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Thread: Why Kunstler thinks Racine, WI is going to Hell #1

  1. #1
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Why Kunstler thinks Racine, WI is going to Hell #1

    Check the following link:

    http://www.kunstler.com/mags_diary8.html

    Read the Nov. 12 entry.

    What do you Wisconsinites feel about this?

    Don't forget, he makes a living from been Mr. Doom and Gloom.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Sadly, Kunstler is right on this one.

    Racine was a thriving city in the early 20th century. It was on the southshore rail line between Milwaukee and Chicago, and had a dominant industrial base. Then the rail line went out of business and I-94 was built Waaaaay out from the city. Look at a map and its a staright as an arrow shot from the Milwaukee County line to the state line, miles from Racine. Death blow #1 and #2 respectively. The the recession of the late 70's, the emergence of the new economy (and their failure to adapt) came along. Death blow #3 and #4.

    The final death blow has been a weak local government in the '90s and '00s so desperate for cash flow, deciding to sell sewer and water services to the surrounding towns, instead of forcing annexation. Foolish. They have now walled themselves off, never to reach the freeway cooridor where prosperity awaited. The towns they gave services to are now sprawling with development, and have even started to incorporate as villages! Mt. Pleasant was recently granted their village charter, and Caledonia is now in the process.

    In contrast, their neighbor to the south, Kenosha, went through the same death blows #1-3. They however, took the agressive route to development and a heavy hand with the towns. Kenosha is a 21st century success story (their proximity to chicago didnt hurt either).

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    I will largely agree with Chet, but Big K certainly goes to far. To begin with, the area does have a great deal more scenic beauty than he states. Perhaps he does not know enough to recognize it. Racine has been one of the handful of industrial cities (like Springfield MA or Waukegan IL) that suffered greatly from the recessions of the last three decades. Always a blue collar city, it never had great wealth to pull it through. In this environment, businesses struggled, people struggled, new development was stifled, and maintenance was neglected. As Chet said, the city also made some very poor choices.

    How much quality can be afforded in a depressed and risky market? That is the issue Racine faces. Do you hold out for a brick facade when the increase in cost will make a development no longer feasible? Or do you accept vinyl to get a hotel and begin a process of development, so that one day you can demand brick?

    Kunstler's problem when he writes of a city like Racine is that he is quick to point out problems and offers no constructive solutions. He expects every building to be a masterwork, regardless of the context. I don't mean to defend poor design, but to point out that we have to deal with an economic reality. Kunstler would be useful if he would focus, for a change, on offering realistic suggestions for a community like Racine to plan toward a better future.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    Could somebody post the text? Kunstler's site is blocked by my office's web filter.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Originally posted by jordanb
    Could somebody post the text? Kunstler's site is blocked by my office's web filter.
    the words of K:

    November 12, 2003
    The condition of Midwestern cities never fails to astound me. This time, an endowed lecture by the Johnson's Wax company took me to Racine, Wisconsin, about 20 miles south of Milwaukee on Lake Michigan. The town looked like a provincial Soviet backwater as imagined by cartoonist R. Crumb. Outside of a miniscule historic district where a few grand old 19th century mansions stood on a bluff above the lakeshore, there was hardly a single object or building in the town that was not aggressively hidious. The newest buildings were among the worst.
    My hotel was a case in point. The six year old Radisson had been built down by the lakeshore on filled land next to a marina. It was tucked behind a gigantic parking structure and the street approach to the main entrance took you right past the hotel dumpster and an electric company switching box the size of an SUV. The hotel itself was a jive-plastic packing crate in the spirit of a hypertrophied McMansion, complete with vinyl siding. To get to the hotel restaurant from the lobby, you literally had to pass through the laundry room annex. And once inside the restaurant, to get from the dining room to the bar you had to go through the waiter's pantry. I'm not kidding. This is how things are done in the Midwest.
    The landscape itself, apart from the grandeur of the lake, is rather flat, bleak and featureless. But there was a tiny remnant of the old farming economy and its obsolete accessories visible around the outskirts, and you tell from seeing the old farms that the problem out there was not the landscape. The problem is the things that the locals have built there throughout the 20th century and particularly after World War Two. I think the following explanation works:
    After the war, the US economy was the only advanced industrial one in the world that was wholly intact and financially solvent. Europe was a mess. Germany was flattened. Even the victors, Britain and France, were virtually bankrupt. And Russia, of course, was on a socioeconomic planet of its own (not a very nice one). America's industrial base was all there, humming away, ready to be reprogrammed from munitions, bombers, and tanks to consumer goods. This was promptly accomplished and places like Racine, Wisconsin, benefited hugely. We could sell anything we made to the other people of the world and even lend them money to buy it.
    In particular, the American working class benefited. The 1950s and 60s saw factory workers rise from their former lumpenprole status to an amazing level of middle class prosperity, and in vast numbers. Their reward for winning the war was the American Dream of a single family house in the suburbs and as many cars as they could ever want. Cheap gasoline sealed the deal. So, what you see in a place like Racine is a landscape filled with little industrial box dwellings for a class of people who had no previous experience with things valued by any criteria besides industrial efficiency, and the things they built for themselves show it. They had a positive genius for ugly houses and they were diabolically inventive in finding endless variations for expressing industrial efficiency.
    As the 1970s and 80s came along, they further accessorized their world with all the hyper-car-oriented commercial infrastucture intended to replace their existing downtown -- the strip malls, the fry-pits, the stand-alone mega-stores, and all the other entropic architectural garbage of the time. The old center of town was left to rot. It was never very nice to begin with by world standards but they managed to make it downright pitiful. Then in the 1990s, with globalization and the final surge to the global oil production peak, Racine began to shrivel and sink from the orgy of industrial outsourcing.
    The Johnson company still remains. They've dominated the town the way the Bolsheviks dominated Bellarus for generations. They have a company headquarters designed by the great Midwestern hater of cities, Frank Lloyd Wright, and naturally it was done in the form of a suburban "campus," which is to say a development pattern that will not have much of a future. It's no worse than any other suburban office "complex" but it isn't any better either. Otherwise, the Johnson's mark on the city is remarkably paltry. They built a new downtown Main Street building recently -- designed by the "green building" guru Bill McDonough, a green glass and steel monstrosity that is no doubt highly energy efficient (efficiency once again exalted beyond all other values). But it appears to not contain any ground floor retail. The locals insisted there was a store and a restaurant inside, but there was no signage to indicate it -- perhaps signage is too vulgar for the "green" spirit.
    I gave my lecture on civic design in an auditorium that had been the Johnson's Wax pavilion at the 1964 World's Fair -- and which was afterward taken apart and shipped back to company headquarters. It looked like one of the flying saucers from the old science fiction flick The Day the Earth Stood Still. The audience was mostly middle-aged and older. I suppose they were the very people who acquiesced in the destruction of their town. I was hard on them. They were suffering, like other people all over the country, from living in punishing and hideous environments. But it was my sad duty to tell them that they were entirely responsible for creating them, that it was their own low standards and incapicity to value anything beyond efficiency that had left Racine in its current miserable condition.
    After my talk, a middle-aged guy came up to argue with me that we will never in the conceivable future live without the benefit of automobiles, and generally on the same mass basis as today. He was aflame with hopes for the fuel cell and the promised hydrogen economy. I politely disagreed with him but he was one of these pests who turn up at a lecture who just want to harrass you like a mad dog.
    I feel bad about places like Racine and the people who live there. They are completely unprepared for the future. They seem to believe, with the faith of little children, that the world as we know it today will go on forever. A tragic view of the human condition is beyond their powers to imagine -- and that is precisely what will cause things to end tragically for them

  6. #6
    Racine might as well be in Illinois. The place is full of FIBs!

  7. #7
    My issues with Knustler is his whole elitist attitude. Yeah Racine kind of sucks, and bad planning and governmental decisions have also hurt the City but to say things like "he was one of these pests who turn up at a lecture who just want to harrass you like a mad dog: I can't help but wonder why nobody has ever just punched this guy in the face. When you come into someones community and rip it to shreds, you should expect some people to be angry.

    He also added "I feel bad about places like Racine and the people who live there. They are completely unprepared for the future. They seem to believe, with the faith of little children, that the world as we know it today will go on forever. A tragic view of the human condition is beyond their powers to imagine -- and that is precisely what will cause things to end tragically for them"

    - What in the hell is he talking about? How are things going to end tragically for them??
    "I'm a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are."

    - Homer Simpson

  8. #8
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    FIBs?

    Anyhow, Kunstler's hatred of the midwest is both annoying and misplaced. Examples of everything he hates about the midwest can be found all over the North East. It's New England pretentiousness at its worst.

    A bit ago Kunstler was writing about reinvestment in transit, and said that New York's, Los Angeles's, Washingon's metros should be expanded, ignoring Chicago even though it has the second largest system in the nation, and the only system other than New York's that has 24 hour operation. Not to mention that, unlike LA's, Chicago's carries a significant number of commuters, unlike New York's, was expanded in the 90s and serves both airports. Plus, now that Washington's system has been built to the original limit, Chicago's is the only one with aggressive expansion plans filed with the MPO. But you know, to James Howard Kunstler, the Midwest is just a bunch of bombed out farming towns, so he's got this huge blinder on covering the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan.

  9. #9

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    Well, jordanb, all Midwesterners should just give up and move immediately to small East Coast resort towns of 16,000-where the entire population can live in 1820s Greek Rivival cottages. Yep, that's the ticket.

    I love East Coast snobbery. Frankly, many of the East Coast metropolitan suburbs are WORSE than their counterparts in the midwest. (Boston was pretty depressed during the 1960s-and Route 1 reflects that)

    From a West Coast perspective, he likes to bable about how we are going to roast when the air conditioning goes out. He never really gave me a good response when I asked him how a imported-heating-oil-dependent New York State would do during the winter when his predicted doom occurs.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    Originally posted by BKM
    ...Frankly, many of the East Coast metropolitan suburbs are WORSE than their counterparts in the midwest. (Boston was pretty depressed during the 1960s-and Route 1 reflects that) ...
    And at least more of the sprawl in the midwest is within the city limits helping the tax base and schools systems. Things are more fractured here in the northeast and a larger percentage of the sprawl benefits seperate suburban municipalities and harms the central city. (How we'd love to annex the town next door.)

    In the past Kunstler wrote something along the lines of "boosters of small midwestern cities destroy themselves through urban renewal schemes with a particular zeal that I haven't witnessed anywhere else."

    Wouldn't you love to be a fly on a wall though at some suburban Houston chamber of commerce meeting where he's the speaker? (maybe that's just my elitism showing) I saw him speak once at a university but he mostly praised the town which is very historic and well preserved. He pretty much dodged questions from the audience though.

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