OK so Sean provided this, because we are thinking about the future of the suburbs. And let me just say that I find it upsetting.
So James H Kunstler begins with a litany of insults in an infuriated George Carlin-style gravelly screech. However, two ideas in his opening are interesting, and they should be filed away for further inspection:
1. Degrade public realm, degrade life
2. Places not worth caring about are places not worth defending
Unfortunately, the last statement was accompanied by a tug on "the troops" heartstring, accompanied by a visual of a sad intersection. So Wal-Mart and Target aren't worth defending? What about the people who work there?
Anyone watching this talk probably has no need for Wal-Mart (actually, everyone's in Wal-Mart this recession). But the people who do need Wal-Mart, who Kunstler is burning in effigy, may not have the resources to posture on stage.
The intelligensia of America has no interest in solving the problems of the majority, only viciously criticizing them.
Kunstler talks about a "sense of place." Shouldn't something be said for the way a familiar intersection ceases being the cross between two roads and becomes a marker on the way home? For all he knows, those "young men and women spilling their blood in the sand" look back fondly on that Wal-Mart, where, say, they bought their first TV with their own money, or, more likely, they lost their virginity in the parking lot.
Kunstler then shows his example of the right way. "Public spaces worth caring about" are stupid bougey outdoor weekend breakfast joints policed by ponytail'd and necktie'd servers festooned with Bellinis. Imagine a family of "little houses," (Wintour, 2009) eating there. Let them stay in their Wal-Mart.
Then he goes on an on about aesthetic travesties, which is cheap, because he shows empty spaces and backs of buildings. Boston's city hall, by no standards a pretty place, is "despotic." It makes people "termites." Um, isn't that good, 'cause don't termites eat buildings? It's weird because he takes issue with rectangular, boxy design. But the Bauhaus was boxy and unadorned. We're totally dealing with a Victorian-era sympathizer cloaked in self-righteous rags of new urbanism.
He's preaching to a choir of apologetic suburban-reared nerds. So devoted to his missive that no one called him out on the stupid pop-culture reference joke of one large bush being the "mothership" and two smaller (and equally sized) bushes being C-3P0 and R2D2, respectively. (The same bush or type of bush shows up in his new urban solution drawing, which also bears more than a passing resemblance to early 90's Zelda.)
Finally, on the topic of growing food locally, IT'S NOT FEASIBLE. You'll never live off your victory garden, and coaxing inappropriate crops out of the earth is a fool's pursuit that wastes resources. Just because it's local doesn't mean it's sustainable. The mantra should change to any of the following:
1. Grow and eat only food that thrives in your local climate
2. Eat food that grows where it is meant to
3. Eat up all the canned food on this earth and standby while the problem is solved
After poking around his personal website, I discovered that Mr. Kunstler also paints. Interestingly, he paints and sells images of the waste-scape he criticized!
Isn't that it?
Anyway, judging from his painterly hand, one can surmise that the guy deals in broad strokes. He does the fun stuff first, and then fills in the boring parts in a perfunctory fashion. His buildings are structurally questionable in a lazy rather than artful way. His unwillingness to examine details is tiresome. He paints small town genre scenes, questionable in fidelity.
I think I would like these better if he was ordered by a doctor to do a gentle hobby to calm an ulcer or something.