Jake's Reviews > The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape

The Geography of Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler
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Apr 02, 10

bookshelves: sociology
Read from March 28 to April 02, 2010

"The Geography of Nowhere" tends towards the polemic, but through most of the book I found myself agreeing with Kunstler's ideas. His basic premise is that the fundamental American bias towards private property rights has created a culture weak in community- and this bias has combined with an over-reliance on the automobile to produce "nowhere" places- suburbias with no-center, endless highways of stripmalls, and millions of units of crap-housing. He's not optimistic about the future of this civilization we've created: once the oil runs out, or the environment goes bad, or we go insane from spending weeks every year in our cars, he believes we're going to be somewhere beyond fucked.

His writing is at its best when he's describing specific places in America- cities that he feels have failed, like Detroit or LA, towns that he feels are broken, like Woodstock, Vermont, or weird capitals of illusion like Disneyworld. He's less good when he's giving a compressed history of architecture and urban planning in America- that part felt like a blizzard of names and styles, and with no pictures, I had to do a lot of Google image searching to understand his references. And I felt the ending of the book was pretty weak: his proposed solutions for the problem of suburbia all felt kind of half-assed, like building new, denser cores into the suburban wasteland, rather than just knocking it all down.

One other thing that bothered me about the book was the absence of any mention of Jane Jacobs or her ideas. I think that reflects Kunstler's fundamental bias towards small town living: he's lived upstate in Saratoga Spring for most of his adult life. But the problems he describes are really only solved in cities, and Jane Jacobs ideas about what makes cities work are key to understanding what makes suburbs not work. I could imagine Jane Jacobs dismissing a lot of what he has to say about saving suburbia as meaningless and besides the point- I don't think she'd find anything there worth saving.
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