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James Howard Kunstler

James Howard Kunstler is...

  • ...an urban planning prophet, a light of hope sparkling through the evil darkness of our suburban he

    Votes: 12 33.3%
  • ...a grumpy old kook bent on polarizing the planning and architecture professions in order to create

    Votes: 20 55.6%
  • James Howard ...who?! Never heard of the guy.

    Votes: 4 11.1%

  • Total voters
    36

Wannaplan?

Galactic Superstar
Messages
3,088
Points
26
What do you think of James Howard Kunstler, author "The Geography of Nowhere," "Home from Nowhere," and "The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition"?

I read his first two books and read him in a number of published interviews over the past two years. My sense is that he is a loud-mouthed, vulgar, polemicizer who loves his hometown in New York state so much that he wants all of America to feel the same way! In short, the stuff that guy writes makes him sound like a grumpy old kook.

Have you visited wwww.kunstler.com recently? Perhaps the most interesting feature of that site is the "Architectural Blunders" section. Follow the link and you will find poor photos of supposedly bad design and horrible architecture. And the writing! Wow, be sure to cover you eyes, cuz ya know he writes the most unbiased analyses. [Yeah, right!] And don't forget to peruse his articles in "Clustefuck Nation Chronicles," a thoughtful title meant to convey an affectionate nostalgia for all that America yearns to be... yet is never able to attain.

Okay, so what do you think? Is he an urban planning prophet, a light of hope sparkling through the evil darkness of our suburban hells? Or is he just a grumpy old kook bent on polarizing the planning and architecture professions in order to create the requisite controversy that swiflty moves books off the shelves of Borders?
 

gkmo62u

Cyburbian
Messages
1,046
Points
23
I've read his first two books but not the new one. I have also seen his Dog and Pony.

I think he is a lot of things, mostly just a pot stirer.

He has an uncanny ability of stating the obvious, roads are congested, subdivisions are sterile, yada, yada, yada.

His solutions...wellI have a hard time remember whether he offers solutions or not.
 

el Guapo

Capitalist
Messages
5,942
Points
28
I knew that if Beaner hated him he had to be interesting.

Thanks for the links Beaner. I have a new place to explore.
 

Wannaplan?

Galactic Superstar
Messages
3,088
Points
26
Thanks for the compliment, El Guapo... made my day! Hope you find some fat to chew!
 

el Guapo

Capitalist
Messages
5,942
Points
28
I took the liberty of writing the man...

...as it seems only fair to let him know he is being talked about. Here is his response. No Kidding!

When we have enough places in America that aren't worth caring about, we'll have a nation not worth defending. Is that excessively polemical? Admittedly it is my personal point of view. I think it is truthful however, and I dare you to argue against it.

--Jim Kunstler (Kunstler (at) aol (dot) com)
 

Dan

Dear Leader
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
17,162
Points
51
I'm a proud owner of both Nowheres. My planning commissioners are now passing them around; last meeting, I gave 'em some reading material to contemplate while considering long-range planning efforts.

The commissioners are very aware that their town is perhaps one of the most threatened small communities in the country. (Today's vehicle-related land use inquiry -- RV sales!) However, they're not fond of New Urbanism as it has been practiced in the Orlando area; it feels "fake" to them. Grid -- yes. Alleys -- yes. Cul-de-sacs -- no. Gated communities -- no. Blocks of nearly identical "neotraditional" style housing with a homogeneous, upscale population -- a resounding no.
 

Wannaplan?

Galactic Superstar
Messages
3,088
Points
26
Hmmm...

Jim Kunstler (Kunstler@aol.com) opined:
...places in America that aren't worth caring about...
Places in America that aren't worth caring about... what does that mean?
 

Wannaplan?

Galactic Superstar
Messages
3,088
Points
26
Perhaps this is more appropriate in another thread...

Dan Tasman wrote:
...one of the most threatened small communities in the country....
Ummm... Dan?

What the heck is that supposed to mean?
 

Jen

Cyburbian
Messages
1,703
Points
24
To Jen my muse - love JK

I have two Kunstler books. One I picked up used from my campus bookstore and it had his autograph in it!?.

And so quick El Guapo got a reply from Him? Do you thnk he is lurking here now ?come on out Jimmy!

It has been a while since I've read the books so I should return to them but I like Kunstler he is fiesty and a gadfly!
 
Messages
3,690
Points
27
Can't he just be a grumpy old kooky planning prophet? Yes, he can be a bit harsh, but I think his tactics have made a lot of people pay attention to planning and design issues that otherwise wouldn't. Plus, I used to work in Saratoga Springs and it is one of my favorite places in the world and I do wish that my town put as much thought into their development standards that they did.

He's abrasive and he gets defensive, but I admit, I'm a fan.
 

gkmo62u

Cyburbian
Messages
1,046
Points
23
K
yeah he can just be an instigator who makes us think...I will admit that his books are quite reader friendly, full of simple, easily understood, laymenesque terms.

And I also love Saratoga Springs having grown up just an hour or so south.

But again, its fair to say that not everybody wants to live in mayberry, with limited job opportunities, commerce, etc...

He really lambasts Atlanta in his new book (chapter available on his website)...I have lived there myself --post undergrad years and there are plenty of folks who think it is a great city--lots of 20 somethings and bars and jobs and weather...

I don't know, I am torn...Places like Atlanta are awful in lots of ways, but as long as there are other choices, like Saratoga Springs, NY...
 
Messages
3,690
Points
27
Hmm, I can't remember where the thread is, but Cyburbanites have also harshed on Atlanta. I remember trying to get to the airport the day that plane crashed into the 400. And I don't think I'd ever taken a trip from Clemson to Atlanta without seeing one car fire on 85 in Atlanta. But George is right about the young hipsters - they love Hotlanta. But then, the young hipsters don't mind spending all day in their car, since they usually don't have families to get home to. My sister in law loved it. however, I think she may have actually smoked crack once.

George - I think everyone who lives within day trip's range of saratoga has fond childhood memories of saratoga, since "The Track" seems to be the Capital District's summer past time. :)
 

Dan

Dear Leader
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
17,162
Points
51
El Guapo tried, but alas, Kunstler said he's too busy to visit here on a regular basis. Kudos, though, for trying.

There is a mailing list out there where you see a lot of regular messages from the "planning celebrities" -- Kunstler, Duany, Platy-Zyberk, Calthorpe, and so on. Getting on that list is no easy task.
 

BKM

Cyburbian
Messages
6,464
Points
29
I agree with K Mateja. I frankly think he is a hoot, if you look at what he writes with a grain of salt. But, I think things need to be stirred up a bit, and you can't get that "stirring" through plannerese-filled reports talking about "community character enhancement policies and locally-focused community-based economic development. "

One thing that does bother me is how rabidly pro-Israel he is. That country can do NO wrong, which even to a sympathiser is ridiculous. I mean, bombing every single Arab capital to dust, as he proposed once?

What does amuse me is his constant harping about the livability of the Sun Belt after the oil crash. I'm sorry, I can live without the air conditioner (in Sacramento Valley) a lot easier than the yankees will without their heating oil :) (Please, I'm not bashing you yankees, I'm just commenting on his rather snide criticisms about the sunbelt climate).
 

Tranplanner

maudit anglais
Messages
7,903
Points
34
That was the one thing that got me about his website - I don't mind hearing his rantings about the built environment, but his political commentary on the Middle East just struck me as being incredibly biased and ill-informed. I gues he's got his soap box and he wants to use it...
 

giff57

Corn Burning Fool
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
5,384
Points
31
KMateja wrote:
And I don't think I'd ever taken a trip from Clemson to Atlanta without seeing one car fire on 85 in Atlanta.

I love all multi-colored paint marks and the truck tire marks all over the concrete center divders in Atlanta. Some of it was almost mine last time I was there, some SUV tried to occupy the same space I was in.
 

Runner

Cyburbian
Messages
566
Points
17
I agree with many of his points. Also, I find his frank "tell it like he sees it" method refreshing and a good read. Provoking thought on these issues (outside of the planning community) may require just such a bigger hammer, stick in the eye, approach...

BTW I also think he's pretty close to being right on the money as far as Israel goes...
 

Super Amputee Cat

Cyburbian
Messages
2,103
Points
28
Re: Hmmm...

Beaner wrote:


Places in America that aren't worth caring about... what does that mean?
Places not worth caring about are places that are nothing more than automibile-choked suburban Hellholes with absolutely no redemeeming qualities whatsoever. Typically they have endless crudscapes of postwar suburban architecture such as fast food fry pits, auto-dealerships, jive-plastic bunker houses, tanning salons, and shopping malls. They also may have any or all of the following characteristics.

-Seperation of uses, forcing you to drive everywhere. E. G. Orland Park, Illinois
-Clogged roads at every turn. E. G. Orland Park, Illinois
-Exponential post-war population growth. E. G. Orland Park, Illinois
-Yuppiefied subdivision names such as Sea Bisquit Court. E. G. Orland Park, Illinois
-No discernable downtown. E. G. Orland Park, Illinois
-Large numbers of collector roads. E. G. Orland Park, Illinois
-High proportions of SUVs E. G. Orland Park, Illinois
-More asphalt than grass. E. G. Orland Park, Illinois
-No houses built before 1950. E. G. Orland Park, Illinois.
-FuXXed up teenagers hanging around the mall all day, spending their $50 allowence given to them by their equally fuXXed brain-dead parents who drop them off in their SUV so they can buy Britney Spears records and Tommy Hilfinger Jeans. E. G. Orland Park, Illinois

Having a Starbucks, Wal-Mart, TGIFs, Ruby Tuesday, and Applebee's also increase the likelihood that you live in a place not worth caring about.
 

BKM

Cyburbian
Messages
6,464
Points
29
Suburban Hellholes

Versus the Urban Paradise that is much of the South Side of Chicago?

Sorry, I'm being contrarian today.
 

BKM

Cyburbian
Messages
6,464
Points
29
Bad Day

I am, certainly.

Something is blooming (Solano County is the asthma/allergy capital of the world), my nose is running, my lungs are clogging, and my tolerance for platitudes is lost. Not that I don't do my own share of ideologically-based fuzzy thinking :).

I promise to just be quiet. :)
 

Jen

Cyburbian
Messages
1,703
Points
24
It ain't easy being green

Especially when you marry into a family of contractors that have built thousands of commercial buildings. Many in the Orland Park area too!

Funny the inlaws just keep moving further and further out away from the sprawl.
 

Wannaplan?

Galactic Superstar
Messages
3,088
Points
26
I disagree...

Super Amputee Cat wrote:
Places not worth caring about are places that are nothing more than automibile-choked suburban Hellholes with absolutely no redemeeming qualities whatsoever. Typically they have endless crudscapes of postwar suburban architecture such as fast food fry pits, auto-dealerships, jive-plastic bunker houses, tanning salons, and shopping malls. They also may have any or all of the following characteristics.

-Seperation of uses, forcing you to drive everywhere. E. G. Orland Park, Illinois
-Clogged roads at every turn. E. G. Orland Park, Illinois
-Exponential post-war population growth. E. G. Orland Park, Illinois
-Yuppiefied subdivision names such as Sea Bisquit Court. E. G. Orland Park, Illinois
-No discernable downtown. E. G. Orland Park, Illinois
-Large numbers of collector roads. E. G. Orland Park, Illinois
-High proportions of SUVs E. G. Orland Park, Illinois
-More asphalt than grass. E. G. Orland Park, Illinois
-No houses built before 1950. E. G. Orland Park, Illinois.
-FuXXed up teenagers hanging around the mall all day, spending their $50 allowence given to them by their equally fuXXed brain-dead parents who drop them off in their SUV so they can buy Britney Spears records and Tommy Hilfinger Jeans. E. G. Orland Park, Illinois

Having a Starbucks, Wal-Mart, TGIFs, Ruby Tuesday, and Applebee's also increase the likelihood that you live in a place not worth caring about.
I grew up in a place just you like describe above. I love my hometown! What's wrong with the physical environment you describe above? Driving to KFC, shopping at Wal-Mart, and wearing Tommy Hilfiger jeans is okay. What's wrong with that? I have a car that can take me to these places. The town has a bus system that links the major neighborhoods with the malls and strip developments along the retail corridors. These locations are convenient and the products are cheap. I'm glad I have these choices. It's a suburban environment. The crime is low and so is the unemployment rate. There are plenty of parks to take the kids. Who cares what this so-called "automibile-choked suburban Hellhole" looks like? I have plenty of friends, they are upstanding citizens, and we have a good time when we get together. We are not depressed and not Kunstlerized by any means. And by "Kunstlerized" I mean a professional planner who suffers from a chronic case physical determinism. Ugh. I care about my hometown, and it has to do with the friendliness of the people, the convenience of getting what I want, and having a great sense of security. It has nothing to do with the elitist yearnings of yuppie-dom that thinks a cute 4-story minimum height requirement in a faux-Fisher Price "village center" will cure society's ills. Save that for the do-gooders who will go bankrupt while trying to create that new urbanist utopian ideal.
 

Virtue City

Cyburbian
Messages
52
Points
4
As for Kunstler...

I really enjoyed "Geography of Nowhere", especially the chapters about the rise of the auto-nation and undesireable places. I think that the man is definitely an insightful writer, but he's not helping the cause at all. Kunstler needs to stop being a complaining pessimist and develop places "worth caring about".
 

Wannaplan?

Galactic Superstar
Messages
3,088
Points
26
Great Article!

James Howard Kunstler knows what he is talking about: "...all activity focused inward to the canned entertainments piped into giant receivers -- where the children especially sprawl in masturbatory trances, fondling joysticks and keyboards..."

Yeah, I remember jerking-off all the time while playing Ms. Pac-man on my Atari 2600. I also had the Popeye cartridge and I couldn't resist beating my meat to love-struck Olive Oyle. I never went outside. My bike collected dust in the garage. There were no sidewalks in my neighborhood. At eleven years old, I was a prolific masturbator. Thank god my parents moved out of the city and into the suburbs. The longest walk I ever took on any given day was from the kitchen to the garage where I took my seat in the 1981 Chrysler Reliant K. I know, Lee Iacocca is a Has-Been, but things really haven't changed that much since then. Thank goodness for the observant eye of James Howard Kunstler.
 

mendelman

Unfrozen Caveman Planner
Moderator
Messages
12,173
Points
35
POed Kunstler

He must have been in a particularly bad traffic jam before he wrote that article!

All that bile he's gurgling must give him bad heart burn. And of course, it is all suburbia's fault.

My problem with K. is that he repeats many of his own phrases, verbatim, over and over again. But it is definitely fun to read his stuff from time to time.
 

BKM

Cyburbian
Messages
6,464
Points
29
Yeah, he has a sort of canned glurge that he repeats a lot.

I saw him at The Palace Hotel in San Frnacisco-one of those awfully overdone Victorian piles that led to the Modernist "less-is-more" overreaction. He used the same line that he does in all his speeches, about how the (to my tastes) overdone floral carved moldings couldn't be done today. My quiet response was "thank God."
 

GeogPlanner

Cyburbian
Messages
1,433
Points
24
I think Jim is like Nader...says a lot of things that make sense when you think about them, but from a practical standpoint, we have to find the middle ground first. Jim's "Nowhere" book and a very intersting professor are how I got into this field and how I fell in love with this work...but I've formed my own educated opinions and don't take Jim's thoughts as gospel, but a view to place some thought on.
 
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