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A Reflection on Cities of the Future

James Howard Kunstler, Kunstler’s website
…The future direction of urban experience depends a great deal on an understanding of history, and of recent history in particular, because the hyper development of the past two hundred years has followed the arc of increasing energy resources and, above all, we are now facing the world-wide depletion of energy resources.

… We don’t know how any of these things may actually play out. I have not even mentioned the potential for geopolitical mischief, which could skew the picture a lot more.

But the urban future isn’t what it was cracked up to be when we were riding high, surfing the big waves of cheap energy in the seemingly endless summer of oil. It won’t be fun fun fun ‘til Daddy takes the T-bird away. It won’t be a Herbert Muschamp smorgasbord of delicious, rarified architectural irony. The Koolhaas celebration of alienation will not seem worth partying for. The metaphysics of Libeskind and Peter Eisenman will stand naked in the transparency of their phoniness. By and by, even the mega slums of the third world will contract as the surplus grain supplies of the formerly-developed nations are reduced to nothing and export ceases.

I often wonder what people will think decades from now if they are able to view those old Doris Day and Rock Hudson comedies of the mid 20th century. Invariably these stories took place in a Manhattan of sparkly new glass towers, and streets full of cars with tail fins, and companies that ruled the world, and men and women who had come back from a World War full of confidence that there was no limit to what people with good intentions could do and nothing that they couldn’t handle. We are their children and grandchildren and it is a different world now.
(Nov 2006)

Review of “Sprawl: a compact history”

James Howard Kunstler, Salmagundi
Sprawl: a compact history By Robert Bruegmann
University of Chicago Press, 2005; 301 pages

… Despite his boatloads of statistics, Bruegmann is just flat-out wrong in many of his positions and virtually all of his conclusions. At the center of his thesis is the unquestioned assumption that the suburban project can continue indefinitely, that it is a good thing, that we will get more of it, and we ought to stop carping and enjoy it. His book fails entirely to acknowledge the fact that we are entering a permanent global energy crisis that will put an end to the drive-in utopia whether people like it or not. This singular harsh fact obviates all the rationalizations brought to the quixotic defense of suburbia.

What Bruegmann and his homies overlook is that American-style suburbia, aka sprawl, was an emergent, self-organizing system made possible only by lavish and exorbitant supplies of cheap fossil fuels, and once those conditions no longer obtain, not only will there be no further elaboration of this development pattern, but all the existing stuff built according to that pattern – which comprises more than eighty percent of everything ever built in America – will drastically lose its usefulness and its relative “market” value. What’s more, the discontinuities-to-come in the global energy picture will pose challenges so severe to industrial society that we will be lucky to salvage anything resembling civilized life altogether.
(Fall 2006)

Sprawl will stretch infrastructure – report

John Kilraine, RTE Business
Dublin’s infrastructure will not be able to cope if its housing sprawl continues, according to a report published today by the European Environmental Agency. It predicts that residential housing will have more than doubled in the greater Dublin area by 2025.

The agency says Dublin is an illustration of a Europe-wide problem of urban sprawl. Author Ronan U’ale says Dublin’s outward expansion is unsustainable in terms of resources, services and quality of life.
(24 Nov 2006)
Also: Study: Urban Sprawl Could Hurt Europe

Sprawl wars: It doesn’t have to be so

Doug Count, Arizona Republic
Most folks think that sprawl is out of control. Why then do we keep doing the same thing? Isn’t it time to realize that it’s not how much we build, but how we build? Instead of seeing the land as something we have to conquer, how about building in harmony with nature?

Is this an alien concept? No; what we have now is an alien landscape, built for cars and not for people, which begets more cars and more sprawl.

It sounds like an endless loop.
(20 Nov 2006)
Short letter to the editor mentioning Richard Register’s EcoCities