It was tough but I compiled my top ten quotes from The Geography of Nowhere.  With the addition of a special guest’s favorite at the end, they are…

“…Modernism, which dedicated itself to the worship of machines, to sweeping away all architectural history, all romantic impulses, and to jamming all human aspiration into a plain box.”

“Kenneth Jackson makes the shrewd observation that ‘although the motorcar was the quintessentially private instrument, its owners had to operate it over public spaces.’ “

“I’ll pass over the questions of styling and merchandising that adumbrate the American-Love-Affair-with-the-Car myth, except to suggest that if Americans loved their cars, perhaps it was because the machines allowed them to escape from reality – which raises the more interesting question: Why didAmerica build a reality of terrible places from which people longed to escape?”

“The two elements of the suburban pattern that cause the greatest problems are the extreme separation of uses and the vast distances between things.”

“The public realm suffered in another way with the rise of the automobile. Because the highways were gold-plated with our national wealth, all other forms of public building were impoverished. This is the reason why every town hall built after 1950 is a concrete-block shed full of cheap paneling and plastic furniture, why public schools look like overgrown gas stations, why courthouses, firehouses, halls of records, libraries, museums, post offices, and other civic monuments are indistinguishable from bottling plants and cold-storage warehouses.”

“The unwillingness to think about the public realm of the street in any other term beside traffic shows how little value Americans confer on the pubic realm in general.”

“The average citizen – who went to school in a building modeled on a shoe factory, who works in a suburban office park, who lives in a raised ranch house, who vacations inLas Vegas– would not recognize a building of quality if a tornado dropped it in his yard. But the professional architects, who ought to know better, have lost almost as much ability to discern the good from the bad, the human from the antihuman. The consequence of losing our planning skills is the monotony and soullessness of single-use zoning, which banished the variety that was the essence of our best communities. Most important, we have lost our knowledge of how physically to connect things in our everyday world, except by car and telephone.”

“…to give up mass automobile use. By this, I do not mean an end to all cars but rather, that every individual adult need not make a car trip for every function of living: to go to work, to buy clothes, to have a drink, that every adult need not be compelled to bear the absurd expense of car ownership and maintenance as a requisite of citizenship.”

“This is a good place to consider in some detail why the automobile suburb is such a terrible pattern from human ecology. In almost all communities designed since 1950, it is a practical impossibility to go about the ordinary business of living without a car. …This produces two separate classes of citizens: those who can fully use their everyday environments and those who cannot.” 

“The identification of this extreme individualism of property ownership with all that is sacred in American life has been the source of many of the problems I shall describe in the pages that follow. Above all, it tends to degrade the idea of the public realm, and hence of the landscape tissue that ties together the thousands of pieces of private property that make up a town, a suburb, a state. It also degrades the notion that the private individual has a responsibility to this public realm – or, to put it another way, that the public realm is the physical manifestation of the common good.”

I asked James Howard Kunstler if he would share his favorite comment or quote from the book also:

“We created a land full of scary places and became a nation of scary people.”

Author: Tory

  • Zen Galacticore

    What’s truly amazing is that builders, developers, architects and, “town planners” (if they can at all be dignified with such a title), continue to apply the same discredited approaches when they “design” and build new developments. Divided highways, single-use pods of housing (with gated communities cut off from society at large), retail shopping, schools, and workplaces all isolated from one another and reachable only by automobile, all continue to be constructed in the face of overwhelming evidence that such “designs” cause severe car traffic, community disconnect, public apathy, and general suspicion of those who are different from “us”.

    For a great example of this continuing, absurdly ignorant and stubborn way of building our public and private spaces in the face of stark and plain evidence that contradicts its viability, google “Ronald Reagan Parkway”, in Forsyth County, Georgia. It’s a new “development” recently mostly completed in 2012-13.

    Ronald Reagan Parkway runs roughly parallel to GA State Route 400, from Exit 14 south to Exit 12, about 8 miles,about 35 or so miles north of Atlanta. It is a divided highway with sidewalks running on either side of it for its entire length, sidewalks that go nowhere, and for miles. It would be utterly laughable if it were not so tragic. No one will ever walk these sidewalks, especially when the divided highway becomes clogged with barreling traffic. It is a trick, an illusion put in place by the developers to fool people into thinking that this is a, “community”. But it’s not. It’s a brand new monstrosity of single-use, widely separated pods.

    To continue with something that has been demonstrated not only to not work, but to cause depression, anguish, angst, and serious economic, social and spiritual problems is the definition of folly. (Some would say insanity.)

    In addition to ‘Geography of Nowhere’, anyone concerned should also read ‘Suburban Nation’, by Jeff Speck co-authored by the famous “new urbanism” architect Duaney.

  • David D

    I lived in Paris for a year and it was wonderful. We didn’t have a car and aside from renting a van one time, didn’t want a car.
    Paris is about 5 stories with parks everywhere and the ground floor street level is commercial. Subway stops are about every 1/2 mile. City schools are high quality.
    It is a great place to live.
    Urban planers would do well to study it and copy much of what makes Paris such a great place to live.
    Look into Bus-Rapid-Transit, an idea who’s time has come.

  • Zen Galacticore

    Atlanta, and when I say ‘Atlanta’, I mean the city proper as well as the sprawling, traffic-congested Metropolis of the roughly 12 counties that it consists of, and the multiple municipalities in its orbit, has been considering BRT and other options. My home town has become the poster-child of how not to build. It’s a shame, because it’s a great city, but the traffic, especially in the suburban cities like my actual home town of Roswell, an Atlanta satellite, makes it unbearable, even on a Saturday or Sunday.

    I often joke, sardonically, that Keep Right Except to Pass on limited access highways is not a suggestion. It’s the law. But people ignore it, and cops don’t enforce it. I’ve never had the pleasure of traveling to Europe, but I’ve studied it all of my life. We could learn much from the Germans, as well as the French. If motorists would just obey that simple rule of Keep Right, it would probably reduce upwards of 30% of Atlanta’s traffic congestion.

    Emphatically, Atlanta is the poster-child for this post WWII suburban mess that we’ve made of our public and private domain, but of course the problem is a national one, especially in the newer Sun Belt cities.

    The roots of Atlanta’s sprawl are many and complex, from social and political ills and antiquated political organization, to its geography. (Los Angeles, as a contrasting example, is bound on the west by the Pacific, but Atlanta has no natural barrier to its sprawl.)

    Relating to the political organization being antiquated, the reason Georgia has so many counties, 159, is because of its rural roots. In the 19th century, the idea was to enable farmers to get to the county seat and back before dusk, among other reasons. Thus today, it’s next to near impossible to get all of these separate counties and municipalities that make up Metro Atlanta to work together cohesively in the common interest.

    Ironically, the traffic in the actual city-proper is not really a problem, and for obvious reasons, as it is built on a grid. The problem is the interstate and surface arteries that lead into and out of the city, and all the satellite cities where entire towns of 10′s and 100′s of thousands people are strung along one or two highways, with isolated pods of sub-divisions sprawling from the commercial highways in all directions. It really is a mess.

    I didn’t mean to ramble, but this really is such a tragic problem, affecting the national economic, social, and political health of our society. I can’t think of a more critical issue facing these United States, and massive, automobile-based sprawl is a uniquely American phenomenon.

    Dave, it’s good to communicate with a thoughtful, reasoned, and educated poster such as yourself. After you, “followed” me, I read a dozen of your posts. The internet needs more people like you!

  • David D

    Wow great post. I’m from L.A. home to lots of cities that can’t get anything done.
    In many ways Atlanta sounds a lot like LA. The sprawl of LA (mess) made a lot of money for real estate developers and corrupt politicians in LA.

    I would recommend BRT on dedicated bus-ways that run between giant parking structures 5 mi apart. There should be rental zip-cars in these structures.
    A standard local bus system can fill in between BRT stops. Natural gas buses are nice too.

    I like comment sections because “polite society” can only talk about sports and TV shows. Society has devolved to the point where intelligent discussion of issues that matter is increasingly difficult.
    Trolls are ruining the comment sections though. I think the Koch brothers must pay them.

  • Zen Galacticore

    I would not at all doubt that about the Koch brothers. Especially certain trolls who pollute (pun intended) any dialogue in subjects like Global Warming, renewable energy, or any hard science issue. If ever there were a plausible conspiracy theory, that’s it!

    After all, it’s just two brothers and maybe a few of their lieutenants, so a conspiracy could happen. The goal? To stifle serious public discussion of any issue the Koch’s would like left alone to reside in the status quo.

    But many trolls, of course, act independently. A good response to a typical troll throwing out ad hominems, without throwing one yourself, I’ll say:

    “Since you feel the need to insult, you obviously have no valid counterpoint or rebuttal”, or, “Your level of intelligence is amply demonstrated by your need to hurl ad hominem.”

    I also think many trolls, and others who get nasty, are simply insecure about their command of whatever subject or issue they plunge into. For example, they’ll post link after link trying to rebut a point, instead of arguing their position in their own words with their presently acquired knowledge.

    It’s also a shame that many people cannot ever admit, “Oh, good point. I might be wrong here on that facet.”

  • David D

    Yes, Trolls are dreadful. I did some research on them and they are messed up people that are intellectual vandals.

    I was wrong just the other day about the LIBOR fraud of $100 billion +, it turns out that there were just recently 3 men indicted on criminal charges. I hope they all end up in a cell with the guy that robbed $5K from a bank with a gun, and serve just as much time.

    I just wish more people would make their discourse civil.