Among The Reasons I Like James Howard Kunstler

He says stuff like this:

“It’s not OK to put up buildings that are unworthy of our affection.”

“People who are capable of generating hope are people who know the difference between wishing for stuff and making stuff happen.”

Hear both quotes in their original context here:

And this:

“Life in the mid-21st century is going to be about living locally. Be prepared to be good neighbors. Be prepared to find vocation that make you useful to your neighbors and your fellow citizens.”

“Please, please stop referring to yourselves as consumers. Consumers are different than citizens. Consumers do not have obligations, responsibilities, and duties to their fellow human beings.”

Original presentation here (language warning: Kunstler drops the f-bomb a couple times in this video):

A college trip to Spain was the first time I recognized that something was seriously wrong with the majority of our buildings in the United States. Strolling the streets of Madrid, Barcelona, and Sevilla, I was overwhelmed by the archictecture of European cities. In particular, their beautiful and frequently used public spaces, like the Plaza Mayor in Madrid, intrigued me. Since that trip fifteen years ago I’ve been keenly interested in what it is that makes a place desireable, a place where people want to be–to shop, eat, play, and interact.

James Howard Kunstler (language warning) is one of the people who has helped me figure out why I thought the places I visited in Spain were so beautiful while American cities and towns seemed comparably ugly. One of those reasons is that much of our built environment has been designed around the car instead of around people. Our primary design concern is the ease with which we can get around in our cars (not to mention the ease with which we can access loads of inexpensive and ugly plastic goods). The “Dollar General” store that just opened in Madison, for instance, is nothing but a cheap, wasteful building. It’s downright depressing to look at and contributes nothing beautiful or uplifting to our public space. It sure has plenty of parking, though, thank goodness. This, unfortunately, is the norm in middle America.

Kunstler does a great job of identifying the visual elements that make for both bad and good building architecture and public space design. Fortunately, we have the New Urbanism movement (great sites here and here) to counteract the worst of our modern building tendencies. And we have Kunstler’s caustic wit to call our attention to the issues.


About EMH

Forty-something. South Dakotan. Mother to 11-year-old K.L. Wife to Cory. Lutheran pastor. Novice organic gardener. Sustainable living aspirer.
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2 Responses to Among The Reasons I Like James Howard Kunstler

  1. Goalie says:

    Mmm–I definitely relate on the “creating buildings that are nice to look at” segment!

    And fifteen years? Was it really so long? I show pictures to my students now…they weren’t even born when I was off traveling!

    Funny–it isn’t the people that I remember about Spain, but the buildings. They last longer. 🙂 So, basically, your entry could be about making _buildings_ that are good citizens…

  2. Holly says:

    Cory referred me to your blog, so I’m a “newb” here.

    I have to say, wow! You hit the nail on the head with this entry! I think Sioux Falls is on the right track with their downtown revitalization… why can’t Madison get that hint?!

    The city wants to attract more people to Madison but they don’t do much of anything to improve the “quaint” downtown area. The university has art programs- why don’t we have a local art gallery for regular local folks? Why don’t we have a coffee shop that stays open past 5 o’clock? Why don’t we have a place where youth can have open mic nights without alcohol? Why isn’t the city trying to bring in these businesses that will attract people to our town? Something needs to be done!

    Whew, okay enough of my ranting for one day. I have your site bookmarked and hope to read a little more. Thanks!

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