predisposed to be among his supporters. We were all pretty glad to see him go. To me it's not his outrage as much as it is the fact that he seems to think he's the only one who knows the "truth." That and he seems a little unhinged.

  4. #29
    Cyburbian fringe's avatar
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    Kuntsler reminds me of the journalist Greg Palast, who is relentless and harshly critical of US policy in general.

    These are Cassandra type voices, and what's creepy is they might be right.

  5. #30
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Linda_D View post
    I would have much more respect for all of Kunstler's pontificating if he actually lived in a city. While technically a city, Saratoga Springs is really the pricey-ist 'burb in pricey Saratoga County which is the major suburban county north of Albany, NY. Most local young people can no longer afford to buy homes in Saratoga Springs because of high prices -- and this continues despite the fall of home prices elsewhere.

    JMO.
    Saratoga Springs has nice urbanism but I can't consider it a real city either. There are literally no minorities, it just might be the most lily-white place I've ever been.
    The downtown is a carnival of "Stuff White People Like" attractions and shopping but there's no gritty areas and all of the uses are sanitized to cater to the big-money track crowd that flocks there in the summer. After track season the downtown is pretty much dead.

  6. #31
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller View post
    Saratoga Springs has nice urbanism but I can't consider it a real city either. There are literally no minorities, it just might be the most lily-white place I've ever been.
    The downtown is a carnival of "Stuff White People Like" attractions and shopping but there's no gritty areas and all of the uses are sanitized to cater to the big-money track crowd that flocks there in the summer. After track season the downtown is pretty much dead.
    Everything you say is so true. Saratoga Springs used to have quite a good sized black community for a small upstate NY city, but like other locals, they were forced out by rising housing prices.

    Saratoga Springs is really more closely related to Lake George Village, NY or Rockport, MA or dozens of other tourist towns across the Northeast than it is to any Northeastern cities, including those of about the same size. The only difference is that it doesn't have the charm that comes from quirkiness or tacky chic because that stuff isn't allowed. "Sanitized" is a good description of the place.

  7. #32
    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller View post
    Saratoga Springs has nice urbanism but I can't consider it a real city either. There are literally no minorities, it just might be the most lily-white place I've ever been.
    The downtown is a carnival of "Stuff White People Like" attractions and shopping but there's no gritty areas and all of the uses are sanitized to cater to the big-money track crowd that flocks there in the summer. After track season the downtown is pretty much dead.
    Are minorities really what constitute a city? What does race have to do with this? I can understand valuing gentrification, but not passing Tyrone or Pablo as you walk down the street really has nothing to do with his arguments as far as I see it. What says there should be any "gritty" areas? The real goal is gentrification.

    We need to move toward a mingling interdependent interwoven society. You don't accomplish this when people are shut off from each other in their two ton steel and glass shells. You get this (or at least the first positive step of this) from walkable living. Having traveled to Europe on multiple occasions, for extended periods of time, in multiple locales, it's obvious to me the American culture has progressively developed in to social ineptitude. If one tries to explain this at all, they are usually met with immediate backlash as the notion may be somewhat offensive. The truth of the matter as I see it is American culture is one based on dishonesty where all that glitters is gold; presentation over true content. I'll chant "Obama" to that... I see this even in common responses to the initial post where people find his presentation "offensive". Yes, he is a bit heated and emotional (perhaps even self-righteous), but you all should not let it undermine his points. America should do better, but to do so we must be able to see and understand its shortcomings i.e. sensible living.

  8. #33
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ProofOfPurchase View post
    Are minorities really what constitute a city? What does race have to do with this? I can understand valuing gentrification, but not passing Tyrone or Pablo as you walk down the street really has nothing to do with his arguments as far as I see it. What says there should be any "gritty" areas? The real goal is gentrification.
    So, what do you do with poor people? Exile them to shanty towns down in "the bottoms" along the river or lake where the gentry won't have to see them?

    Quote Originally posted by ProofOfPurchase View post
    We need to move toward a mingling interdependent interwoven society. You don't accomplish this when people are shut off from each other in their two ton steel and glass shells. You get this (or at least the first positive step of this) from walkable living. Having traveled to Europe on multiple occasions, for extended periods of time, in multiple locales, it's obvious to me the American culture has progressively developed in to social ineptitude. If one tries to explain this at all, they are usually met with immediate backlash as the notion may be somewhat offensive.
    What in the world is "a mingling interdependent interwoven society"? If you are trying to say that race, religion, ethnicity, class, and wealth don't matter in Europe, then you are full of bull manure. If you are trying to say something else, I have no idea what it is, except that Europe is "better" than the US.

    Quote Originally posted by ProofOfPurchase View post
    The truth of the matter as I see it is American culture is one based on dishonesty where all that glitters is gold; presentation over true content. I'll chant "Obama" to that... I see this even in common responses to the initial post where people find his presentation "offensive". Yes, he is a bit heated and emotional (perhaps even self-righteous), but you all should not let it undermine his points. America should do better, but to do so we must be able to see and understand its shortcomings i.e. sensible living.
    We are what we are. Those of us who are of European heritage are the descendents of people who came here with the idea of getting their own piece of the pie, and for most of them that meant getting their own land and not having to bow and scrape to nobility for the opportunity to nibble at crumbs. The people who were okay with that stayed in Europe.

    Sprawl is us because of that, and we've been that way since we first stumbled out of the boats at Jamestown. Why do you think the colonials got their drawers in bunches because the Brits tried to institute the first growth boundary, aka The Proclamation of 1763, which said that they were to leave the area west of the Appalachians to the Indians and the beaver? It sure wasn't because they had filled up the eastern seaboard.

  9. #34
    Cyburbian boilerplater's avatar
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    it's obvious to me the American culture has progressively developed in to social ineptitude. If one tries to explain this at all, they are usually met with immediate backlash as the notion may be somewhat offensive.
    I read something similar and am inclined to agree with this. I've hung out in bars and gone to private parties in the Netherlands and in Scotland, and it is obvious that real conversation is more highly valued, and you can watch people with conflicting opinions actually talking about them rather than hurling insults, arguing while remaining civil. The art of argument is largely lost among a majority in the US. I think what POP is getting at with the intermingling interdependent society bit is that people of disparate ideologies and backgrounds need to converse, interact and share public space or else we are in danger of becoming an even more divided society.
    Adrift in a sea of beige

  10. #35
    it's obvious to me the American culture has progressively developed in to social ineptitude. If one tries to explain this at all, they are usually met with immediate backlash as the notion may be somewhat offensive.
    If by "American culture" you mean American mainstream media, than yes, you could say that. However, considering the vast expanse of incredible social, ethnic, ideological, intellectual, and religious diversity America offers, this statement is not only--as you admit--mildly offensive, but comically ignorant, as well.

    Perhaps the difficulty in explaining this concept of social ineptitude is indicative of your own.


  11. #36
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    My initial appeal to Kunstler was the fact that he was willing to take a risk, essentially with his professional reputation, particularly with The Long Emergency, which was ground breaking at the time. Now that most are familiar with the Peak Oil theory and many agree with the basic premise if not necessarily the time frame, his willingness to step out on a limb was vindicated. On the down side, Jim is quite repetitive on his Monday columns and he could stand to expand his phraseology which gets trite. Overall I consider him to be an important facet of the community of cultural muckrakers (as a previous post so noted) that keeps us thinking about our norms and values.

  12. #37
    Cyburbian TerraSapient's avatar
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    I like Kunstler. I think he presents his ideas in a fashion that is intentionally out of the academic norm. These concepts are easy to grasp for planners who are already accustomed to viewing spaces in this critical way. His larger audience is the general public. Kunstler realizes that attempting to reverse the forward flow and make the built world "pretty" again and "somewhere to care about" is not through planners but through populations.

    Planners can design, prepare, and make space for all the beautiful and functionally coherent spaces they can imagine, however without the people buying into these spaces on board, they are just dreams. His oversimplifications and use of the "F-bomb" seems to be an intentional effort at overcoming the barrier between the "professionals" and the rest of America.

  13. #38
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by cjryan2000 View post
    My initial appeal to Kunstler was the fact that he was willing to take a risk, essentially with his professional reputation, particularly with The Long Emergency, which was ground breaking at the time. Now that most are familiar with the Peak Oil theory and many agree with the basic premise if not necessarily the time frame, his willingness to step out on a limb was vindicated. On the down side, Jim is quite repetitive on his Monday columns and he could stand to expand his phraseology which gets trite. Overall I consider him to be an important facet of the community of cultural muckrakers (as a previous post so noted) that keeps us thinking about our norms and values.
    How does Kunstler take any risk when his followers never question his predictions? They're like a cult. Kunstler is a Madame Cleo with a PhD and a reputation in academia.

    The case in point is his Y2K prediction that the electrical grid would die because computer programs would go belly up with the change of the century. When it didn't, he just claimed that his "warning" saved the civilized world because all the programs were changed. Bull manure. All the programs were checked and very little if anything was found. Nothing like covering your butt rather than admitting you're wrong.

    FTR, no semi-competent programmer would write code to run a power plant or similar installation based on a date because there's absolutely no need to do so. Power plants run 24/7. Processes might run differently at one time of day than at another, but the date means nothing. If for some reason there needed to be a date in used in processing (like perhaps selecting financial transactions) and the programmer wanted to save space by not including a century, said programmer would use a julian date.

    You say you don't know what a julian date is? Ask Kunstler. He's the "expert" on how the turn of the century was supposed to kill computer operations.

  14. #39
    From what I've read, Kunstler merely parrots the predictions of others. If you want to talk about Peak Oil, there's nothing meaningful you can say beyond what Hubbert brought out decades ago. If you want to talk about cultural disintegration, Jacobs got into that near the end of her lifetime. And sprawl... well there are dozens and dozens of books out there that say the same thing, also written decades ago.

  15. #40
    Quote Originally posted by Linda_D View post
    So, what do you do with poor people? Exile them to shanty towns down in "the bottoms" along the river or lake where the gentry won't have to see them?
    What do you do with poor people? What do poor people do for themselves? Why are they poor to begin with? Id say you see to it they are found/they find ties with higher classes as well as being educated to their potential. They need given a fighting chance. They need to be interspersed among more fortunate. Past that, hope they have a desire to improve the human condition as a whole and thus have drive to better themselves. They need given a place in the improvement of their own condition.


    What in the world is "a mingling interdependent interwoven society"? If you are trying to say that race, religion, ethnicity, class, and wealth don't matter in Europe, then you are full of bull manure. If you are trying to say something else, I have no idea what it is, except that Europe is "better" than the US.

    What Im saying is a system as such the one created in the united states is a (relatively) hyper-individualist society in a world that is ever increasingly interdependent. Its a bit out of touch. Of course I know race, religion, ethnicity, class, and wealth are still factors there, but they are certainly lesser factors due to, as I see it, the interaction between individuals of varying background on a day-to-day and face-to-face level.
    Its that face-to-face part that I think makes the difference in nature of individuals. If I get in my car and drive to the office as millions of Americans do every day, there is little to no interaction. What little interaction that presents itself is still disconnected and distant simply by the nature of the automobile. There are plenty of social implications to our way of life I could write about which are at least contributed to by out way of life.
    I would argue much of Europe is better arranged since it grew at a reasonable rate. If energy would become free and abundant tomorrow my views would be much different, but there is evidence to suggest otherwise. We should be prepared for the worst while striving for the best. Suburbia is not doing this.


    We are what we are. Those of us who are of European heritage are the descendents of people who came here with the idea of getting their own piece of the pie, and for most of them that meant getting their own land and not having to bow and scrape to nobility for the opportunity to nibble at crumbs. The people who were okay with that stayed in Europe.

    Sprawl is us because of that, and we've been that way since we first stumbled out of the boats at Jamestown. Why do you think the colonials got their drawers in bunches because the Brits tried to institute the first growth boundary, aka The Proclamation of 1763, which said that they were to leave the area west of the Appalachians to the Indians and the beaver? It sure wasn't because they had filled up the eastern seaboard.
    The own piece of the pie idea lacks foresight and ultimately consideration of the picture as a whole. Harking back to JHKs points, since WW2, the idea of country living has been terribly misconstrued to the cartoonish bastardized living we have today. The benefits of this arrangement are severely outweighed by the harm it causes socially, environmentally, economically, etc. Contextually, the comparison of the ideals of immigrants decades and centuries ago has little bearing on ideal steps we should take moving forward. Im with JHK in that we overextended ourselves, and continue to do so without having forethought to the consequences.

    I hope we can all agree suburbia is foolish for essentially being a tax on nearly every aspect of our lives whether is be the time we spend commuting, the fuel required to service all levels of transportation, resources to provide utilities, social resistances evolved from physical distance, the list goes on As the man alluded to, we can and should do better.

  16. #41
    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    If by "American culture" you mean American mainstream media, than yes, you could say that. However, considering the vast expanse of incredible social, ethnic, ideological, intellectual, and religious diversity America offers, this statement is not only--as you admit--mildly offensive, but comically ignorant, as well.

    Perhaps the difficulty in explaining this concept of social ineptitude is indicative of your own.

    I would disagree that it was ignorant. I'm fully aware of the incredible diversity of the U.S. I was speaking generally (blah blah all generalizations are false). regardless, speaking overall of the U.S. population and in comparison to many other developed nations, I hold to my previous statement.

  17. #42
    Cyburbian andreplanner's avatar
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    What about Jeff Rubin?

    Have any of you read "Why Your World is About to Get A Whole Lot Smaller"?

    He's a Canadian economist who talks about peak oil and what it's doing to society, which includes changing our mentality about sprawl and moving back to the core. It's becoming evident in Toronto.

    I think some of your should read it. In the meantime I will see what this Kunstler character is all about. For some reason I have a feeling Rubin quoted him in his book.

  18. #43
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    I think he comes across as bit too fanatic, doom & gloom, and "in your face" for many of our older and conservative planning folk. However I know that among planning students he is pretty popular, or at least not disliked.

    I remember watching "End of Suburbia" in my first year, and reading "The Long Emergency" a few months after that. I was really worried about the world ending for a while after that, but I guess I have realised that there isn't a great deal that we can do as planners, except stay cool and keep chipping away. If the world does melt down, then so be it, I hope to see the day.

    Hopefully if this sort of event does occur planners can be at the forefront of individuals charged with re-building our society from the ashes and creating a better place for all of us. Or maybe not, who knows until it happens eh?

  19. #44

    Long Emergency

    I read his book titled The Long Emergency for a university course and the evidence he provided was very scary. At that time I labelled his book 'The Long Depression', because it portrays a grim future on our reliability of oil. Are governments discussing these issues in addition to climate change?

  20. #45
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    JHK seems to blame planners for things that are the faults of elected officials. As if this profession learned no lessons from Jane Jacobs.

    He's a showman and communicates clearly. At least I leave his podcast with little uncertainty about his opinions on certain things.

  21. #46
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by theplanningboardroom View post
    I read his book titled The Long Emergency for a university course and the evidence he provided was very scary. At that time I labelled his book 'The Long Depression', because it portrays a grim future on our reliability of oil. Are governments discussing these issues in addition to climate change?

    I don't know if governments are, but chemical companies are already far beyond talking about dependence on oil. There are already several polymers made from corn that can not only replace plastic in things like plastic bags, but that are also biodegradable.

    Kunstler's problem is that he's a generalist with a layman's understanding of scientific problems -- and if he knows better but stokes fear simply for his own benefit, then he's nothing more than a con artist with an academic degree. Just because the general public isn't aware of certain facts, doesn't mean that the scientistic community and companies using the technology or resource are just as ignorant. This was true of the supposed Y2k "doomsday" as well as his predictions for oil.

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    From listening to Kunstler's podcasts, it sounds like all the important stuff way back when he was young.

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    I just wanted to add that The Ted video he did I think is just hilarious.

    I also want to point out that though some people find fault with him, he is out there speaking about urbanism and raising awareness. He is getting laypersons interested and creating an urbanist audience.

  24. #49
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    Kunstler has produced some very insightful and damning writing about suburban sprawl and modernism in design and architecture and has generally made some interesting and insightful contributions to thinking about the long-term effects of current development practices.

    Having said that, his more recent discussions of peak oil and how it will force society-wide adaptations is crudely deterministic and represents a lazy man's way out of dealing with the problems of dependence on carbon-based resources and climate change.

    If you read The Long Emergency or watch the documentary End of Suburbia, the message you seem to walk away with is, Why bother doing anything about our carbon foot print when we're just going to run out of oil and be forced out of our cars and suburbs and back into compact cities and mass transit?

    To me, this thinking cedes too much to a deterministic economic view and removes our basic human obligation of decency from the equation.

    Simply relying on the fluctuations of commodity prices to necessitate alternative behaviors and choices does not seem like a wise solution to our society's lack of sustainability.

  25. #50
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    Peak oil?

    Look I'm no expert but Peak Oil is a pretty theory that has little applicability.

    The size of ''oil reserves'' is determined by the amount of oil that can be extracted at economically viable rates. Therefore as scarcity increases so too does the economic viability of exploiting new oil resources, such as the Alberta Tar Sands, and the ''reserve'' expands. This being said oil extraction is a horrible industry and there are many good reasons to drastically decrease our consumption of fossil fuels. The fact is though, we've never had access to more oil as we do now because scarcity drove us to new levels of extraction.

    So, in my opinion, if someone is talking about Peak Oil then they should be educated and not educating.

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