Eighty percent of everything ever built in America has been built since the end of World War II. This tragic landscape of highway strips, parking lots, housing tracts, mega-malls, junked cities, and ravaged countryside is not simply an expression of our economic predicament, but in large part a cause. It is the everyday environment where most Americans live and work, and it represents a gathering calamity whose effects we have hardly begun to measure. In The Geography of Nowhere, James Howard Kunstler traces America's evolution from a nation of Main Streets and coherent communities to a land where everyplace is like noplace in particular, where the city is a dead zone and the countryside a wasteland of cars and blacktop. Now that the great suburban build-out is over, Kunstler argues, we are stuck with the consequences: a national living arrangement that destroys civic life while imposing enormous social costs and economic burdens. Kunstler explains how our present zoning laws impoverish the life of our communities, and how all our efforts to make automobiles happy have resulted in making human beings miserable. He shows how common building regulations have led to a crisis in affordable housing, and why street crime is directly related to our traditional disregard for the public realm. Kunstler takes the reader on a historical journey to understand how Americans came to view their landscape as a commodity for exploitation rather than a social resource. He explains why our towns and cities came to be wounded by the abstract dogmas of Modernism, and reveals the paradox of a people who yearn for places worthy of their affection, yet bend their efforts in an economic enterprise ofdestruction that degrades and defaces what they most deeply desire. Kunstler proposes sensible remedies for this American crisis of landscape and townscape: a return to sound principles of planning and the lost art of good place-making, an end to the tyranny of compulsive commuting, the un
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(212mm x 140mm x 21mm)
Simon & Schuster Ltd
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US Kirkus Review »
It's no news that many Americans live in a spread-out, privatized suburban wasteland without community or centers; that much landscape has given way to ugly sprawl; that this condition may be due to systematic policies on the part of government and industrial forces; and that the automobile is the engine that has driven us there. What novelist Kunstler (The Halloween Ball, 1987, etc.) does here is to explore and deplore these developments. Kunstler traces, from the nation's beginnings, the implications of changing architecture styles; the manifestations of our extreme emphasis on private-property rights and low regard for the public realm; and the destruction that our car-centered life has visited on American communities in general and certain profiled older towns and cities in particular. His discussions of specific places - chosen to represent such concepts as an "old industrial metropolis gone to hell" (Detroit); "how to mess up a town" (Saratoga Springs, New York); the "most hopeful and progressive trends in...urban planning" (Portland, Oregon); and sinister commercial myth-mongering that distorts small-town reality (Disney World) - lack the original ideas, cutting analysis, and stimulating insights that characterized last year's Variations on a Theme Park (ed., Michael Sorkin). But for a more popular audience, Kunstler provides an accessible overview that's all the more interesting and effective for his frankly expressed and all-enveloping viewpoint. If his attachment to the small towns of the past seems an insufficient answer to the problems of the present and future, his depiction of those problems is on target. And the author makes a persuasive case for convicting the private automobile of a gamut of 20th-century ills: the Great Depression; the death of the cities and of the family farm; the trashy consumerism that has driven the economy since the end of WW II; voodoo economics; the S&L crisis; and global environmental degradation. An informative and well-integrated polemic. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - James Howard Kunstler
James Howard Kunstler is the author of eight novels. He has worked as a newspaper reporter and an editor for Rolling Stone, and is a frequent contributor to The New York Times Sunday Magazine. He lives in upstate New York.