Archive for January, 2008

Geography of Nowhere

I just finished a very good book. The Geography of Nowhere, by James Howard Kunstler, is a critical look at what we in America have been doing to our civic landscape.

I first read Kunstler when I came across The Long Emergency in my studies of the peak oil phenomenon. I had a hard time building a rapport with that book. There’s something about the way Kunstler was describing the present condition in the past tense that made me balk at what he was saying, even though I accept the peak oil premise. Fortunately, before I quit the book, I looked at the table of contents and skipped to a chapter that looked more interesting. Although I haven’t gone back to read the first two or three chapters, I wound up getting a lot from the book, and enjoying Kunstler’s writing in the process.

I then picked up The Geography of Nowhere . If you had to choose between the two books, I would recommend this one. His thesis in The Long Emergency is an extension of The Geography of Nowhere taking into account recent developments regarding peak oil. A good primer on peak oil like Beyond Oil: The View from Hubbert’s Peak, by Kenneth Defeyes combined with The Geography of Nowhere would allow you to reason through The Long Emergency‘s arguments on your own.

The Geography of Nowhere takes the reader through a history of the development of America’s cities, considering various influences such as transportation modalities, philosophy, architecture, and economics. It focuses the end result we know as urban sprawl, or what my friend Scott calls “cluster-fuckitis”. Kunstler argues that we need a better public space in order to thrive as a civilization.

I found it easy to accept Kunstler’s criticisms because he is voicing the same frustrations I have, in a much more articulate manner. I know quite a few people who aren’t aware that we could be building better cities. If you are a thinking person who didn’t feel somewhat trapped as a child in the suburbs, or who looks at big-box retailers surrounded by black asphalt moats and thinks, “Cool!”, then this book could prove provocatively useful. If you are a thinking person who is already horrified by our predicament, you will find insights into why you are horrified, as well as some ideas on improving the situation.


January 2, 2008 at 6:13 am Leave a comment


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