Monday, July 28, 2008


The Schenectady Sunday Gazette interviews suburban sprawl critic James Kunstler

Q: Where do you see things going in terms of the housing market? Will America abandon the suburbs in favor of the cities?

A: A lot of people (Realtors, builders, bankers) are waiting for the "bottom" of the housing crash, with the idea that we'll re-enter an up-cycle. I see it differently. There won't be a resumption of "growth" as we've known it, certainly not in suburban residential and commercial real estate. The suburban project is over. We're done with that. (I know people find this unbelievable.) The existing stuff will represent a huge liability for us for decades to come as it loses value and utility and falls apart.

However, I also believe our big cities will contract. They are simply not scaled to the energy realities of the future. The successful places, in my opinion, will be the smaller cities and towns that 1.) have walkable neighborhoods, 2.) have proximity to water for power, transport and drinking, and 3.) have a meaningful relationship with a productive agricultural hinterland. Some places you can forget about completely: Phoenix . . . Las Vegas . . . they're toast. . .

Q: What's the most "walkable" city in the Northeast? What about in this area?

A: There are plenty of them. New York City, of course, is an astounding place - though I believe it will face enormous liabilities of scale in the decades ahead - especially with skyscrapers - that will be a huge drag on its ability to survive. Boston remains pretty walkable, but also faces scale issues. Providence, R.I., is a hidden gem and closer to the scale of a city that might have a plausible future. Northampton, Mass., Concord, N.H., Portsmouth, N.H., Portland, Maine, Hudson, N.Y, and Montpelier, Vt., are agreeable places scaled to a lower energy future. Albany, Schenectady, and Troy are, for the moment, at their nadir of disinvestment. All of them share an advantageous relationship to a major inland waterway, with all that implies. . .

Q: Can America survive if everyone starts buying hybrids? Or do we need a more monumental shift?

A: In my opinion we are excessively preoccupied with how we're going to keep all the cars running. We need to accept the fact that the "Happy Motoring" experience is drawing to a close for us. We have to make other arrangements for where we live and how we get around.

Unfortunately, our investments in motoring are so exorbitant that we are liable to exhaust and bankrupt our society in a futile effort to keep the motoring system going at all costs. I'd add that most of our alt-fuel ideas amount to dangerous fantasies - for instance the ethanol fiasco. We have to give our attention to many other vitally important projects besides propping up the car system.


At July 28, 2008 1:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe the energy bandits can adapt to changing realities by merging with the real-estate developers into producing thousands more of those frigging wildly overpriced 'luxury' condos that are springing up in most cities now like a parasitic fungus.

At July 28, 2008 1:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The cities will definitely recover in the foreseeable future. The catch is, it is unlikely those doing the buying, and eventually the selling, will have any connection to the United States other than a financial interest. It is already happening, consider the resent Middle-eastern acquisition of the Chrysler Building.

Just as we no longer make anything any more, we will no longer own anything. And so it goes...


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