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"Eyesore of the Month"

Wannaplan?

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Anyone ever visit James Howard Kunstler's "Eyesore of the Month" section on his website?

I think it can be pretty funny, but sometimes it's rather benign or downright rude. Here's his entry for April 2003:



"The Father of All Clowns communes with one of his many overfed American sons in front..." (The rest of the story)
 

BKM

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This may show what a cynical snob I am (mea culpa), but I generally enjoy the Eyesore of the Month.

My favorite was the horrible new windowless stucco elementary school in Las Vegas (Kunstler's bete noir of American culture). It was surrounded by this eight-foot tall chain link fence. Kunstler's comment: "Welcome to Hannibal Lector Elementary School" and he wondered if the prison look was to protect the kiddies from the outside world-or vice versa :)

There is an equally bad example in my employer's school district. Its unfortunate the photos were lost in a system crash.
 

Dan

Dear Leader
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How about a 1970s style mega-dorm ... the Ellicot Complex at the University at Buffalo.





The place is really much bigger than the photos make it out to be. From the UB Web site ...

Ellicott Complex, is a self-contained campus -within-a campus, where 3,250 students enjoy a blend of living, learning, studying, and recreational space. Ellicott is divided into six quadrangles or residence halls--Fargo, Porter, Red Jacket, Richmond, Spaulding, and Wilkeson. Living areas are coeducational by alternating sections
 
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BKM said:
This may show what a cynical snob I am (mea culpa), but I generally enjoy the Eyesore of the Month.

My favorite was the horrible new windowless stucco elementary school in Las Vegas (Kunstler's bete noir of American culture). It was surrounded by this eight-foot tall chain link fence. Kunstler's comment: "Welcome to Hannibal Lector Elementary School" and he wondered if the prison look was to protect the kiddies from the outside world-or vice versa :)
Kunstler was the keynote speaker at our state APA conference a few years ago and showed that particular slide. I thought it was funny as hell because it's true.
 

Wannaplan?

Galactic Superstar
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3,149
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Not to take the fun out of this or be a party pooper, but what exactly is an "eyesore"? Obviously we all will have our own interpretations of what an eyesore is, but how fair do you think JH Kunstler is with his witty commentary? The overweight man sitting with Stiff Ronald has more to do with the marketing of cheap food products than with the built environment, so that image probably has little significance with what we do professionally. As a planner, what do you consider to be an eyesore? And how divergent is our professional opinions of an eyesore from our personal opinions?
 

BKM

Cyburbian
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Beaner: Kunstler represents a certain thread of Northeastern Intellectual snobbery, a sort of arch conservative in the old, William F. Buckley way of thinking. His writings repeatedly criticize aspects of American culture-including dress, food choice, the prevalence of "overweight slobs pissing their children's college funds away in Atlantic City in search of "fun." In Kunstler's world, if the neighborhood is not in a small northeastern town of Georgian colonial buildings with little white picket fences, it is not really worthy of respect.

The photo in question is very much in line with his biases/curmudgeonly gripes.

On another Kunstler note (and I've told him this), I always find it amusing when he dismisses the Sunbelt post-energy crash as collapsing because we don't have the cheap energy for our air conditioners. He couldn't answer me where the oil to run his Saratoga Springs oil furnace will come from. I guess he intends to chop wood-but he lives in town and doesn't own a wood lot.
 

BKM

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Newest Post/Question about Upstate NY

His latest (May) one is particualrly great. How could such an interesting Victorian city like Albany allow the Starship Rockefeller to destroy its core is beyond me. Even as someone who likes (small-scale) modernism, Empire State Plaza is an abomination.

You upstaters: Does upstate have a future? Do you see economic revival in places like Utica, Troy, Rome, or even Syracuse? I found the landscape so beautiful that it was sad to see so many of the cities and towns fall into such decay.
 

Mud Princess

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Empire State Plaza

BKM said:
How could such an interesting Victorian city like Albany allow the Starship Rockefeller to destroy its core is beyond me. Even as someone who likes (small-scale) modernism, Empire State Plaza is an abomination.
The story of how Empire State Plaza got built is quite interesting. I always thought it make a good book, especially if someone like Robert Caro wrote it (Caro is the author of "The Power Broker," about Robert Moses - one of the books that influenced my career choice).

In the days when Rockefeller was governor, I don't think there was much appreciation for historic preservation, and the neighborhood where ESP was to be built was considered a slum. Reportedly, Rockefeller was embarassed about this area, located between the Governor's Mansion and the Capitol. He made a deal with the mayor for the site and there were plenty of patronage construction jobs to go around. I remember the area as a big construction pit during much of the 1960s. Many families (especially ethnic families like Italians) were displaced by the project.

Interestingly, some of the adjacent neighborhoods became gentrified for awhile in the 1980s, with the remaining historic buildings renovated. I have an old postcard of what the area looked like before ESP - I'll have to post it sometime.
 

BKM

Cyburbian
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It is now (It now shows the May 2003 (Empire State Plaza) photo. Go the "previous" to see the Bubba and Ronald.
 

SW MI Planner

Cyburbian
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3,195
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From the website: James Howard Kunstler says he wrote The Geography of Nowhere, "Because I believe a lot of people share my feelings about the tragic landscape of highway strips, parking lots, housing tracts, mega-malls, junked cities, and ravaged countryside that makes up the everyday environment where most Americans live and work. A land full of places that are not worth caring about will soon be a nation and a way of life that is not worth defending."

OK, so I just got done looking at his paintings - half of them are of the 'tragic landscape of highways strips' : highways/roads, cars, McDonalds, gas stations, Kmart, etc.
I just found it kind of ironic.
 

BKM

Cyburbian
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I think they were intended to be ironic.

Sarcasm and irony are his stock in trade. :)
 

LouisvilleSlugger

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216
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9
Re: Empire State Plaza

Mud Princess said:
The story of how Empire State Plaza got built is quite interesting. I always thought it make a good book, especially if someone like Robert Caro wrote it (Caro is the author of "The Power Broker," about Robert Moses - one of the books that influenced my career choice).

In the days when Rockefeller was governor, I don't think there was much appreciation for historic preservation, and the neighborhood where ESP was to be built was considered a slum. Reportedly, Rockefeller was embarassed about this area, located between the Governor's Mansion and the Capitol. He made a deal with the mayor for the site and there were plenty of patronage construction jobs to go around. I remember the area as a big construction pit during much of the 1960s. Many families (especially ethnic families like Italians) were displaced by the project.

Interestingly, some of the adjacent neighborhoods became gentrified for awhile in the 1980s, with the remaining historic buildings renovated. I have an old postcard of what the area looked like before ESP - I'll have to post it sometime.
there is a great book that talks about some of this to some extent named "Oh Albany" written by a Kennedy (first name escapes me..).
 

LouisvilleSlugger

Cyburbian
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216
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9
Re: Empire State Plaza

Mud Princess said:
The story of how Empire State Plaza got built is quite interesting. I always thought it make a good book, especially if someone like Robert Caro wrote it (Caro is the author of "The Power Broker," about Robert Moses - one of the books that influenced my career choice).

In the days when Rockefeller was governor, I don't think there was much appreciation for historic preservation, and the neighborhood where ESP was to be built was considered a slum. Reportedly, Rockefeller was embarassed about this area, located between the Governor's Mansion and the Capitol. He made a deal with the mayor for the site and there were plenty of patronage construction jobs to go around. I remember the area as a big construction pit during much of the 1960s. Many families (especially ethnic families like Italians) were displaced by the project.

Interestingly, some of the adjacent neighborhoods became gentrified for awhile in the 1980s, with the remaining historic buildings renovated. I have an old postcard of what the area looked like before ESP - I'll have to post it sometime.
I forgot to add, just to the south of ESP near Eagle and Morton Ave. there is a pretty poor neighborhood there that is in the shadows of the complex. I always thought that was quite ironic. from my conversations with people who work at ESP many of them don't know the history of how it came about and some of the poorer neighborhoods around it to the south...
 

nerudite

Cyburbian
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Although I don't always agree with him, Kunstler did give me my favourite acronym: ARDS (Acquired Retarded Designer Syndrome). It was from one of the single family home eyesores of the month a few years back.
 

Suburb Repairman

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Seeing a Denny's that looks like this really pisses me off! Denny's is supposed to be a diner, not just another blah generic restaurant building. There's a Denny's near my home that was built about two years ago and looks like a 1950s flashback. It's done with stainless steel accents and big round windows. Oh, and the parking is off to one side so the building could be pushed up next to the roadway. The door faces the street and opens onto the sidewalk, which means (gasp!) that pedestrians are welcomed to the business without crossing an asphalt desert!

As for this particular picture, compared to other eyesores this one is pretty tame. The thing that makes this an eyesore is that just about every one of us has a building like this in our city- usually more than one.
 

Suburb Repairman

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Wait, I just saw the giant American flag! Man, I'm sure glad they cleared up the whole "what country am I in" question! What is with businesses placing oversized American flags next to their building, especially gas stations? I know they do it for attention, but a 500 square foot flag on a ticky-tack building just looks dumb. If their wanting to be patriotic, a nice wall-mount flag should suffice. I'm not trying to come off as anti-patriotic, but I really don't like businesses using a symbol of American feedom as an advertisement like some generic billboard.
 

Cardinal

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Kunstler is often misplaced in his self-rightous attacks against those things he sets himself up as the "expert" to de*****te. He must be running out of things to complain about. This is a handicapped-accessible ramp. as can be seen from the handrails and the landings at regular intervals. Perhaps he would prefer that the handicapped not have access? Hey, they can't walk anyway, right? Or maybe there should only be a sidewalk. Forget about how steep the grade may be. Who cares if some people may need the added support of a handrail. Come on, Kunstler, this act is getting old, fast.
 

Michele Zone

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BKM said:
This may show what a cynical snob I am (mea culpa), but I generally enjoy the Eyesore of the Month.

My favorite was the horrible new windowless stucco elementary school in Las Vegas (Kunstler's bete noir of American culture). It was surrounded by this eight-foot tall chain link fence. Kunstler's comment: "Welcome to Hannibal Lector Elementary School" and he wondered if the prison look was to protect the kiddies from the outside world-or vice versa :)

There is an equally bad example in my employer's school district. Its unfortunate the photos were lost in a system crash.
My sons have attended school in Kansas and Washington state, where the kids line up outside, the classes have large picture windows, and the environment is generally fairly enlightened and 'warm' seeming.

We returned to Georgia -- where I grew up and where my husband spent part of his childhood and attended various schools there -- and our kids spent about 3 months in school there. The kids line up indoors, the windows are tiny -- like arrow slits in old castles -- and the effect on civilized behavior is in stark contrast to what we were used to in other states.

During that time, hubbie and I drove around to our old hang outs. We went past the high school where we both graduated. For some reason, I responded to a comment of his that schools in Georgia all look like prisons. I can definitely relate to the 'Hannibal Lector Elemenary School" concept. And we wonder why The South is so prone to a 'bunker mentality', where some folks still refer to The Civil War as 'The War of Northern Aggression'.
 

jordanb

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It's like that in some suburbs here. I remember seeing a building out in the suburbs surrounded by an eight foot tall chain link fence with barbed wire on top. I said to my friends that it's ether a school or a prison because the barbed wire angled inward.

Sure enough, it was a Jr. High School.
 

Michele Zone

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Yeah, I hear you. We treat our kids like they are criminals who cannot be trusted and then we wonder why so many of them turn out to be untrustworthy.

I was born and raised in Georgia so I didn't know anything different. There was a big enough time difference between when I was in school and when my kids got to be school aged, that I never thought that much about *why* the schools they attended early on were so much better 'feeling' than what I attended. But returning to Georgia briefly (hubbie was in school at Ft. Benning) really brought it home to us.

When all the kids are trapped inside of a hallway, it gets really noisy. There is no room for the kids to run around and burn off that 'hyper' kid energy. In Kansas and Washington, kids wait for school to start outside, where they can run and play and goof off and it isn't seen as 'disruptive' or 'misbehaving'. And it doesn't get so noisy. A bunch of kids running and playing outside doesn't assault your senses in the same way that kids screaming and being herded through a crowded hallway does.

Then me and hubbie drove past the high school and elementary school not far from the house I grew up in and attended for so many years. After sending my kids to schools with big picture windows -- where the kids would grow plants for school projects because there was actual SUNLIGHT coming into the classroom!!!!! -- it really hit me like a slap in the face that the schools I went to had these tiny windows. It suddenly clicked: Brick buildings. Tiny windows. These were actually Prisons!

Then I suddenly understood part of why I spent my entire childhood desperately wanting to escape Georgia: I felt incredibly suffocated there.
 

tsc

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Re: Newest Post/Question about Upstate NY

BKM said:
His latest (May) one is particualrly great. How could such an interesting Victorian city like Albany allow the Starship Rockefeller to destroy its core is beyond me. Even as someone who likes (small-scale) modernism, Empire State Plaza is an abomination.

You upstaters: Does upstate have a future? Do you see economic revival in places like Utica, Troy, Rome, or even Syracuse? I found the landscape so beautiful that it was sad to see so many of the cities and towns fall into such decay.
I have worked as a planner who has worked/lived in several upstate cities, (Utica, Binghamton) and lived in Ithaca and Syracuse. I now work and live downstate/ NYC area.

NYC is a blessing and a curse... I believe upstate never will get their fair share of the pot.. with most of the population and governors always being from downstate.

The smaller upstate cities that didn't go through urban renewal are actually quite nice...such as Owego and Ithaca,,, unfortunately many upstate cities "florished" during the 50's and 60's......and have a lot of bad development that needs mending.

Upstate is starting to improve... recognizing the great assets.. .like the Erie Canal. Towns along the Canal are really recognizing the great asset that flow through their back yard with some great waterfront development (boat docks and such).

I think their day will come to blossom... despite how much Albany ignores the vast region. The Finger Lakes, Shores of Lake Ontario, Adirondacks, Catskills, the great Montezuma Swamp, Hudson Valley, and 1,000 Islands are dramatic beautiful landscapes.....rivaling any place in this country or the world. I for one will continue to enjoy them... and sorry for all those who never get to visit Upstate NY.

I actually vacationed through upstate this summer.. and was impressed by Oswego, Baldwinsville, Pheonix... and a few others along the canal. ... which I hadn't been to in about 10 years. They really had cleaned up quite a bit.
 

tsc

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Michael Stumpf said:
Kunstler is often misplaced in his self-rightous attacks against those things he sets himself up as the "expert" to de*****te. He must be running out of things to complain about. This is a handicapped-accessible ramp. as can be seen from the handrails and the landings at regular intervals. Perhaps he would prefer that the handicapped not have access? Hey, they can't walk anyway, right? Or maybe there should only be a sidewalk. Forget about how steep the grade may be. Who cares if some people may need the added support of a handrail. Come on, Kunstler, this act is getting old, fast.
I would a agree with Kunstler... will just an ounce of creativity...they could have done the same sidewalk.... with a little more taste. If the rails were just a darker color.. they would not be so pronounced and dominate the landscape. They rails may be necessary... but they are hideous.

We shouldn't have to settle for such tasteless development....at the hands of the almightly buck and big business.
 

Nero

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It looks like a cattle chute to me. I our effort to make everyone "safe" we do the dopest things. I think Kuntzler is right on the mark.
 

BKM

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He is a muckraking author who is making a career out of attacking suburbia, which he calls "The Drive-In Utopia" and "A Landscape Not Worth Caring About." His books include "The Geography of Nowhere" and "Home from Nowhere (a neo-trad polemic).

Lots of doom and gloom about America's auto-dependent landscape. He thinks the oil production will begin falling, and we are up the creek. He also hates chain retail, complaining about "3000-mile caesar salads" and "corporate colonialism."

The latest one was not one of his better "eyesores." I recommend the site for some great earlier ones.

I still like reading him-he is not the "SOURCE OF TRUTH, but at least he doesn't use (twist) statistics to support his version of sprawl.

Hey, Dan: We should do our own version of The Eyesore of the Month."
 

nerudite

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BKM said:
Hey, Dan: We should do our own version of The Eyesore of the Month."
We've all seen Chet's hawaiian shirt picture more than a few times. Isn't that enough? ;)
 

Runner

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Planificador Urbano said:
It looks like a cattle chute to me. I our effort to make everyone "safe" we do the dopest things. I think Kuntzler is right on the mark.
Agreed !!
 

BKM

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I hope you are being sarcastic?
This has as much to do with Colonial Revival as Taco Bell does with the Santa Barbara mission.


The only thing worse than mid 70s-early 80s (I am guessing here) California tract housing is mid 70s-early 80s Mid Atlantic tract housing :) Those tri-levels are "lovely."

:)
 

Mud Princess

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BKM said:
[BThe only thing worse than mid 70s-early 80s (I am guessing here) California tract housing is mid 70s-early 80s Mid Atlantic tract housing :) Those tri-levels are "lovely."

:) [/B]
Um, that looks more like early '70s to me. And it could be just about anywhere.

Calling this an eyesore is a bit of stretch, though. Okay, it's not "architecturally significant," but it's homes like these that made homeownership affordable for millions of people.

Hmm, I'd like to see what kind of house Kunstler lives in.
 

Super Amputee Cat

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Seabishop said:
That's not so bad. Its better than most of the building permits I see here.
They are an eyesore by their sheer numbers alone. These things are popping up along the landscape like cockroaches.
Can't imagine that many of your picture being built.
 

BKM

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This jive-plastic junk is right behind my mom's house.
I don't know, Cat, your example doesn't look that bad (and certainly not as charmless as the Kunstler example). Its certainly more modest and appealing (to me) than the mega-mansions filling their lots that low housing prices allow the upper middle class to build in my hometown two hours down the road from you (Fort Wayne) :)

Where I live now-that would be a $400,000 property :)

As for the kind of house Kunstler lives in-according to his site, he lives in an 1820s Greek Revival cottage in Saratoga Springs, NY. Not a real elaborate house at all. Almost a very simple bungalow.

Still, how many people can really live in a 200-year old house in a Victorian resort town? Is his experience really transferrable to most of the country (especially since he himself abandoned a large city, NYC)

As for the argument that this is middle class housing that provides homeownership for everyone. That is a good point. But, middle class housing doesn't have to be so bad. It wasn't during the 1910s, 20s, and 30s (bungalows, cottages, period revival, etc)

Rant follows: :)

The architecture profession, building industry, and homebuying public lost their way during the late 60s-early 80s (war, stagflation, the exhaustion of modernism and the resulting reaction towards trite traditionalism-light). I hope things are better now. While I still dislike California tract housing, it is better designed than most of the dark ages stuff.
 

BKM

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They are an eyesore by their sheer numbers alone. These things are popping up along the landscape like cockroaches.
Now THIS is a population control issue and disinvestment in older neighborhood issue, not an issue of design.

10,000 Frank Lloyd Wright houses (or, my tast, Mies van der Rohe :) ) filling a landscape for miles would also be overwhelming.

You miss Seabishop's point: a modest house that doesn't shout is often better than a loud, obnoxious design. Why pick on the everyday vernacular? Although, in a proper boheiman City neighborhood (say a warehouse district in chicago), the brash, modernist design posted by Seabishop would be fine (imo, at least. "Charter subscriber" to Dwell Magazine and Metropolis here, sorry)
 

Starrdarcy

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i must have done at leat an hour of laughing my head, of as i looked through all the "eysores" of the monthm the comments on them just make it better.!!!
 

Xing500

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Suburb Repairman said:
Wait, I just saw the giant American flag! Man, I'm sure glad they cleared up the whole "what country am I in" question! What is with businesses placing oversized American flags next to their building, especially gas stations? I know they do it for attention, but a 500 square foot flag on a ticky-tack building just looks dumb. If their wanting to be patriotic, a nice wall-mount flag should suffice. I'm not trying to come off as anti-patriotic, but I really don't like businesses using a symbol of American feedom as an advertisement like some generic billboard.
Well where I grew up it makes sense. The town is mostly military since we're just 5 miles from an Air Force Base.
 

benk928

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In Newport News, Virginia, there used to be a gigantic sign across the street from Christopher Newport University (on Warwick Blvd) that said JESUS IS COMING. It was a peculiar eyesore that I never quite understood. I mean, I know that's the popular consensus, but is that reminder necessary?

-Ben
 
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