Feb 18, 08
those interested in urban studies, urban design, architecture, sociology.
Read in February, 2008
The City in Mind continues in the same vein as Kunstler's previous non-fiction works (Geography of Nowhere, etc.) with criticism of the oil dependent modern American city and praise for classicism. Kunstler examines the histories and current (as of 2001) predicaments and successes of eight cities--Paris, Atlanta, Mexico City, Berlin, Las Vegas, Rome, Boston, and London.
Kunstler's wit for the tragic suburban landscape is insightful and biting as he describes Atlanta as "one big-ass parking lot under a toxic pall from Hartsfield clear up to the brand-new completely absurd Mall of Georgia" (p. 43). Kunstler also cleverly discusses the mistakes of modernism and suggests they can be countered by classicism. "The good news is that the twentieth century is over. We don't have to be modern anymore. We can be something else" (p. 190). Although this idea is hopeful, the general condition Kunstler describes is that America is, architecturally speaking, hell.
Kunstler hits at the core of the American dilemma when discussing the history of that giant British city we owe so much of our cultural heritage from--London. From London we learn that our romantic view of nature, inherited from the British, is destroying us. As a result of industrialism, Americans believe that "Nature is sacred and everything else is hopelessly profane, and that's the end of it" (p. 226).
This is exhibited in the American desire for "open space" or "green space", which is to say we've given up entirely on the idea that we can build an environment worth caring about. Instead, we throw in the towel and pat ourselves on the back for preserving "open space" we know we would've wrecked anyway. Kunstler sums up the whole mess as such: "We gave up on the human habitat in America generations ago" (p. 249). Whether there is any hope or not for us Americans to mend our ways depends largely on our ability to recognize the problem--and once again Kunstler has succeeded at his perfect, and painful, diagnosis.